Wednesday, August 5, 2009 - 1:40 PM

SYMP 13-1: Ecology education in 2020: Honoring our past, but unconstrained by it

Paul Risser, University of Oklahoma

Background/Question/Methods Ecological education continues to evolve in several significant ways and directions, now including pre-K-12 curricula and associated student-oriented experiences; post-secondary interdisciplinary courses and programs, and adult learning programs frequently attached to specific environmental issues. Information technology has invaded ecological education though shared datasets and images, laboratory exercises and various interactive models.  With current computer mapping capabilities, students of all ages can investigate geographical distributions and spatial patterns of ecological characteristics and processes.  And the continuing expansion of research and observational networks with the expanding application of instrumentation, from LTER to NEON, now offers a new level of cyberinfrastructure-based learning tools and abundant data streams.  The incessant admonition for greater interdisciplinarity has eroded some curricular and program boundaries; the consistent requests for prediction from practitioners has led to the development of more integrated decision-making tools.  Thus, we can claim victories and celebrate the march of new approaches as we honor our successes in ecological education.
The question, however, is whether this evolutionary and incremental process is sufficient for all the potential constituencies of ecological education, whether all the constituencies are engaged in the most powerful ways and whether we will be satisfied in 2020 that we took all the right enabling actions in 2009. 
Results/Conclusions Too much ecological education is now taught by ecologists who teach ecology as they think ecology should be taught.  Instead, far more ecological education should be utilitarian and learning should be forcefully guided by the expectations of the learners (users). If these users were to design ecological education, our learning experiences would focus on such topics as identifying levels of certainty, placing prices on ecological characteristics and services, creating analytical templates for evaluating natural resource utilization scenarios, mining important conclusions from large data sets and data streams, and applying information technology to ecological information for public and private decision-making processes.  The challenge to ecologists is to be able to integrate the essential ecological principles into a learning process that does not begin with those principles, but rather artfully inserts them when and how they are needed in practical applications.  This approach requires a much more intense relationship with the public and private sector users.  Only with this intimate and iterative interaction will we as teachers be satisfied in 2020 that ecological education has made the difference that it could.