2009 Teaching and Learning Symposium

2:30-4:30 p.m., April 21, 2009
HUB Ballroom

Session Description



Beyond the classroom: opportunities for hands-on learning in ecological research and conservation through a UW Exploration Seminar for undergraduates

Tim Billo and Ursula Valdez (Biology)

Hands-on experiences are among the best ways to enrich student learning. For students interested in environmental sciences, opportunities for hands-on fieldwork are essential, yet increasingly rare. Given the ongoing deterioration of the environment around the world, it is imperative to provide the educational experiences needed to recruit and train future generations of ecologists and conservation scientists. To this end, we designed and offered a field course through the UW Exploration Seminar program, providing an intensive and affordable international experience in ecology and conservation.

Twenty UW undergraduates from multiple majors participated in our 21-day exploration of the Andean highlands and Amazonian rainforest of southeastern Peru. Our course goals were 1), to train students in field techniques for the study of biodiversity, from basic natural history and taxonomy, to quantification techniques in ecology, and 2), to expose students to conservation challenges and sustainability issues in the Neotropics. At two remote sites, students designed and conducted group research projects in topics ranging from inventories of arthropods, photo-documentation of amphibians and their habitats, evaluating animal-plant interactions, documenting vegetative succession after disturbance, teaching field ecology at a local school, and collaborating with local students in organic gardening projects. Students presented their findings to each other and engaged in lively evening discussions. With local experts, students viewed and participated in traditional and non-traditional resource use, and discussed the impact of these on natural ecosystems.

Given the importance of environmental sustainability to the future of life on earth, we motivated students to lead the way in their own actions throughout the course. Students designed practical methodologies to quantify their own resource use, and succeeded in reducing the “ecological footprint” of the course.

Field studies increase the quality of education and cultural exchange for students, and open collaboration opportunities between the UW, and academic and conservation institutions abroad.


Index of Symposium Presenters