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Get your hands dirty!
The Environmental Sciences area at Deakin University has a catch phrase of "Our Classrooms Have No Walls". Ultimately, we are saying that the educational experience we give our students goes beyond the traditional realm of a lecture theatre and goes out into the real world. It is critical to allow students to see the environment in the flesh, and truly feel part of it. We find students relate to the theory better when they return to the class because we are talking about things they have seen. Another fantastic outcome of our field based learning exercises is that the students become good friends. These friends become a support network for the rest of their studies and in many cases for many years after leaving University. The following is a snap-shot of some of the field based activities that our students do during their degrees with us.
In their first year, Wildlife and Conservation Biology and Environmental Management students visit Cape Conran Coastal Park for 4 days to learn about parks management issues and wildlife conservation. Cape Conran is a great place to see parks and wildlife management in practice. It has been extensively fox baited for 7 years, and is now part of a 1 million hectare fox baiting project called "Southern Ark". Due to the long term baiting many rare wildlife species have become reasonably common. This first year 'hands on' unit, is valued by all students. Students are exposed to many great aspects of the environment, and get hands on opportunities with small mammals including Long-nosed Potoroos and Bandicoots. Students also learn many useful techniques such as radio tracking, handling animals using GPS effectively.
In their second year, students have the opportunity to take part in a research methods field trip to the Grampians, where they carry out experiments they have designed. This unit is designed to help students learn the skills required to design and implement experiments, analyse research data, work as an effective part of a team, and learn how to manage a team. Students work in teams of five to design an experiment that they will conduct whilst on the four day field trip. While on the trip, each team will conduct their experiment with the help of other 'students'. This not only exposes all the students to different projects, but also teaches the students to manage team situations. The ability to manage teams is critical when our students move into professional employment.
Marine Biology students in their second and third year study a range of marine environments, including rocky shores, mangroves and salt marshes, measure water quality using Deakin's collection of research and teaching boats and design and carry out their own projects. In their third year Marine Biology students travel to Phillip Island to study penguins and seals and learn about managing marine wildlife. This new one-week field course in Marine Wildlife should be a fantastic addition to our field studies programs.
Third year students studying in the Freshwater Biology and Management degree conduct a unit in freshwater field studies. This unit integrates the knowledge and methods gained throughout their degree to undertake a fieldwork project and produce a technical report of professional standard. Students are given a 'real world' experience and produce an example of their work that can be shown to prospective employers. Where possible, this project will be undertaken in collaboration with an external body, such as a catchment management authority, that will be able to use the information provided in the technical report. Working in small groups, students plan their data collection and then go into the field. They analyse water quality samples in the laboratories and identify plants and animals. In the field, they record features such as depth, salinity and flow speeds and make observations of larger animals, such as water birds and fish. They also collate information from the scientific literature and other publications and integrate it with their own findings to provide a comprehensive technical report to the collaborating industry. Usually, the students are providing baseline data that can be used to assess the results of future management actions taken by the industry body. In this unit, students have the chance to tackle a real world need for environmental information and to get out into the field in self-directed groups. They also have a lot of fun!
In the third year of the Wildlife and Conservation Biology and Environmental Management courses fieldwork opportunities culminate with a field course to the Great Otways National Park for six days. This unit in Wildlife Field Studies teaches students how to design and implement a large scale wildlife survey. Students conduct small mammal trapping, spot light surveys, owl surveys, koala surveys and much much more. In class before the trip students conduct all the planning and organization. The real world skills learnt during this experience are easily transferred into the work environment once they leave University.