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Biology Professor Adapts Labs for Students to Complete Remotely
Kate Miller, Ph.D., found a creative way for her students to do their labs at home, and her students found the experience to be a meaningful way to reflect, connect with nature, and enjoy some time outside.
June 4, 2020
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
Erika Lugo ’20 recently ventured to Fountain Lake Reservoir in Seymour, Conn., a trail she has fond memories of visiting with friends, where they would have breakfast on the docks and enjoy the scenery together.
Her latest visit was part of an assignment for her biology class, so, instead of taking in the scenery with her friends, she jotted down notes, sketched what she saw, and practiced being aware of her surroundings in the moment.
"I enjoyed this assignment because it gave me the opportunity to get outside and feel like a part of nature," said Lugo. "As a student, I spend a lot of time immersed in a book or on my laptop, and I liked that this assignment challenged me to think about where I was in nature and what was surrounding me. As a psychology major, I appreciated the opportunity to include mindfulness, which made it even more relevant."
Lugo's lab was part of an assignment for a biology class she took with Kate Miller, Ph.D. Students were tasked with exploring a natural setting and applying what they had learned about ecology. They were instructed to take time to notice the details around them and to reflect on the experience.
Students didn’t have to go far to complete the assignment. Those who couldn’t safely be outside could explore an ecosystem online. One student visited Yellowstone National Park virtually. They could explore any natural setting, even their own backyard, which is what Ariel Rice ’22 did.
"I really enjoyed the simple fact of being outside and appreciating nature, even if only for a few moments," said Rice, a psychology major. "This assignment allowed me to really explore my backyard, almost as if for the first time. I was able to notice details that I otherwise might not have."
As Dr. Miller and her colleagues transitioned to online learning amid the global coronavirus pandemic, they adapted their course material – including labs – so that students could learn from home. This lab was part of a biology course for students who are not majoring in biology, and one of several that she and her colleagues adapted so that students could complete it from home.
"This was one of many online labs that had to be created quickly," Dr. Miller explained. "We're very fortunate to have a talented team that pitched in to create this content. It was this team approach that ensured our ability to deliver a diverse, interesting, and meaningful curriculum to more than 270 students."
Students completing the outdoor ecology lab chose a place to take a walk and record their observations. They described the place in detail, and many researched it. Then, those who could, took a 15-minute walk, choosing one location in particular to explore in depth.
Felicia Pasculli ’21 also explored her backyard, and she says she discovered lasting benefits of connecting with nature.
"I have been mostly staying inside during the pandemic, but this gave me an excuse to clear my head and get some fresh air," said Pasculli, a psychology major. "Going outside put me in a better mood and made me feel more productive throughout the rest of my day."
Kimberly Nelson ’21, a criminal justice major, explored Holy Land USA, an abandoned, religious-themed amusement park in Waterbury, Conn. She wrote that the experience "allowed me to view nature through a different lens, and encouraged me to change certain behaviors that aren’t good for our environment."
Students examined the vegetation, noted the different types of environments and organisms they saw, and the impact humans have had on the environment. They took photos of their surroundings and of themselves exploring. They then reflected on how spending time outdoors affected them.
Kelsey Phoenix ’21 visited Cortona Park, a public park in the Bronx, New York, a place she has often visited with her mother.
"Spending time outdoors helped me find a new activity during this time in quarantine," said Phoenix, a psychology major. "I enjoyed taking a walk through my neighborhood park and observing all the aspects of nature, especially the birds in the trees. It allowed me to enjoy how beautiful nature is without having to be in close proximity to other people."
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