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 wooded 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, Technical Facilitator of Scientific Programs at SNHU, helps develop the framework for experiential learning courses that prepare students for a career in their field of study. âThis course was introduced as an elective a few years ago and was intended to provide our online students with additional skills and practical experience,â she said.
Collect, use and make sense of data
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.
âWe also have a number of networked wireless camera traps that capture images of wildlife in space,â said Michael weinstein, STEM and Arboretum Administrator at SNHU. âWe have identified dozens of species, including the coyote, the bear and even relatively rare species like the pine marten.
Real and historical time the data of the arboretum can be found here 24 hours a day so that students can access it when it suits them while they are working 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.
âScientific 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. 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 ââimpact 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 understand 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 on how best to manage space, âWeinstein 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.
âCollaborations like this provide our students with great real-world and practical experiences that can really make a difference in applying their knowledge, skills and future success, wherever their path takes them,â 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 its growing experiential learning options for online students.
When evaluating the candidates for the awards, the OLC considers five pillars quality education in the digital field:
- Learning effectiveness
- Faculty satisfaction
- Student satisfaction
âWinning this award helps demonstrate that these experiential learning opportunities promote effective learning practices,â said Thrippleton-Hunter. “(They) expand access to fair science experiments 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.