David Hix, associate professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) recently presented a paper at the 10th Biennial Conference on University Education in Natural Resources held on the campus of Auburn University where he shared with colleagues from across the nation information on the field-oriented course he designed and initiated nearly fifteen years ago called Forest Ecosystems. The presentation entitled, “Providing the essential foundation: learning about forest ecosystems in the field as a basis for their management”, chronicles his journey teaching this course and the hands-on learning opportunities students experience and skills they develop. Forest Ecosystems (ENR 3322) is an undergraduate course offered by the School of Environment and Natural Resources during the autumn semester and over the years has enrolled 215 students.
At the outset and as a guiding orientation, Hix reminds the students of these words by Louis Agassiz, "Go to nature; take the facts into your own hands; look, and see for yourself!" One of the main goals of the course is to investigate the inter-relationships among ecosystem components (climate, vegetation, soil, physiography), as well as the compositional and successional dynamics of forest communities.
In the course, students have the opportunity weekly to observe, analyze and compare local forest ecosystem types. Hix notes, “Reconnaissance over the years for the labs has generated a network of field locations we visit that represent the most prevalent forest ecosystem types in central Ohio along a gradient from dry to wet soil conditions.” As part of the course requirements, student teams prepare written lab reports, utilizing the data they collect from permanent plots, that document their field and quantitative methods, explain the distinctive characteristics of the forest ecosystem type (based on their observations and research), and speculate on the disturbance history and successional trajectory of the forest stand.
Through these diverse exercises, according to Hix, “students gain essential field skills and experience, including applying concepts they learned in the prerequisite Dendrology and Forest Biology course” and notes, “overall, students in the course have appreciated the unique opportunities afforded by the weekly field lab trips, and gain invaluable sampling, analytical, evaluation, and assessment skills they will use in their careers to assess forests and to develop potential management recommendations.”
The BCUENR has been held every two years since 1996 and explores teaching and learning innovations and issues facing educators in natural resource fields. This year’s conference was hosted by the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn University. This tradition of examining and sharing ideas in natural resources pedagogy extends from the early roots of professions represented by participants in these conferences.
To learn more about the Forest Ecosystems course offered through the School of Environment and Natural Resources, visit: http://senr.osu.edu/about-us/courses/enr3322
Photos courtesy of David Hix.
Cooper, Lane. 1945. Louis Agassiz as a teacher; illustrative extracts on his method of instruction. Comstock Publishing Company, Ithaca, NY.