Camera online

Move Online helps students discover nature – WSU Insider

Restrictions at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic were no fun, but some positives have come out of this isolation. At Washington State University, one of the lasting benefits is the virtual ecology experience for students and, through social media, for the public.

Prior to 2020, students enrolled in WSU’s Natural Resource Ecology course took field trips to Kamiak Butte County Park, 20 minutes north of Pullman, as part of a semester-long project . As enjoyable as it is to spend class time off-campus in nature, it’s also a challenge for students who don’t drive. During the pandemic, in-person field trips have become impossible.

Enter the Virtual Ecology Project, where School of the Environment instructor William Schlosser, affectionately known as “Dr. Bill,” worked with undergraduate and graduate students as well as the Whitman County Parks and Recreation Department to set up several camera traps across Kamiak Butte.

“Exploring the park online makes everything simple,” Schlosser said. “Students are learning better now than when we were just doing live field trips. It is impossible for a single teacher to be with the 100 students who roam the park.

Schlosser, along with teaching assistants and former students, regularly travels to Kamiak to collect camera trap recordings, fly drones, monitor and repair equipment, and make necessary adjustments.

For the fall 2022 semester, the SOE 300 class field trip includes virtual data collection and analysis, followed by a day-long physical park tour for groups of 20 students. This hybrid approach allows students to experience the best of both worlds.

“Field outing events are the most popular experience in this class,” Schlosser said. “It’s great to have them back in this hybrid model.”

Schlosser and his team release videos of the park and class data Youtube channel, which contains dozens of clips that anyone can watch. The page includes a variety of wildlife captured on camera traps, 360 degree videos of the park, and drone footage.

“This isn’t just a cool photo of a moose, students can observe the different species found in the butte biome and see how they relate to the land, climate and weather,” said Schlosser said. “Students can go there on their own and see the pitches for themselves whenever they want.”

During each semester, students create five report sections and combine them into one master document. A section of the report is entirely based on the experience of hybrid field trips, and these field trips are no longer dependent on favorable weather conditions, Schlosser said.

“There may be only one month a year when the flowers bloom in large numbers,” he said. “Now students can see these flowers all year round. And they can measure various aspects of trees like height, diameter, number per acre, all from their computer or tablet, allowing the data to be calculated.

Getting those videos isn’t always easy. Kate Thorne took the course and later became an undergraduate teaching assistant for the course. Being a TA meant trips to the mound to capture information.

“It was tough in the winter; the snow was so high that I was collapsing with every step,” said the young wildlife ecology and conservation science student. “It took us almost four hours to get to all the cam sites, but it was so much fun. I loved the hands-on activity and the reward was seeing the videos we captured. »

Thorne took the course in his freshman year, but it’s open to any WSU student, regardless of major. Thorne’s AT responsibilities allowed her to work closely with students who wanted to travel to Kamiak in person, the Los Angeles native said.

“Dr. Bill cares so much about what he teaches and the students who take his classes,” said Alex Kunz, another SOE 300 alumnus turned TA. how to effectively use Office applications to facilitate projects.

Kunz, a native of Port Townsend, Wash., never visited the park as a student during the fall 2021 semester. After serving as a teaching assistant last spring, he spent part of that summer at add to course data collection. He is working on a geocaching project and helping to develop the website because there is always more information to be found in nature.

“Ecology is a system of interconnected things,” said Kunz, a junior biology student. “It’s like a game of chess: there are no unimportant pieces. You can’t have a successful ecosystem without all the parts working together. »

This perspective is exactly what Schlosser hopes his students take away from his classes.

“I want the students to be curious, to look at the geology of Kamiak, the plants and animals that live there and find out how they got there and how they survive,” he said. “We use amazing technology that helps students, but it’s up to them to be curious. This is what will help them years after they leave my class.