COVID‐19 field instruction: Bringing the forests of British Columbia to students


  • BC
  • British Columbia
  • BEC
  • biogeoclimatic ecosystem classification
  • FRST 350
  • Foundational Field School 8‐day course
  • HD
  • high definition
  • LMS
  • learning management system
  • MKRF
  • Malcolm Knapp Research Forest
  • UBC
  • University of British Columbia
  • VR
  • virtual reality

    In March 2020, the emerging COVID‐19 pandemic (Fauci, Lane, & Redfield, 2020) forced universities to quickly pivot from face‐to‐face to online instruction. With negligible preparation time, faculty were typically unable to deliberately transform their courses using sound online pedagogy (Carey, 2020; Gardner, 2020). As the pandemic continues and many universities remain at least partially online, faculty are seeking improved ways to employ online teaching for courses traditionally held face‐to‐face. Field instruction is a critical component of university education in the natural sciences (Fleischner et al., 2017). Abruptly converting face‐to‐face field instruction to an online format in response to COVID‐19 has been a significant challenge (Barton, 2020). Instructors perceive negative effects related to learning outcomes, with a shift toward more instructor‐centered, rather than student‐centered approaches, and instructors have concerns about equity, especially regarding student access to technology (Barton, 2020).

    The University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Faculty of Forestry offers a number of field courses among several degree programs. FRST 350, Foundational Field School, is an 8‐day field course designed specifically for participants in the Faculty of Forestry’s 3+2 program. In this program, Chinese students take 3 years of courses at a partner university in China, including some short, intensive courses taught by visiting UBC faculty. Students then transfer to UBC and complete two additional years of coursework to receive their UBC degree. For many 3+2 students, FRST 350 is their first course at UBC. The course runs in late August, immediately preceding the fall term. FRST 350 is a bridge course, combining concepts and skills from second‐year courses and introducing topics from upcoming third‐year courses. The objectives of FRST 350 are:

    • Objective 1: To integrate and apply topics covered in second‐year courses regarding plants, soils, ecology, and basic management of BC forests
    • Objective 2: To give hands‐on experience in field skills such as navigation and mensuration
    • Objective 3: To introduce upcoming third‐year topics such as silviculture, insects and disease, and forest operations
    • Objective 4: To assist students in their transition and acculturation to UBC

    Given the COVID‐19 pandemic (Fauci et al., 2020) in late‐spring 2020, the decision was made to cancel all UBC undergraduate forestry summer field courses. Because FRST 350 is a key transition course for newly arrived 3+2 students, I felt complete cancellation would be quite detrimental. Because 3+2 students receive transfer credit for core second‐year courses rather than taking them at UBC, this field course helps them catch up to their new non‐transfer peers. In particular, 3+2 students are at a disadvantage in third‐year courses because their non‐transfer peers have already spent extensive time learning in local BC forests. Additionally, given travel restrictions and online‐only instruction, all 3+2 students would be remotely taking their fall UBC courses while still in China. Therefore, knowledge and context of local ecosystems would be…

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