Fisheries and Wildlife Education: Needed Competencies, Current Pedagogy, and Distance Learning

The educational needs for fisheries and wildlife programs continue to evolve with employer requirements and the changing nature of students coming into the field. This symposium features three sessions of talks and an open panel discussion focusing on current trends in student education throughout the natural resources field. The sessions include 1) undergraduate competencies: matching employers needs to university products, 2) current best practices in pedagogy: re-educating the educators, and 3) distance learning opportunities in wildlife and fisheries: success, failures, and stigmas. Each session will offer talks from educators from both wildlife and fisheries backgrounds. It will also include presentations from state and federal employers giving an interesting counter view of undergraduate and postgraduate education. These talks will culminate in a round table discussion at the end of the day. Attendees are welcome to engage presenters and openly discuss topics covered during the days’ talks.

8:00AM Do Fisheries and Wildlife Graduates Meet Employer Needs?
  Brent Bibles
Surveys of agencies that employ fisheries and wildlife biologists suggest that our college and university programs in these disciplines are not producing graduates with the skills most needed for them to be successful. I will present some of the findings of these surveys and address some of the possible reasons for this mismatch. A common mismatch is ‘transferable skills’ – those skills that are required for success regardless of discipline such as ability to communicate effectively, work in teams, and interact with stakeholders. Other potential mismatches likely stem from changes in the type of students entering these programs. Regardless of the mismatch, these mismatches imply a need for a concerted effort to identify what the key competencies in the wildlife and fisheries disciplines are and how our educational programs and certification processes can increase the ability of graduates to meet employer’s needs. This section of the symposium will focus on beginning this discussion.
8:20AM Natural Resource Professional Certification Shapes University Curricula
  Justin VanDeHey, Mark A. Kaemingk
One role of professional societies is to offer certification to individuals that have achieved a certain level of competency within their respected discipline. Professional certification serves many purposes, however its impact on undergraduate education is often overlooked. Many natural resource university programs have designed their curricula to meet certification standards put forth by professional societies. As a result, the certification requirements directly impact the training and education received by students that subsequently enter the profession. Designing and updating certification requirements to meet the needs of employers is challenging and therefore should be an ongoing and collaborative process. For example, requirements for the American Fisheries Society (AFS) certification were recently revisited; feedback from professionals was obtained and ultimately coursework requirements were modified. The AFS certification requirements were updated to include more training in communication and statistical skills and less emphasis on general coursework. Further, course relevance should match the academic degree (e.g., B.Sc. vs. M.Sc. vs. Ph.D.). We recommend that natural resource certifications take on an adaptive management approach to ensure that undergraduate curricula are successfully preparing students to meet the needs of employers while balancing University requirements. Adaptive management of natural resource certifications will require continuous input and collaboration among employers, educators, and young professionals.
8:40AM How to Become More Competitive for Federal Employment: A Discussion of the Application Process and Ideal Competencies
  Sharon Fuller-Barnes
Securing a federal career with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or any other federal natural resource agency, can seem to be a daunting task. In my current role as diversity employment specialist (recruiter), I work alongside well known natural resource colleges and universities/organizations and minority serving institutions to introduce opportunities such as internships, provide basic information about FWS and the effective way to navigate and apply for federal internships/career opportunities on USAjobs (federal online application portal). Alongside fostering of these relationships, the next imperative step we are approaching is identifying if their curriculum provides minimum education requirements for some of FWS mission critical positions (ex: Wildlife Biology/Wildlife Management). During this competency discussion, I am hoping to provide some insight into the federal hiring process through my experience being a recruiter and provide some successful strategies of placement provided from current employees.
