Marking blogs is one of the great pleasures of being a lecturer in Biodiversity Conservation!

I’ve just read—and marked—every blog posted by the 2014 class studying Biodiversity Conservation at The Australian National University.

Usually the prospect of marking 60+ papers has lecturers and tutors looking for an excuse to do something else, or at least reach for a coffee every 15 minutes.

This is definitely not the case for this exercise.

Undergraduates were asked to initiate and organise two days of work experience and then blog about this. Postgraduates were asked to blog about any topic of their choice.

Where did the blogs take me?

Upon diving into the blogs, I first travelled to, and learnt about, the region in which I live (Canberra, Australia). For example, several students weeded, planted and monitored at Scottsdale Reserve, which is a property that has been purchased by Bush Heritage Australia to restore Box Gum Grassy Woodland.

DSC03341

Garden Skink at Scottsdale Reserve in New South Wales. Photo by Renata Magalhaes taken from her blog Conservation without borders.

Several blogs took me farther afield in Australia: the outback of western Queensland, the tall forests of Victoria and the wheatbelt of Western Australia. I learnt about minimising impacts of hydro-power, biological treatment of domestic sewage, Gondwanalink and biodiversity offsets for windfarms.

Taking some measurements

Jared Priestly in the Mountain Ash forests of Victoria as pictured in the blog Brush Tales: Studying the Mountain Brushtail Possum in the Central Highlands of Victoria.

The course attracts many overseas students

And these overseas students took me away to learn about seals in the Galapagos, oil drilling in the Amazon, parks in Costa Rica, coral in Fiji and Belize, wildlife in Tibet, connectivity in Vietnam, ecotourism in Cambodia, mining in Guyana and the last bear in Germany, among others.

Some local boat owners used to have barbed wire and nails to prevent sea lions to rest on their boats. Source: Galapagos National Park Service 2014

Some local boat owners used to have barbed wire and nails to prevent sea lions to rest on their boats. Photo from Galapagos National Park Service 2014 as appearing in the blog Can “Pachamama rights” be translated into a harmonic relationship betweeen sea lions and human communities in the Galapagos Islands?

Together, the geographic spread represented by the blogs is very impressive.

map

The geographic origin of all student blogs. My Google Map of all blogs is available here.

Where students did well in their blogs

For some reason, many students write better in this medium than when they are writing reports or essays.

  • Perhaps this is because students are a bit more careful with their writing knowing that their blog could be read by ANYONE.
  • Perhaps scientific writing conventions shackle us to a writing style that is not easy to read.
  • Perhaps we should all try to write in a simple and clear style regardless of the medium or audience.

Where students need to improve

While the blogs were great, my main criticism is that the student bloggers could’ve devoted more time reflecting on where their work experience fits in the bigger picture:

  • Why were resources being invested on that issue?
  • Was this the best use of resources?
  • Would it work in the long-term?
  • What were some options?
  • Are there examples from elsewhere that provide some insight to these questions?

Crediting the source of photos is important (see the student blog from 2013 called “Conservation through the lens”). Many students still need to learn the conventions relating to writing the names of species, sub-headings can be good, big blocks of text are not good and white space (e.g., between paragraphs) helps to make the blog more accessible.

Most of the students in Biodiversity Conservation are on the cusp of a professional career, so must realise that it’s time to bring their broader reading and understanding to bare on problems and issues.

Biodiversity conservation has not been the most successful endeavour across the globe, so a new generation of critical and innovative professionals that are prepared to engage in debate is vital.

Did you get something out of this exercise?

The primary aim, however, of this exercise was to encourage students (the undergraduates in particular) to initiate and organise work with agencies and individuals that they don’t know—and thereby to commence building networks. These are core skills that everyone needs in order to break into the employment market—and to get things done once there.

I’m proud of my bloggers and look forward to working with them in their capacity as professionals in the near future.

Cheers,

Phil Gibbons
27 May 2014

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About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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4 Responses to Marking blogs is one of the great pleasures of being a lecturer in Biodiversity Conservation!

  1. Alison says:

    I did this course last year and have been travelling this year so it has been a delight reading some of these blog posts that have popped up in my inbox! I feel like I’m still connected to environmental learning. Great work, guys, and thanks!

  2. Great to hear from you Alison, hope you are enjoying your travels and thanks for your feedback. Cheers, Phil

  3. Jose Guerrero Vela says:

    I feel very lucky and privileged of having experienced this course. Great technical and scientific understanding to the complex issues of biodiversity conservation. Although the difficulties of approaching these topics, there was a good combination of motivation, engagement and fun!
    I hope to keep in touch Phil and someday you can come to visit the Galapagos!

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