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Back to School – On Campus, Online, or Hybrid?

ESA Water Cooler Chat ~ September 3, 2020

Whether you are on campus, online or hybrid join us for this Back to School Water Cooler chat as the coronavirus pandemic lingers. What are the sources of inspiration you draw from? Where are the pain points? What are you doing differently this go-round? Bring your favorite beverage to this informal chat as we launch Season 2 of the ESA Water Cooler Chats. 

Kim Bjorgo-Thorne, West Virginia Wesleyan College 
Teresa Mourad, Ecological Society of America 

Summary of the Conversation 

While educators struggle to acquire the attention of their students in a virtual world, this Water Cooler chat shares some diverse ideas in tackling the curve in education. Complications continue to arise as many of our institutions are stuck between online, partialand full attendance. Some solutions may be as simple as asking students to go out and sit in silence for 10-20 minutesobserving what is around them. Other solutions take a more direct approach, requiring students to start a compressive research project over the course of a couple of months. Participants noted that virtual learning is a challenge for everyone. However, students who excel in virtual environments can be a helpful resource in this transition, especially for those who grapple with online learning.  

Student engagement and communication were specific challenges that arose during the chat. Community projects are an excellent method to get students involved while stay-at-home policies are in placeProjects ranging from sampling a local body of water to remote research (see multiple project ideas in the resources below)It was suggested that these projects replace conventional exams. Other ideas take more traditional roles, such as discussing literature based on locations students had never traveled before.  

Educational apps were also deemed helpful, especially those that are integrated into LMS platforms used by courses It is recommended they are used judiciously since the more apps used, the more tech support is required for faculty and students 

For larger groups, polling platforms are another way to include everyone’s involvement and perspectives. An alternative to calling on individual students to answer questions, and perhaps less intimidating, is to allow breakout groups to designate a spokesperson to present a groups findings 

Also, participants noted they could invite professional practitioner willing to share their achievements online, from anywhere without cost, which is another significant way to keep students engaged in classes. It was noted that discussions about ecology careers are really important for students as many are not familiar with the different settings and sectors that ecology is applied and the different types of career opportunities beyond academic research. 

There is still headway to be made in terms of engaging a more diverse group of ecologists. Many organizations promote adversity in STEM by highlighting diverse scientists. e.g. ESA, which used to have a poster series on diverse ecologists, and SACNAS.  

Summary of the Resources Shared During the Chat 






 USGS Landcover 


 4DEE Framework 











 NEON Database