9:00AM Wildlife Competencies: A Private Perspective
  Quentin Hays, Karl Kosciuch
Although core course offerings in wildlife programs are generally consistent, often due to certification standards set by The Wildlife Society, variation does exist which can lead to different competencies in wildlife graduates. Are early-career employees in the private sector equipped with the skills, abilities and knowledge to succeed after completing an undergraduate degree in wildlife sciences or a related field? Is their knowledge of natural history and basic ecology adequate? How important is an understanding of biological study design in the private sector? Perhaps most importantly, are wildlife programs equipping graduates with the communication skills necessary to succeed, and has graduate school become a prerequisite to employment with a consulting firm? Perhaps there are different, viable career paths within the private sector that might require different educational focuses? We surveyed experienced project managers and senior ecologists within a medium-sized ecological consulting firm to gain a better understanding of how well undergraduate and graduate wildlife programs are preparing early-career wildlife practitioners for success. The results of this survey and a private perspective on undergraduate and graduate wildlife educational programs are reported here.
9:20AM Competencies in Wildlife & Fisheries Education: An Academic Perspective
  Brent Bibles
The role of fisheries and wildlife programs at colleges and universities is to produce graduates capable of entering the professional workforce in these disciplines. Designing these programs and courses is challenged on multiple fronts such as increasing general education requirements, resource limitations, and lack of direction on what competencies are required. In this talk I will focus on the latter. While we have general guidance from employer surveys, there have been few attempts to identify competencies at a level that can inform curriculum and course design. Certification programs and hiring agency requirements are primarily focused on the number of credit hours in a subject and course titles. This assumes that students completing these courses have attained competency in an undefined set of skills or knowledge that are not consistent across institutions. Identifying specific concepts and skills that are required would enable programs and courses to be developed using the principles of backward design. Programs designed in such a way would help move towards a competency-based approach to education. Such an approach would not only help satisfy the increasing oversight of accrediting organizations but encourage faculty to begin practicing ‘scientific teaching’ – the application of research approaches to evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching. An organized effort at identification of key competencies in wildlife and fisheries is essential for improving the ability of programs to produce what the modern fisheries and wildlife management employers need in our graduates.
09:40AM Break
1:10PM Use of Classroom Technologies to Open up Time for Deeper Discussions
  Jose Guzman
Marine Biology is an undergraduate course taught at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences (University of Washington) following a flipped model. This study describes a series of technology-based pedagogical practices to open up time for deeper discussions in the classroom. Before class: when the instructional content is delivered. Fully closed-captioned video lectures (5-10 min, Panopto) are used to target specific concepts that are not included in the course textbook or require additional explanation. Before each class, students take an online quiz on Canvas where they are tested on specific learning objectives for the upcoming class. During class: when the time is used to engage in higher-order thinking, speaking with peers in a small group, or with the entire class, and giving/receiving feedback. Series of 2-4 scaffolding questions are used in Poll Everywhere to create the foundation to solve complex case studies. For each question, students first vote individually and then re-vote after a group discussion. In parallel, the Poll Everywhere “brainstorm” option provides students with an anonymous and safe environment to ask questions in real-time during class. After class: when students reflect on what they have learned. Students submit summary sheets synthesizing their understanding of the week’s material in a pictorial format (flowcharts, diagrams and graphs), which are uploaded to Canvas and peer-reviewed anonymously by other students. Underrepresented minority scientists (different backgrounds, ethnicities and accents) use their own mobile devices to record videos where they introduce themselves, talk about career paths, and challenge students to interpret graphs, design experiments or solve case studies related to their research. This study describes a series of technology-based pedagogical practices used to implement flexibility, accessibility and incorporate cultural diversity in the classroom, which ultimately allows the instructor to engage with a more diverse group of students in higher-order thinking activities in the classroom.
1:30PM Immersive Field Experiences As Part of a Curriculum
  Christopher Felege
Internships in STEM disciplines, especially in fields related to conservation and sustainability, have become more widespread in recent years. Such experiences are thought to go beyond traditional classroom learning and are now required as part of the curriculum in many programs. However, benefits of such internships have largely been presumed up to this point. In this work we developed and tested a research question asking if there is a gradient of learning that occurs across immersive educational experiences. These range from low-level immersion classroom learning to highly immersive field internships. By examining reflective essays from participants we found that student learning increases as the level of immersion increases. Furthermore, our findings suggest that highly immersive internships lead to more translational outcomes. This is based on values and dispositional changes relevant to research that are absent in lower-level immersive experiences. These findings suggest that highly immersive internships are likely to be key foundational experiences that help undergraduate student stakeholders develop a set of knowledge, skills, and abilities that are critical to a translational workforce in conservation and sustainability.
