Field studies combine active learning practices in an immersive environmental context to create experiences that inspire students and catalyze their transition from student to scientist. Despite this formative role, field study opportunities in undergraduate biology education are declining due to real and perceived student, faculty, and institutional barriers. Our project, using river ecosystems as the immersive context, will identify and overcome these barriers by establishing the "River-based ImmersiVe Education & Research (RIVER) Field Studies Network." This network focuses on undergraduate education in and around rivers for three reasons. (1) Rivers are natural classrooms for interdisciplinary STEM learning; their processes integrate across biology, hydrology, geology, and coupled human and natural systems. (2) Rivers offer unique logistical solutions for many barriers to immersive field studies. (3) Rivers provide essential services to society but are among the most imperiled ecosystems. Addressing current and emerging challenges facing river ecosystems requires scientists and professionals trained to work across disciplines, technologies, and landscapes. Creating capacity within undergraduate biology education for immersive field studies in these critical ecosystems will advance STEM training and inspire future problem-solvers to address the challenges facing river ecosystems in the twenty first century.
The RIVER Field Studies Network will build human and institutional capacity for active learning pedagogy and comparative river biology. It will enhance the quality and capacity of current programs by supporting communication and coordination of educational and research activities across disciplinary, institutional, and geographic boundaries to advance undergraduate biology education at multiple scales. It will work to overcome barriers of entry for underrepresented populations and students with differing abilities while developing tools to support the creation of river field studies at new institutions. It will leverage the resources of individual academic programs and professional partners to begin building the foundation for transformative network-scale capacity for active learning in river field studies. Examples of transformative network-scale capacity include: establishing cooperative agreements for student exchange across the network; creating a national comparative river field studies curriculum ; and developing a plan to transition the network into a self-sustaining national organization supporting interdisciplinary river field studies.
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