A horizon scan of ecology teaching

Submitted by editor on 2 November 2020.Get the paper!

Teaching and learning in ecology: a horizon scan of emerging challenges and solutions

In May 2019 a group of 30 UK academics gathered at The Open University to conduct a horizon scan of ecology teaching. We met to consider the outcomes of a two-step survey identifying potential future challenges to the teaching of ecology, and to propose possible solutions to those challenges. To our knowledge, this is the first time the horizon scanning process has been applied to ecology teaching.

Little did we know when we met 16 months ago, how COVID-19 was going to bring into sharp focus many of the issues raised and the relevance of some of our suggested solutions, so quickly. As countries worldwide went into lockdown earlier this year, educators scrabbled to adapt their teaching to the online environment and ecology teachers were no different. Even now, six months on, with residential field courses cancelled and most university teaching still being conducted online in the UK, concepts we describe in our paper such as ‘living lab’ field teaching on campus, and the use of virtual resources to supplement field teaching, are garnering the broader attention we anticipated. The increasing disconnect between people and nature, one of the challenges identified and discussed in the scan was, was highlighted when people had limited access to outdoor spaces under lockdown. As people reflected on what they needed, the media began to report stories of people reconnecting with the outside world, noticing the birds and butterflies, in some cases for the first time.

The horizon scan highlighted barriers to fieldwork, inequalities associated with language, and echoed others in calling for ecology to be decolonised and more inclusive. As we adapt to ‘the new normal’, and redesign how and what we teach in light of COVID-19, surely this is the time to make our discipline more accessible to groups that are currently underrepresented? Finally, we predicted the carbon footprint of international field schools would be increasingly questioned, and the alternatives we suggested are now more likely to be supported by universities, though not necessarily for the reasons we anticipated.

We have an opportunity here and hope the horizon scan will help educators make the most of it.


Written by:

Julia Cooke¹ and Zenobia Lewis²

¹School of Environment, Earth, and Ecosystem Services, The Open University, UK

²School of Life Sciences, University of Liverpool, UK

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