1:50PM Innovative Approaches to Natural Resource Education: Active Learning and Rocking out
  Gary Grossman
Educational research shows that student exercises involving multiple sensory inputs and active learning (creating, evaluating, analyzing, etc.) improve both classroom attitudes and information retention. Nonetheless, there is little published information on such few exercises for natural resource classes. In 2012 I began making simple web-hosted, music videos based on concepts, habitats, and species’ biology. The music videos significantly improved student attitudes towards class and studying. This exercise was transformed into an active learning exercise by asking students to make their own karaoke video. Students wrote and sang/rap lyrics but could use video and music from the web. Questionnaires and interview data from eight classes (first-year – to graduate seminars) quantified students’ strong positive reactions to this active learning, multimodal exercise. I then developed an additional active learning exercise in which students watched video of animals interacting in natural habitats, and provided study aids to help students develop hypotheses, analyses, and conclusions from their observations. Responses also were generally positive. These examples illustrate the value of active learning exercises in natural resource classes.
2:10PM Students in Transition: Addressing Needs of Transfer and Non-Traditional Students
  Dean Stauffer
Undergraduate transfer students may encounter many challenges as they adapt to their new university. They come from diverse backgrounds and matriculate with varying levels of preparation for academic success. While some transfer students are “traditional,” entering directly after 1-2 years of community college after high school, many might be considered “non-traditional” and may be older, veterans, or returning to school after a career change. Transfer students may face challenges ranging from where to find child care and housing to how to navigate the academic maze, how to gain meaningful experience, and how to succeed in upper-level classes that have more rigor than they’ve previously encountered. In 2015 I developed a 2-credit class designed to help transfer students with this transition under the umbrella of Virginia Tech’s First Year Experience program. Major components of the course include: developing a term paper focusing on critical thinking, inquiry and library research skills; introduction to the profession and department faculty; utilizing university resources; finding opportunities to gain experience and developing a resume; planning coursework to best take advantage of the time available to them; and developing a sense of community and identity within the department. I will present the structure and delivery of the course, and discuss the lessons learned regarding what works and what needs to be changed/improved.
2:30PM Empowering Your Teaching with a Blueprint from Goals to Objectives and Multiple Assessments
  Jennifer Mullinax
Blueprinting is a structured method to design a class or construct an exam in order to ensure the time spent in and out of the classroom directly supports the course goals and objectives. It is a formalized way of tying content, practice, and assessments to the specific learning objectives. While this may be more labor intensive for the instructor in the beginning, the immediate payoff is ease of updating course content, restructuring modules or assignments, and accommodation of many different student learning styles. Blueprinting also allows the student to better understand the logical flow of the class, why projects or readings are assigned, and how the course content aligns with their assessment. Lastly, with increasing government and public attention on the transferable skills and competencies of university graduates, more university administrations are shifting to learning outcomes to assess knowledge transfer and programmatic rigor. Blueprinting course content and structure is one way to ensure that educators can providing good forms of evaluation, from the individual student to an entire curriculum. By setting up a course through a blueprinting methodology, everyone wins: students, instructors, and course and program assessors.
2:50PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM Providing Soft-Skill Training Online for Fish and Wildlife Students
  Daniel Edge, Selina Heppell, Bruce Dugger
Natural resources agencies and other employers of fish and wildlife graduates consistently rate soft or transferable skills among the most important educational outcomes for graduates in addition to discipline-specific knowledge. Oregon State University has been offering a BS in Fisheries and Wildlife online since 2009, and five of our learner outcomes specifically target these transferable skills. We provide specific examples of how these learner outcomes are addressed in online educational environments and some of the constraints associated with this training. Finally, we provide data on perceptions of our recent online graduates regarding how well their education relative to transferable skills prepared them for their current positions.
