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.
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.
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.
Together, the geographic spread represented by the blogs is very impressive.
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.
27 May 2014