The Virtual Field

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing massive disruptions in higher education. Faculty across disciplines are struggling to quickly transition to virtual classrooms. Nowhere has this been more difficult than in the field sciences, where first-hand experience with the complexity of the natural world is essential for learning identification, observation and research skills. 

Supported by a National Science Foundation RAPID-grant (NSF # 2031815), the Center is leading a team of 50 field sites in 26 states and 6 countries to teach field skills virtually. Projects include: 

  1. Ecosystem Exploration Videos that teach students to find and observe evidence of key ecological concepts.

  2. Live from the Field live-streaming events with researchers at their field sites  

  3. Virtual field portal to share virtual materials and events with faculty at universities across the U.S.  

  4. Evaluate the efficacy of virtual field materials to set the stage for further cross-site virtual field learning initiatives

The project emerged from a grassroots effort by the Organization of Biological Field Stations, and is led by Claudia Luke Center for Environmental Inquiry at Sonoma State University, along with Hilary Swain at Archbold Biological Station, and Kari O’Connell of the STEM Research Center at Oregon State University. 

The Virtual Field Project will continue far beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Multi-site field courses are out-of-reach for many faculty and undergraduates due to logistics, cost and administrative barriers. Field trips created and shared by the Virtual Field Project will give students experience with a diversity of ecosystems around the world, encourage participation by a broader diversity of university courses, and expand opportunities for students with disabilities. The project will also contribute to effective and meaningful field learning that take advantage of both virtual and in-person learning strategies.