USD Professor Creates New and Innovative Connections for his Students

USD Professor Creates New and Innovative Connections for his Students

When it comes to thinking of creative ideas to connect to students remotely, Environmental and Ocean Sciences Associate Professor Drew Talley, PhD, has done it all. He has given virtual "field trips" of natural habitats using drone footage with audio narrations and played interactive online games like Drawful (a free game that all students can access that is similar to Pictionary, but designed around related class material). Dr. Talley has even set up his office hours through the online gaming platform Minecraft, allowing his students to discuss a variety of classroom topics while surrounded by exploding blocks, cute pigs, spiders and skeletons! 

And while all these virtual connections were being made, Dr. Talley also found a way to connect with his students in reality: offering homemade face masks with fish, like the ones found in the wetlands that they toured online, printed on the front; a real-life souvenir from a virtual trip!

We asked Dr. Talley to share some of his thoughts on the experience of remote learning and the creative approaches he has found to connect with his students.

1. What inspired you to create these creative collaborations with students? 

I think it was more "desperation" than "inspiration." I worried that my enthusiasm for the topics I teach, and for my students, would not be communicated well through staring at a web-cam online. And I believe that it is that enthusiasm that helps make the material interesting and relevant. So I started searching for ways outside of traditional teaching that might help me connect them to wetland ecology.

2. Was there a specific learning outcome or impact you hoped it would create for the students?

There were several. First, I was worried about my students. None of this is what we signed up for or expected when this semester started, and I know that many of them have other struggles and anxieties at home during the pandemic. And I know it is tough to reach out for help. I thought that including social interactions might help demonstrate that I am approachable, so I could lend a hand for those who needed it.
 
Second, I wanted to foster that same sense of community that is (relatively) easy to forge in a classroom and on field trips, so playing games, with some science thrown in, seemed good. And finally, by playing games and "taking them to field" with my drone, I hope it brought some of that joy and spark I feel when learning about how these amazing habitats work.

3. Has this experience inspired new ideas to bring into the classroom at USD?

Absolutely. I was really inspired by a couple of my students' work in Minecraft. For example, they built structures and statues and posted signs around their virtual village, which made me think there might be ways to have them create models of ecological systems, complete with interpretive displays. Actually, a lot of the things I have tried for remote teaching would work as an activity to integrate, in some form, into my regular classroom. 

4. What is your favorite thing to do creatively while in quarantine?

The creative stuff for me while in quarantine has been a) trying to design new experiments for my research, and b) working on new teaching methods (for my graduate students, undergraduates, and my 13-year-old daughter). Plus, finding cool urban nature organisms to add to the iNaturalist database while on walks!
Facemasks made by Dr. Talley that include fish found on his class's virtual tourFacemasks made by Dr. Talley that include fish found on his class's virtual tour

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