Connecting rivers, people, and science through immersive field education

Rivers perform a broad set of functions essential to human societies and the landscapes they flow through. River-human relationships often are impaired, which threatens both rivers and people. Restoring these relationships will require a diverse workforce of interdisciplinary problem solvers. Field studies are essential to creating this workforce. Field studies connect students to learning objectives, peers, instructors, and society through immersive active learning in real world environments. They help overcome achievement gaps, propel inclusion, catalyze career interest, and create informed and engaged citizens. However, to achieve these benefits, field instructors must overcome a unique and growing set of challenges. In addition to knowledge of their STEM discipline, field studies instructors require a sophisticated grasp of specialized pedagogy and assessment, fundraising, negotiating institutional bureaucracy, issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and multiple dimensions of risk management. Mastering these is more than many self-taught instructors will be able to manage on their own. Without a network for support and guidance, instructors will burn out, risk-averse institutions will shy away, and field studies will continue to decline. The River Field Studies Network is a response to the paired crises of rivers and field studies. At this moment of critical vulnerability, we must restore and expand the capacity to bring students and rivers into contact through active learning.

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Nadia Bukach, Todd Lookingbill, Andrew Davidson, James Vonesh, Kristine Grayson

In the heart of Richmond, VA a series of depressions dot the banks of the James River. These rock pools were created by years of water and debris boring into the underlying bedrock. Exposed by an upriver dam, the rock pools are a patchwork of aquatic habitats dynamically interconnected by seasonal flooding that have been carefully mapped using photography from Unmanned Arial Vehicles(UAVs). In this lab, students use spatial biodiversity data from these pools to investigate principles of island biogeography.

This lesson teaches students introductory level concepts for working with spatial data and producing effective maps. Students use ArcGIS 10 to calculate spatial attributes and perform basic spatial analysis to conceptualize species distribution, measures of pool biodiversity, pool isolation and distance of pools to sources of biodiversity. This module has been used an introductory ecology and geography course. It is designed to introduce students with no background in ArcGIS to spatial analysis while teaching fundamental ecological concepts.

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February 23, 2019