Story in Brief
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly changed the way students and faculty at the University of Georgia interact. With face-to-face instruction halted in mid-March, 2020, faculty were forced to rethink their teaching methods and moved instruction completely online. Faculty teaching courses with outdoor labs (often involving multi-hour activities in the field) abandoned their traditional visits to farms and forests and worked creatively to identify ways to bring the field to their students using distance technology. While the teaching-learning interface was new for both faculty and students, it offered a unique opportunity to gather data on the reactions of students to experiencing the outdoor, natural environment through a camera lens. Faculty in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources collaborate every other year to teach Natural Resource Management for Teachers. The course is designed to provide students seeking employment as agriculture education teachers with a blend of forestry, wildlife, and fisheries content knowledge and techniques for teaching that content to their students. The course provides students with outdoor experiences in a weekly lab which was moved online during the pandemic. To bring the outdoor lab to the students, the three instructors obtained GoPro cameras and recorded each week’s outdoor lab. The GoPro cameras enabled the instructors to show students aquatic habitat components up close as the cameras are capable of functioning underwater. Each recording was edited, additional text and graphics were added, and a handout was created to check for comprehension after students watched each recording that was posted online through the course website. For the last four weeks of the semester, every Wednesday, the three instructors met with their class live, online through Zoom in a recitation reflection where responses to the handout were reviewed. It was also a time for students and faculty to catch up with one another and build a sense of community. Although students reported missing the trips into the field and the hands-on activities of touching wildlife with their instructors, they indicated that the amiable, flexible approach used by the instructors was contagious. The online reflection meetings each week created a sense of community among all members of the class. These results suggest that when future circumstances call for change to instructional practices, faculty should consider the importance of being flexible and promoting opportunities for informal online conversation, reflection, and sharing as this creates a sense of community among all class members—students and faculty—during a time of change.