Improving Real-World Impact From Research-Focussed Experiential Learning In Higher Education; A Call-To-Arms Centring On Field Ecological Monitoring




Research focused experiential learning, work-integrated learning, ecological monitoring, field experiences, field programs


Research-focussed experiential learning (RFEL), where students develop academic research skills by participating in research activities, is a valuable and widespread component of higher education. It is also a potentially important source of research currency for academic staff in teaching-focussed universities. Numerous initiatives facilitate this practice in an extra-curricular capacity, whilst its integration into curricula is less widespread, but is gaining momentum. Nonetheless, real-world impact deriving from RFEL is not as visible as might be expected, and we argue that the RFEL paradigm has yet to achieve its full potential. We discuss how to overcome barriers to visibility and effective implementation of RFEL in terms of real-world outcomes, for our own discipline – ecology. A capacity gap exists, particularly at the local level, in effective ecological site monitoring for biodiversity conservation and other forms of environmental management. We believe there is currently underused potential in integrating RFEL via student field experience (field trips, field work, field classes, or field programmes) to fill this gap. We show how the parallel process of citizen science, where participating university students and others outside academia collect data as volunteers, lends insights and best practice recommendations to the field experience RFEL model. RFEL is critically important for upskilling students for competitive career markets. We outline five ways in which it can be galvanised to additionally and effectively yield real-world research and management outcomes, adding value within the sector.

Author Biographies

Bryony Tolhurst, University of Brighton

Bryony Tolhurst is a Principal Lecturer in Behavioral Ecology at the University of Brighton whose research focusses on mammal ecology, urban ecology, citizen science and human-wildlife conflict. She advocates students as active scientists and researchers during their university education.

Rachel White, University of Brighton

Rachel White is a Principal Lecturer in Ecology and Conservation at the University of Brighton. Her research encompasses human-nature interactions, focusing on avian ecology and conservation, citizen science and extinction risk. She is a proponent of the conservation optimism movement, evidence-based conservation and research transparency.

Anthony Friscia, University of California Los Angeles [UCLA]

Anthony Friscia is Associate Adjunct Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and Director of the UCLA Cluster Program, an undergraduate education initiative. He researches mammal evolution and paleontology, including taphonomy, and includes students on field school programs in all stages of his work

Maureen Berg, University of Brighton

Maureen Berg is a Principal Lecturer in Ecology and Conservation at the University of Brighton. Her research focusses on plant community with an interest in wetland and grassland habitats. She is a strong advocate of experiential and research informed teaching.

Angelo Pernetta, University of Brighton

Angelo Pernetta is Associate Dean (Education and Student Experience) at the University of Brighton and a conservation ecologist with a research focus on anthropogenic impacts on animal communities from various taxa. He is invested in students being active participants in conservation science as part of their higher education experience.

Neil Crooks, University of Brighton

Neil Crooks is a Principal Lecturer in Ecology at the University of Brighton. His research focuses primarily on the effects of pollutants on fish physiology, morphology, and behavior. He is an enthusiastic proponent of research-focused experiential learning as a way of enhancing the student experience whilst achieving conservation goals.


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