An innovative approach to using an intensive field course to build scientific and professional skills

Article


Nicotra, Adrienne B., Geange, Sonya R., Bahar, Nur H. A., Carle, Hannah Carle, Catling, Alexandra, Garcia, Andres, Harris, Rosalie J., Head, Megan L., Jin, Marvin, Whitehead, Michael R., Zurcher, Hannah Zurcher and Beckmann, Elizabeth A.. 2022. "An innovative approach to using an intensive field course to build scientific and professional skills." Ecology and Evolution. 12 (10). https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.9446
Article Title

An innovative approach to using an intensive field course to build scientific and professional skills

ERA Journal ID200398
Article CategoryArticle
AuthorsNicotra, Adrienne B., Geange, Sonya R., Bahar, Nur H. A., Carle, Hannah Carle, Catling, Alexandra, Garcia, Andres, Harris, Rosalie J., Head, Megan L., Jin, Marvin, Whitehead, Michael R., Zurcher, Hannah Zurcher and Beckmann, Elizabeth A.
Journal TitleEcology and Evolution
Journal Citation12 (10)
Article Numbere9446
Number of Pages13
YearOct 2022
Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
ISSN2045-7758
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.9446
Web Address (URL)https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ece3.9446
Abstract

This paper reports on the design and evaluation of Field Studies in Functional Ecology (FSFE), a two-week intensive residential field course that enables students to master core content in functional ecology alongside skills that facilitate their transition from “student” to “scientist.” We provide an overview of the course structure, showing how the constituent elements have been designed and refined over successive iterations of the course. We detail how FSFE students: (1) Work closely with discipline specialists to develop a small group project that tests an hypothesis to answer a genuine scientific question in the field; (2) Learn critical skills of data management and communication; and (3) Analyze, interpret, and present their results in the format of a scientific symposium. This process is repeated in an iterative “cognitive apprenticeship” model, supported by a series of workshops that name and explicitly instruct the students in “hard” and “soft” skills (e.g., statistics and teamwork, respectively) critically relevant for research and other careers. FSFE students develop a coherent and nuanced understanding of how to approach and execute ecological studies. The sophisticated knowledge and ecological research skills that they develop during the course is demonstrated through high-quality presentations and peer-reviewed publications in an open-access, student-led journal. We outline our course structure and evaluate its efficacy to show how this novel combination of field course elements allows students to gain maximum value from their educational journey, and to develop cognitive, affective, and reflective tools to help apply their skills as scientists.

Keywordscognitive apprenticeship; field course; fieldwork; functional ecology; researcher identity; university teaching
Byline AffiliationsAustralian National University
University of Bergen, Norway
Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Norway
University of Queensland
University of Melbourne
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