CBS Launches Virtual Field Courses

Posted on Tuesday, July 20th, 2021

Written by College of Biological Science

Students now have the opportunity to enrol in two newly launched virtual field courses within the College of Biological Science.

The courses, new to the Department of Integrative Biology, are being delivered remotely as two sections of BIOL*4410 Field Ecology. Section 01 focuses on biodiversity and ecological interactions in terrestrial settings. Section 02 focuses on biodiversity and watershed management.

The remote instruction allows students who require remote learning and a flexible schedule to gain field and research experience, without the barriers that prevent some students from participating in the department’s traditional in-person field courses.

We spoke with Drs. Sarah J. Adamowicz and Shoshanah Jacobs to learn more about the courses they are co-instructing with Drs. Amy Newman and Dawn Bazely.

Field Ecology, Section 01, is led by Drs. Adamowicz and Newman, alongside the entire Integrative Biology instructor team. This section emphasizes team learning throughout the entirety of the course, from the way it was designed to the way it is being taught.

Instead of the original twelve-day field course in Algonquin Park, which could not be offered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students have been sent prepared field ecology kits directly to their homes. These kits provide experiential learning opportunities that meet the same course goals from past in-person field courses, while allowing students to study safely from home.

The field kits are provided to students at no extra cost, as they have been generously sponsored by a longstanding CBS supporter and alumnus, Dave Stephenson of Natural Resource Solutions Inc. Mr. Stephenson reached out to the course instructors after reading about the experiential learning initiatives in Integrative Biology and wanted to show his support.

Section 01 students are learning about the biodiversity of plants, invertebrate, and vertebrates, and will be conducting an integrative research project.

Those enrolled in the course this summer have already exemplified their enthusiasm for field biology and have taken fantastic field photos identifying their local biodiversity.

“Taking a field course is often a formative experience for biology students,” Dr. Adamowicz tells us, “And 2021 is not different in the importance of this experience. Students will gain field, research, and collaboration skills to apply to their future Honours thesis, MSc studies, and careers.”

The second, newly developed field course, Field Ecology Section 02, represents a cross-institutional collaboration. The course is being co-taught by Dr. Jacobs as the lead instructor at the University of Guelph along with Dr. Bazely at York University, who created the course last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students currently enrolled in the course come from the University of Guelph, York University, Brock University, Carleton University, and Wilfred Laurier University.

Similar to other field courses, the virtual course has the same number of contact hours, learning outcomes, and, according to Dr. Jacobs, “the same level of awesome!” Students are conducting experiments, collecting samples in their surrounding environments, and learning about biodiversity and watersheds. Students hear from a range of scientists on their expertise and gain peer-to-peer learning opportunities.

“We are taking advantage of the remote and virtual course offering to learn things that we’ve never learned, in a way that we’ve never taught,” says Dr. Jacobs. “It isn't about forcing old ways into new technology; it's about learning new ways and leveraging the strengths of that technology.”

Students who have taken this format of the course loved it, and those signing up have already voiced their excitement for this opportunity.

“It is an outstanding example of the creativity and dedication of the amazing team we have in the Department of Integrative Biology,” says Department Chair Dr. Ryan Gregory. “What they have come up with is very exciting and contributes directly to our goal of making field biology accessible to as many students as possible.”

Both courses will continue to run post-pandemic as an accessible way to allow students to engage in these high-impact learning opportunities.

To learn more, visit the program website.

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