Hands-on learning at field stations is transformative and has positive outcomes on student’s knowledge and long-term engagement with science. Abstract concepts are brought to life in the field because the natural world stimulates students’ curiosity, encourages active participation, and builds team camaraderie. For these reasons and more, the recommendations for implementing change in undergraduate biology education (e.g., ‘integrating core concepts’, ‘focus on student-centered learning’; AAAS 2011) are exemplified by field coursework and research. Despite their proven benefits, opportunities for fieldwork in undergraduate biology education are waning. This is alarming in light of rapidly increasing human impacts on ecosystems, and the growing disconnect between people and nature. To address this ‘nature deficit’, the Diversify and Integrate Marine Education at Stations (DIMES) network will engage scientists and learners at marine stations along the west coast of the North America to create a unified curriculum that documents change in biodiversity while combining fieldwork and computational literacy in undergraduate education. By connecting participants from a variety of academic institutions, the DIMES network will diversify the undergraduate audience served by marine stations. By integrating a field curriculum across western North America, educators will engage students with pressing scientific questions in an age of rapid biological change. This network will leverage the existing undergraduate teaching at participating marine laboratories and expand their reach to new students who lack access to experiential learning.
Field courses share a common philosophy centered on local natural history and experiential learning, but this knowledge is rarely placed within a broader context in an explicit, quantitative manner – a shortcoming in an era of global human impacts. The proposed unified field curriculum will integrate the traditional place-based approach within a biogeographic framework by developing innovative modules that combine data across the network to address questions at larger spatial and temporal scales. By linking explicitly environmental change, biogeography, and natural history, the DIMES network will maintain the relevance of curricula offered at these stations and export the modules to other institutions. Moreover, the network will develop a partnership of educators from diverse institutions that span R1 to community college, and that vary in their shore access, to expand the reach of marine stations beyond their walls. This network of instructors will develop curricula and assessment tools that can be implemented in classrooms with varying levels of field time, with the goal of identifying mechanisms to minimize the hypothesized learning gap between students with and without shore access.
This project is being jointly funded by the Directorate for Biological Sciences, Division of Biological Infrastructure, and the Directorate for Education and Human Resources, Division of Undergraduate Education as part of their efforts to address the challenges posed in Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action (http://visionandchange/finalreport/).
This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.