Blending Theory into Practice: A Lloyd Center Student-Centered Coastal Ecology Summer Course!

Coastal EcologyThe ultimate goal of environmental education is to provide students with a platform that leads them to be well-informed and motivated towards mitigating the effects of growing environmental challenges. Organizations, like Lloyd Center for the Environment, play a major role in providing students with such platforms where they can learn about these environmental issues as well as practice their understanding by utilizing various hands-on activities, nature hikes, field trips, etc. As a student back in 2010, I signed up for a summer internship course at World Wide Fund for Nature – Pakistan. Little did I know that the experience I would get from the internship program would shape and inform my future choices of becoming an environmental educator!

From 2011 to 2016, I worked as the regional coordinator for one of the largest environmental education and youth engagement initiatives in Pakistan called the International Eco Internship Programme. For my assignments, I got to travel to far-flung areas of Pakistan and witnessed firsthand the lack of opportunities faced by the youth when it comes to environmental education. What motivated me to go further was the fact that the students were very responsive when entrusted with opportunities to learn.

In 2013, I was selected as a WWF International Youth Volunteer – an experience that further diversified my community engagement experience. As an International Volunteer, I spearheaded and led numerous education programs in the Fiji Islands in collaboration with partners like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the University of South Pacific. In 2016, I decided it was time for me to get back to the classroom, but this time as a student myself. I completed my MBA in Environmental Policy which paved way for ultimately starting my Ph.D. in STEM Education with a focus on Environmental Education at UMass Dartmouth. I was lucky to develop a working relationship at the Lloyd Center for the Environment during my initial years at UMass Dartmouth and was hired as a Teaching and Research Fellow starting May 2022. As part of my role within the education team, I was tasked to teach a summer course on “Coastal Ecology”.           

I had two major objectives for the summer Coastal Ecology course, firstly, to design a program that was heavily student-centered learning with a focus where students decided what topic/issue they wanted to learn within the realm of Coastal Ecology. Secondly, I wanted the students to have a chance to work and interact directly with the experts from the field. People are formally classified as “scientists”. Research shows positive student learning if they are interested and self-motivated about the given topic.

During the one-week summer courses, students got a chance to interact with six different experts from the field. These experts were carefully chosen due to their work in coastal-related fields. These sessions included topics such as Shark and Ray egg cases, Impacts of Humans on Coastal Ecology, Understanding the Coral Reefs, Mitigating and Understanding the Impacts of Oil Spills on Coastal Birds, Exploring Water Salinity Levels, and Nature Photography.

Five students participated in the Coastal Ecology summer course. Students were given an option to choose the lunchtime documentaries that they wanted to watch or develop their final project topics and artifacts. As a part of the student-centered learning approach, students were given options to choose their wrap-up questions from a variety of different topics within the coastal ecology field.  The goal of these wrap questions was to keep students engaged as well as for educators to determine their areas of interest. One of the students in the course named Alan (pseudonym) asked me “Do we choose our wrap-question for homework?!” and I replied “Yes! You have the option to choose your own takeaway question” to which he replied, “that’s a fun work, not homework!”.

by Hamza Malik