Utilizing a network of undergraduate campuses to conduct collaborative, large-scale faculty-student research: The Permanent Forest Plot Project (PFPP) of the Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN)
Many academic campuses contain natural areas which can be used to engage students in science. EREN (Ecological Research as Education Network) strives to connect faculty and students at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs) through large-scale, collaborative research projects that serve both scientific and pedagogical goals. Natural areas protected and managed by PUIs can be valuable resources for this type of student-faculty research. One of EREN’s projects is the Permanent Forest Plot Project (PFPP). Faculty and students establish and inventory 20 x 20 m tree plots in a range of forest types, ages, and ecoregions at or near the member institutions. The data from the plots are shared with all collaborators and their students in an online database. In the process, students should gain proficiency in field and data analysis techniques, and apply ecological processes across spatial and temporal scales to their own site data. PFPP protocols, datasheets and teaching resources are available on the EREN website (www.erenweb.org). Utilizing data collected from the PFPP faculty participants and a pre-test/post-test assessment of student learning outcomes, this poster will assess the benefits, and potential drawbacks, of utilizing campus areas for faculty-student research.
The EREN PFPP has approximately 80 faculty participants at 60 institutions. In February 2015, 31 PFPP faculty responded to an online survey on the use of campus areas. Sixty-eight percent of the respondents reported they utilize natural areas on their campuses or land owned by their institution. Of those who reported they do not use land owned by their institution, eight said their campuses lack sufficient land or forest, and seven use natural areas within five miles of their campus. The top three benefits of utilizing campus natural areas were: (1) able to utilize in one class or lab period, (2) high student accessibility, and (3) low cost. When asked about the disadvantages of using campus areas, two mentioned their campus areas are not ideal for research, and two reported the inability to guarantee natural area protection for long-term research. The student assessment at seven institutions showed evidence that student knowledge related to the value of scientific collaboration and skills for managing multi-site data sets are improved after PFPP lab experiences. Our results document that the EREN PFPP participants rely heavily on campus natural areas; as a result the institutions, faculty, and students benefit financially, logistically, and academically.