A good batch!

Today was another amazing(ly long) day filled with Zoom presentations from 9.00 am until 3.30 pm. These were the final presentation of the landscape planning course I co-coördinated this semester with the landscape planners on-campus. I’m responsible for teaching the students a thing or two about ecology, and how landscape planning can be optimized and tweaked to support specific species (or, in the case of one group working on Japanese knotweed, suppress it!).

Last year, this course was super difficult to teach. The pandemic and everything new about the digital teaching made it so. However, this year, we optimized a lot, and I certainly was much less stressed about teaching this course, as it was no longer for the first time.

It’s always tricky to change something (even when it didn’t run optimally), as you never know how it is going to work out. At first, I was skeptical about some of the changes that we had in mind (but I’m a bit of a minion, so it is not really like anyone asks for my opinion, I just received orders and worked with the information I was given). One of the decisions was to completely separate planning and ecology. No interaction. My first thought was “why would you do that???!”. Perhaps our opinions interfere with theirs, but obviously this is also true the other way around. Although I found the interactions with the planning people quite enjoyable, and I missed that, I do think the less overwhelming rounds of feedback, and especially the structured feedback within the respective theme of the ‘teaching block’ seemed to have helped students. Last year, students had to handle three planners, two landscape architects, and two or three ecologists, and all of that interchangeably throughout the semester. As you can imagine, the feedback was all over the place. Yes, I have had to calm down certain groups a lot. Yes, there have been tears. Yes, in more than one group. This year, the first weeks were for dealing with planning, the second half of the semester was for dealing with me, or one of two ecology professors. Although receiving and handling feedback is important in such projects, perhaps first year Bachelor’s students are not ripened enough for multi-stakeholder projects just yet? In any case, this year’s project work was smooth. And today’s presentations showed just that.

We started the day with a presentation about optimizing a stream for a damselfly species, then continued our journey through the aforementioned Japanese knotweed, lesser spotted woodpeckers, broad-leaved marsh orchids and many other species, to the end of the day with roe deer. A diverse bunch of species, which made for an interesting diversity of talks. This was another change that I personally implemented. I selected the species. Last year, the students chose the species. First of all, this process took six weeks for some groups, and there was a lot of doubt, and little understanding of the expectations. This year, I limited the options to twenty-odd species. The choices were made on the first day. That’s more like it. The time could immediately be invested into thinking about specifics. There’s nothing wrong with some ‘floating around’ in early stages, but it took an extreme form, and we have at least tackled that this year.

This year’s batch of students was particularly strong on the visual end. Maybe I stressed quite often that aesthetics were important in story-telling? I don’t know. I have seen so many good graphics today, that I felt a bit envious about it. I want to further develop that skill too! I can draw quite well, but the work of these students was professional publication-worthy quality that I would love to use in my own papers at some point. (And the professors’ interest was sparked too quite a few times.) Maybe I should write down some of the student names to get in touch for art work. (Why do I only think of this now?)

Although it was a full and tough day to handle, it was also a very successful day, and I am confident that – if the reports are anything like the presentations today – I will receive some good reports next week. Good reports make for more fun grading. But good reports also mean that some of my teaching has hit the right note with students, and that, of course, is the most important thing.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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