I promised that I would check back in with a report on how it is going in my experiment to half ‘flip’ the classroom in my graduate class in conservation ecology. The short answer?
Really well, I think. I am doing a series of 20-30 lectures, on youtube, that outline the basics of some theme for class. Then, two students present the topic. We strive for each lecture suite (youtube plus in class lecture) to recount the history of a concept (how did we get here) the current contribution of the topic to conservation (what challenges does it help resolve) and a brief look to the future (where is this area if inquiry going).
The students are doing, overall, a fantastic job with their lectures. The class is informative to the students. The new perspective on these problems that the students bring has been fun for me. The class has a lot of discussion. If there is one problem here is that there has been inflation and that we are spending more time on this each week. This all took 2 weeks to set up, so I did the lectures for the first two weeks. We are heading into week 8 (or 10) and finishing up. The whole process entails me meeting with student groups 1 or 2 times for 30 minutes to solidify their topics and distinguish what they will talk about from what I present in the pre-lecture youtube.
These youtube lectures are just that: not polished productions, just a narrated powerpoint. Here are two examples: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSA2XyAbxRg;
Two videos. 24 minutes on payments for ecosystem services, and preparation for our reading discussion with a bit on China’s Sloping Land Conservation Program.
Our lecture topics:
Conservation genetics; Population viability, habitat occupancy, disease ecology, connectivity, reserve design, climate change adaptations, restoration ecology, invasive species, ecosystem-based management, adaptive management, natural resource economics and conservation, and community -based conservation. I post videos; we post the lecture notes after class. Everyone does a literature review with their topic.
There are, we also reserve about 30-45 minutes each week for a tools session or a discussion of a topic. Thus far, we have taken on :
1. Conservation decision making
2. Vortex as a tool for Population Viability Assessment
3. Occupancy modeling
4. Marxan and Zonation for Spatial conservation planning
5. Management Strategy Evaluation
In some cases (e.g., MSE) tools and discussion are heavily mixed. We have also done pure discussions
1. the assisted migration debate as a linkage between the topics of invasive species and climate change adaptation.
2. Payments for ecosystem services. This week we will discuss China’s Sloping Land Conservation Program under Payments for Ecosystem Services and as a link to community-based conservation and governance issues.
Throughout the quarter, I have emphasized decision making and rubber hitting the road with respect to using science to inform action. The class has been enthusiastic in embracing this as a process for learning conservation science. I feel that it is not as specific as it needs to be in some cases, but I think that we are making the point that conservation draws from all sorts of sciences to support action and that developing a strength as an individual scientists is essential, but breadth is really helpful in being able to translate that into action. The second message is that scientists really need to embrace the manager’s dilemma and place themselves, to the extent possible into a managers shoes to consider all of the different elements that go into a decision: it is not simply the conservation science that places the highest priority on the conservation of the resource. I guess that a signal that this is working is that many students have been interested in a follow up discussion class next quarter in conservation decision making.
This leads me to the third element of the course: the group project. We have groups of 3-5 people taking on different case studies with the task of developing a science plan and a request for proposals.
These case studies vary in terms of the depth of pre-existing literature as well as the management structure for the resources. They all have some well-defined set of actors who are trying to do something. The students’ job is to create a conceptual model with a plausible (not necessarily accurate) depiction of conservation targets, goals for those targets, and then consider the science needed to foster decisions. The goals need to be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound). The science needs to consider multiple objectives that the resource manager may be considering.
This all sounds nice, or at least it did to me at the outset. However, this is a big ask and some of the groups are struggling to find their footing. Hence, we went into this thinking that we would invite an external panel to listen and comment on the plans. I also thought that we would spend time in class discussion cases throughout the quarter. We have not had time for that. Given that we are less confident in our product, we are now considering just reporting to ourselves on these case studies.
Hence, my mid-term report reads that we are doing outstanding in content, engagement, enthusiasm in the lectures and tools/discussions. We do not yet know how the case studies will come out in the end. My goal is that people find them a learning experience, and not just a waste of time , even if they do not manage to crack the nut on identifying the critical science needs that, if fulfilled, will drive change in management. But, I have to say, this is the most fun I have had teaching a graduate class in a long time.
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