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Lasting Impressions: Engaging Students in Environmental Science and Policy Via Multiple Methods

Linda Jones (SUNY/Empire State College, US)
Additional Authors
Nadine Wedderburn (SUNY Empire State College, US)
Session Information
April 23, 2012 - 5:30pm
Teaching and Learning
Areas of Special Interest: 
Innovative Blends
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Poster Session
Executive A-D
Session Duration: 
60 Minutes

A reflection on the use of case studies, web conferencing, on-line course management and a residency to create a dynamic learning community.

Extended Abstract

One of the challenges associated with virtual learning environments is the creation of engaging interactive communities to which students make a committed connection. In this presentation, we discuss our teaching and learning experience gained from an interdisciplinary, blended-learning course we offered in the Fall 2011 term which tackled the challenge of creating and maintaining a vibrant virtual learning community. We will show how we addressed the challenge on three levels: (1) the mode of presentation, (2) the on-line tools used to create the virtual classroom, and (3) the nature of the face-to-face experience used to reinforce and strengthen the online community. The title of the course was Eco-solutions through science and policy. This course was part of the Environmental Studies Residency offered annually by SUNY/Empire State College. In this interdisciplinary course, students were invited to examine current environmental challenges and to consider the way the science and policy may be used to foster solutions to the challenges. During a series of web conferencing sessions (via Elluminate), we discussed the subject matter of public policy and the science behind the issues and used case studies to illustrate real-world scenarios. We did not instruct the students regarding "the correct" interpretation of the case studies but established an environment where students had the opportunity to share and discuss their ideas concerning the issues, to ensure that student participation would be essential to learning. As a result, students became actively engaged in the topics presented. In the Elluminate sessions, students worked together to analyze the environmental processes and challenges presented in the case studies and devise policy solutions. In an on-line asynchronous environment (created in ANGEL), we posted background materials related to natural environmental science dynamics and policy creation and created a discussion board where students could communicate with each other between class sessions. We also used Elluminate for students to present their own case studies and analyses, thereby enabling them to provide valuable feedback to each other in peer reviews. This course also included a 3-day period when, as a class, we were residents on Camp Huntington in Raquette Lake, New York. Participation in face-to-face group discussions, lectures, workshops, and interpretive hikes during this part of the residency reinforced the collaborative on-line learning experience that benefited the students during the beginning of the term. This presentation will utilize multimedia to show how we were able to create an effective virtual learning community through a combination of on-line collaborative learning activities and an intensive residency experience.