Tropical rain forests host most of the world's terrestrial biodiversity, are critical to global climate, and support livelihoods of billions of people. Yet, many tropical forests are under threat due to global drivers that lead to their conversion such as for large-scale agriculture. We use a transdisciplinary lens to understand the impact of management and land use change on resilience of tropical forest landscapes, their restoration and capacity to deliver multiple ecosystem services and support sustainable development. While most Students are excited by the exotic nature of the topic and the global significance of these Biomes which are so different from Swiss Forests, we place the ecology and conservation of tropical forests in a global context and provide links with stakeholders on the ground.
Implementation of the course during the time of distance learning
The first aim of the course is to introduce the students to the fundamental ecological processes underlying tropical rain forest form, diversity and function. Building upon this foundation, we use a highly interactive approach to bring in a very applied lens exploring threats to rain forests and their biodiversity, and strategies for biodiversity conservation and forest protection. By incorporating increasingly broader and global considerations such as land use in the context of increasing global food demands and the need to reduce global carbon emissions, we provide a holistic view of tropical forests from local to global scales.
The overall learning goal of the course was to understand the ecology of tropical rainforests in the global context of threats and apply this knowledge to the design of adapted and integrated conservation measures, while evaluating limitations and uncertainty.
- Information on teaching mode
The course was delivered by interactive zoom meetings with a duration of 4 hours per day for 7 Days distributed over 1 month. Each session followed a sandwich format with different layers of short lectures and active learning sequences. A typical day had the following elements: 1) Introduction lecture 2) Group discussion with Q and A. 3) Small breakout room group exercises typically in the form of a “dragon’s den pitch” where students have to pitch an idea to a panel of judges, followed by a 4) Plenary reporting back to class. This was followed by 5) Collective interactive activities in the form of “Fishbowl discussion”. 6) Each session finished with a final Wrap up from the Course lead or Co-lead.
- Proportions of (active) teaching and (passive) support
Using the above approach the active teaching is about 15-25% of each session while the remaining 75-85% is passive teaching and active learning/exploration by students with support. In each breakout group we would have a facilitator, which is typically a PhD student or postdoc from the Ecosystem management group or a guest speaker.
- How do students receive feedback? We used classroom assessment techniques throughout the course to monitor the alignment between learning goals and learning progress. This involved oral presentations of the students for which they would receive direct feedback through questions or responses from their peers and from the lecturers after presenting back to plenary. Occasionally, we also used virtual surveys (based on mentimeter software) where students could gauge their own learning progress within the class. For the preparation of the assignments, we offered at least three rounds of feedback to each student individually, either in written or orally: 1) during the phase of finding the subject idea for the project, 2) after having compiled a first draft or outline of the assignment, 3) after completion and submission of the assignment, all students had written feedback.
- Involvement and active participation of students We offered multiple formats for active participation. Typically, we provided a written task or challenge and the students would develop a management plan or business idea in small groups. Based on a visualization they would then pitch their idea to a group of “experts” who would give feedback and ask critical questions. The experts were composed of peers from the class and external lecturers. We further provided a session with a small role playing game, where in groups of 5, students each would have an assigned role and then engage in a facilitated “workshop” to come up with compromise solutions for a resource distribution issue.
- Communication (channels student-lecturer, student-student, lecturer-lecturer)
Due to the support of PhD students from the Ecosystem Management group, we managed to keep communication channels with the students open throughout. Early-on, we provided a list of contact persons for different subject areas that students could talk or write to during or after the sessions.
- Which elements of teaching are synchronous and which asynchronous?
The teaching sessions were typically based on synchronous learning, both in plenary and break-out sessions. The second half of the course was based on asynchronous learning, where students individually worked on their assessments supported by a mentor with experience on the subject area. Throughout the course, we provided literature to support the preparation of the assessment.
- Ways that students receive support Students received continuous support both during the course time and while working on their assessments from an individually assigned mentor, mostly members of the Ecosystem Management group.
The assessment directly reflected the learning goals. Students were asked to prepare a written report or a video (10 min max) where they placed the ecology of tropical rainforests in the global context of threats and applied this information to the design of adapted and integrated conservation measures, while evaluating limitations and uncertainty.
Overall concept of the course before the pandemic – during – after
Prior to the pandemic the course was largely a classroom based session with about 30 -50 % lecturers and class
exercises with students discussing in small groups and making presentations.
During the pandemic we shifted in 2020 and 2021 to a partially (lecturer online with students in classroom) in 2020)
to all participants online in 2021. This actually increased the overall class participation, because of the use of small
breakout rooms, this reduced the dependency on passive teaching and adopted a completely online flipped
classroom approach, where the students explored the topics or exercises online in small groups with a facilitator.
The concept over the course of the 2 years has also increased the participation of guests as online presenters or
stimuli for provocative topics, such as import of tropical non-timber forest products to Switzerland, local livelihood
options, deforestation free value chains and the ethics of working in the Global south as a western scientist.
- Rain Forest Ecology
- Tropical rain forests host most of the world's terrestrial biodiversity, are critical to global climate, and support livelihoods of billions of people. We use a transdisciplinary lens to understanding the impact of management and land use change on resilience of tropical forest landscapes, their restoration and capacity to deliver multiple ecosystem services and support sustainable development.
- The course learning objectives are organized in two main sections:
Importance and complexity of Tropical rainforest and why study them
1. Explore the diversity and functioning of one of the world's most important biomes: tropical rain forests.
2. Understand how interacting ecological processes acting over multiple time and spatial scales can shape patterns of species diversity.
3. Explore how species, functional groups and environment interact to shape rain forest structure and function.
Conservation, management and opportunities to restore tropical rain forest landscapes
4. Recognize and understand the complexity of threats facing rain forests and their implications to human wellbeing.
5. Apply ecological theory and ecosystem understanding to current conservation challenges.
6. Understand conservation and land management strategies especially forest landscape restoration in the tropics and evaluate the conditions for their success
7. Explore innovative solutions to shape sustainable forest landscapes in the future
A primary objective of the course is to encourage students to use basic ecological knowledge to infer conclusions and evaluate strategies that address more applied environmental challenges. In so doing students would be encouraged to draw upon the ecological knowledge gained from this course, but also from other courses in ecology, ecological genetics, ecosystem function, conservation, agriculture and land use.
- Graded semester performance