Interactive videos used to explore complexities of conservation in online course

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A general education course at Penn State has been revamped to include interactive videos designed to teach students about conservation and sustainability. The course, Global Parks and Sustainability (GEOG 001), will be taught online in spring 2016 by Erica Smithwick, associate professor of geography in Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

The course is designed to teach students about global trends and patterns in conservation management in different park environments, including national parks, provincial or state parks, and privately managed conservation areas. By traveling virtually to these park landscapes, students will have the chance to learn about key social and environmental processes affecting sustainability, including climate change, biodiversity and environmental policies, and how these factors pose challenges to local communities and the environment.

To help students understand how park landscapes and people interact, Smithwick worked with WPSU Penn State and the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute. She received a grant from the Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) to produce videos during a 10-week study abroad course in South Africa called Parks and People. Parks and People integrates teaching, research and service across multiple disciplines related to the management of protected areas; community, social and economic development; and public education in ecosystem services.

“To convey how different ownership models, ecologies and communities influence conservation, we had to capture the different voices and perspectives. The videos in GEOG 001 will feature students from the 2015 cohort of Parks and People sharing their perspective during the trip — what they learned and how they have grown — and they will also feature landowners and park managers discussing sustainability,” said Smithwick.

Since 2009, Smithwick has been involved with the development of the Parks and People program alongside Neil Brown, assistant professor of geography and research associate for the Alliance for Education, Science, Engineering and Development in Africa (AESEDA), who now runs the program. Initially, Smithwick wanted to find a way to share the learning experience of study-abroad students with resident or online students unable to make the trip, using a peer-based learning approach. Making the videos interactive would add another layer of interaction and engagement within the online course environment. The videos in GEOG 001 will contain interactive elements such as annotated commentary from instructors at specific timeframes, pop-up questions, and “branching,” in which new storylines can be followed.

“The more interaction you have in an online course, the more overall engaged a student is with the content, and we hope that translates to a better experience. We’re always looking for ways to engage learners more and bring interaction to someone at a distance and not in the classroom,” said Erin Long, learning designer with the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute.

Smithwick and her colleagues also plan to assess the effectiveness of this new approach to teaching about global conservation challenges and opportunities.

“We’re excited about the idea of being immersed in the experience, to really understand and live in that environment as virtually as possible. We’re encouraging students to think globally about conservation and broaden their minds. For them to be engaged citizens, they need to recognize these challenges and how the idea of conservation has evolved over time. I’m hopeful that interactive videos will help with that,” she said.

GEOG 001 is available as a University Park course for spring 2016 and will satisfy students’ social and behavioral science general education (GS) and international cultures (IL) requirements.

Last Updated October 08, 2015