Kwantlen Polytechnic University instructors are getting creative to help students experience hands-on and interdisciplinary learning while they work remotely through the COVID-19 pandemic. Biology instructors Lee Beavington and Carson Keever, and fine arts instructor Amy Huestis have brought together their classes to cultivate connections between their different subject areas.
“We’ve been trying to do this for a while but the situation we’re in with the pandemic thrust us into this,” says Beavington.
Students taking part in the Ecology and Colour in 1m2 project observe a one square metre plot in their local community or backyard. Biology students, guided by Beavington and Keever, focus on particular animal and plant species. They note fascinating cross-species interactions – such as ants that protect cherry trees from pests – then reflect on their experience and write up a report. The fine arts students, guided by Huestis, do the same thing through an arts lens.
He adds that given the current pandemic and climate change emergency, it was important to get the students outside.
“It’s extremely important for learners to get outside, and appreciate nature’s wonder. Reading something in a textbook is a very different experience than experiencing it right in your own backyard. You engage more and care more.”
By working across academic disciplines like biology and fine arts, the project hopes to cultivate a connection with the natural world. The project also incorporates Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing. This includes holistic learning, which explores all aspects of a student’s intellectual, emotional creative, social learning, and teaches respect and responsibility towards the land.
Beavington reports there has been overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, plus many conversations and inquiries related to ecology. Students submitted feedback anonymously. One student said the project gave them a sense of serenity while distancing from other humans.
“It allowed me to be part of nature without being apart,” added the student. “We tend to lose what is around us which is the environment. We forget that everything we use, whether it be clothes, shoes, cell phones and cars has been made from the environment. We do not know how to return tenfold to the environment so that many generations after us can enjoy what we see now.”
Elizabeth Worobec, dean of the Faculty of Science and Horticulture at KPU, says collaborations broaden student learning.
“The collaboration between faculties is something we’re very proud of at KPU,” she adds.
The importance of learning outdoors, like this project, and place-based learning is the subject of Beavington’s Teaching Science with Compassion and Wonder talk at the next virtual TEDxSFU event. His talk takes place Nov.15, starting at 1 p.m.
For more information about Beavington, visit leebeavington.com.