Hands-on learning has gained attention in recent years, and the School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) offers a number of classes employing an experiential-based learning approach.
The Wetland Ecology class (ENR 5250), taught by Lecturer Mark Dilley, is one example.
This course offers a lab section, which was “created with the intention to give students a meaningful, hands-on, learning experience in wetland science,” says Dilley. The first four weeks of this lab focus on understanding the parameters used to delineate a wetland: hydrology, hydric soils, and wetland vegetation. Dilley then requires his students to perform an actual delineation, “putting their knowledge to the test.” Students relate what was taught in the classroom to a real world situation, collecting authentic data, and practicing using GPS units to log data points and map wetland boundaries. Dilley remarked that, upon completion of this exercise he was “impressed with student performance, attributing the students’ developing competency in wetland delineation to the impact of hands-on learning.”
Structuring the lab this way also allows Dilley to build stronger relationships with students and to “better assess their interests, strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations. Once you have a better handle on who you’re teaching, the further you can personalize the material to offer a stronger, more genuine learning environment for each student.”
Hunter Ardrey, a third year environmental science major focusing on ecosystem restoration in the class, commented that the lab section is the first class he’s had that allows him to “apply what he’s learned to a real world situation.” Because of the lab, Ardrey said “he has gained the confidence to delineate a wetland,” and that the lab “provided a stepping stone in how to survey any ecosystem for restoration or management purposes.”
Dilley feels he is in a unique position to provide students with real world experiences, due to his primary profession as a Professional Wetland Scientist for his company, MAD Scientist & Associates. He is “hopeful to make students more marketable upon graduation, by arming them with practical information both inside and outside the classroom.”
ENR 5250 will be offered again next autumn. Dilley plans to continue his current approach with the lab section, with some refinements to be implemented based on lessons learned this year.