3:40PM Loping Beyond Undergraduate Training: The Online Graduate Program at the University of Nebraska at Kearney
  Melissa Wuellner, Letty Reichart, Brian Peterson, Robyn Schoenebeck
In 2003, the Biology Department at the University of Nebraska-Kearney began offering a non-thesis online Master’s of Science in Biology degree to address he needs for middle and high school teachers in the state whose summer school opportunities had been eliminated. The program was originally designed to account for the needs of working students while also matching the academic expectations of the long-standing thesis program in the Department. Within two years of its inception, the number of unique students taking courses in the program (i.e., including those seeking degrees and those pursuing continuing education without a degree) quadrupled and continues to increase due to student demand both within and outside of Nebraska. The Department has graduated more than 630 students between 2005 and 2018. Over 97% of graduates have been satisfied with the program and 92% say the program helped them reach their individual goals. This presentation will describe: 1) the structure and evolution of the online program; 2) enrollment demographics and trends; and 3) results of surveys from enrolled students, program alumni, students who withdrew from the program, and those that were admitted but never enrolled in classes. Perceptions of program quality, rigor, and future goals of the program will also be presented.
4:00PM The Master of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Florida
  Robert Ahrens
The Mater of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences (MFAS) program at University of Florida evolved out of an existing non-thesis master program intended to provide an educational opportunity for individuals interested in fishery science (e.g., scientific writers) without having to pursue a thesis. Demand from place bound fishery professionals looking for career advancement and additional training prompted a revisioning of the program. Start-up loans from the Distance and Continuing Education Office afforded the opportunity to grow online offerings. Within the School of Forest Resources and Conservation the: Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences (FAS), Geospatial Sciences, and Forest Sciences Programs online courses are possible due to the support of are supported by: 1 administrator of distance programs, 3 instructional designers/media specialists, and, 2 student services personnel who work with the MFAS program as well as for our other graduate programs. Faculty are also supported by a wealth of faculty development related to teaching with technology at the department college, and university levels. Instructional design team provides consistent look and feel across courses, using a coherent suite of software/tools for live and asynchronous communication. The UF-provided Canvas instance is used for all coursework. The program has grown since its establishment in fall of 2012. Total enrolment has been 86 student which includes the current enrolment of 39 student. Student are required to take a full course load and produce a technical paper under the guidance of a three-person committee with 2 individuals being FAS faculty. Almost all courses are taught by faculty. Tuition is just above the in-state rate regardless of residency (currently $565/credit hour with no other fees). State agency employees have tuition waived but pay about $90/course out of pocket. Exit interviews with each student by the school’s director consistently indicate a high level of satisfaction with the program.
4:20PM The Distance Education Program at Utah State University
  Mark Chynoweth
4:40PM Graduate-Level Internships Can Benefit All: Lessons from Iowa DNR’s Fisheries Research Internship Program
  Rebecca M. Krogman, Erin Haws
Natural resource management agencies and universities have opportunities to jointly produce quality graduate experiences via distance learning combined with on-site mentoring. Such a partnership provides benefits to all participants. As an example, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Research Internship was developed as a creative solution to long-standing staff shortages. Specifically, the Large Impoundments Research Team lacked a supporting fisheries technician and seasonal position, disallowing field and lab work. In lieu of filling those positions, a long-term internship was allowed in which a student worked 32 hours/week for a stipend. By collaborating with an online graduate program, the Iowa DNR was able to provide a graduate-level project and on-site mentorship, while the intern was able to provide technician-level assistance. The intern’s project served as both a thesis and a component of the team’s studies, fostering an applied science experience that was meaningful to the intern and useful to the agency. As part of the research team, the intern also expanded on a wide variety of technical and analytical competencies that are essential for future permanent placement. The Iowa DNR hopes to expand the internship program to additional offices. Benefits and challenges will be discussed.
5:00PM Panel Discussion

Organizers: Dean Stauffer, Brent Bibles, Henry Campa, Mark Fincel
Supported by: TWS College and University Education Working Group, AFS Education Section, National Association of Fish and Wildlife Programs

Location: Reno-Sparks CC Date: September 30, 2019 Time: 8:00 am - 5:20 pm