The environmental science course uses data from the Arboretum


The Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) Arboretum, accredited by the ArbNet Arboretum and Morton Arboretum program, is more than a learning space for on-campus classes. Students from across the country enrolled in the online environmental science program also tap into the 25-acre forested wetland. Those who choose to take the program’s experiential learning course, which recently received an award for effective practice through the E-Learning Consortium (OLC), are embarking on various data-driven projects.

The creation of this course provided an opportunity to leverage the campus resource on a larger scale, allowing registrants to work with data collected in real time.

Dr Kelly Thrippleton-Hunter, SNHU Scientific Programs Technical Facilitator, helps develop the framework for experiential learning courses that prepare students for careers in their field of study. “This course was introduced as an elective a few years ago and was intended to provide our online students with additional skills and practical experience,” she said.

Collect, use and make sense of data

Michael Weinstein written on a chalkboard with the text Michael Weinstein

Each term the course focuses on a different topic, such as animal behavior and field methods. For example, students use data on meteorological, soil and wetland parameters collected using environmental sensors installed throughout the arboretum.

“We also have a number of networked wireless camera traps that capture images of wildlife in space,” said Michael weinstein, STEM and Arboretum Administrator at SNHU. “We have identified dozens of species, including the coyote, the bear and even relatively rare species like the pine marten.

Real-time and historical Arboretum data is located here 24 hours a day so students can access it when it suits them as they work on their projects.

The course enables those enrolled in the Environmental Sciences program to employ the scientific method by developing and answering research questions – an essential skill in the field of their choice.

Dr. Kelly Thrippleton-Hunter with the text Dr. Kelly Thrippleton-Hunter“Scientific research and the scientific method are an integral part of science, and providing students with the opportunity to conduct their own research using real-world data continues to solidify these processes in their learning and development and helps students continue. to develop their critical thinking skills. “said Thrippleton-Hunter.

Since some of the projects challenge them to compare data from the arboretum to data collected by students in their area, it offers them a chance to develop a deeper connection with their surroundings, Weinstein said. It also highlights the idea of ​​impact and the need to protect natural spaces. The conserved lands in southern New Hampshire can also benefit thousands of miles away.

It also gives them space to solve problems and have the potential to inform change. “For example, we gain an understanding of the use of space for wildlife habitat or can record changes due to development or climate change, explore these vulnerabilities and use this data to make informed decisions about the situation. better way to manage space, ”Weinstein mentioned.

The experiment also blurs the line between learning on a traditional campus and online, Weinstein said, allowing the two communities to come together and use the same space and resources.

“Collaborations like this provide our students with great real-world and practical experiences that can really make a difference in the application of their knowledge, skills and future success, wherever their path takes them,” said Thrippleton- Hunter.

Winning the award for effective practice

The OLC is an organization focused on promoting quality digital education, and it named SNHU the recipient of two effective practice awards last year. In addition to recognizing the SNHU’s HEaRT Challenge, which aims to solve health problems, the collaboration between environmental sciences and the arboretum has been recognized for the growing number of experiential learning options for online students.

When evaluating candidates for the awards, the OLC considers five pillars of quality digital education:

  1. Access
  2. Learning effectiveness
  3. Faculty satisfaction
  4. Student satisfaction
  5. Scalability

“Winning this award helps demonstrate that these experiential learning opportunities promote effective learning practices,” said Thrippleton-Hunter. “(They) expand access to fair science experiences to our distributed online students, regardless of their physical, geographic or financial circumstances, and improve student confidence and self-efficacy.

Rebecca LeBoeuf ’18 is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


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