Science and Technology @ UCSB
A class lecture on the beach. A science lab on a ranch. And for more advanced students, coursework at Yosemite or even as far away as Iceland. Sounds like an idyllic, and ideal, way to study — learn about nature while actually in nature.At UC Santa Barbara, such field trips are a key part of undergraduate eduction.
And that differentiates the university from many other institutions of higher learning.
“Universities are scaling back on their investments in field learning because it’s expensive and time-consuming and it requires a lot of teaching assistants,” said Douglas McCauley, an assistant professor in UCSB’s Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology (EEMB). He co-teaches the course Ecology and Evolution of Vertebrate Biology with EEMB associate professor Hillary Young.
“What an undergraduate can expect in terms of uniqueness at UCSB is being able to learn outdoors and learn in nature,” McCauley continued. “That’s part of the reason Hillary and I came to UCSB — because fieldwork was important in our own training and we feel it is a very valuable tool in education.”
During the weekly field trips coupled with labs, students in their class examine mammals caught with live-release traps and photograph animals with motion-sensing camera traps they set themselves. They search for reptiles and amphibians in coastal protected areas and even visit Santa Cruz Island, where they often see endemic species like the island fox and island scrub jay.
“When we go out into the field, we see animals in their natural habitat, behaving the way they normally do, so students experience an ecology that they don’t get to see in the lab,” explained An Bui, an EEMB graduate student who is a teaching assistant for the course. “It’s a much more accurate representation of how these animals act in the system. Not only do students gain the skills …