May 10, 2014

Annual survey: "what was most important class topic?"

I have been teaching NRES 311 Wildlife Ecology and Management this semester at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  It's the first introduction to wildlife that students have in our program.  The course includes 6 units on the history of wildlife management, decision-making, population dynamics and harvest management, managing threatened and endangered species, wildlife/human conflicts, and habitat management.

On the final exam, I ask the students to list the most important topic from the course--a topic that (in their opinion) I should never remove from the course.  Here are this year's responses, ranked in order by how many students mentioned them:

Decision-making (15)
Role-playing stakeholders/differing perspectives (10)
Farm Bill programs for habitat (7)
Invasive/exotic species management (7)
Habitat management (7)
Proximate/ultimate causes of conflict (5)
Human/wildlife conflict (4)
Uncertainty in wildlife management (complex job) (4)
Threatened/endangered species (3)
Hunting is useful for management (3)
Agricultural landscapes and wildlife (2)
Field trip (1)
Predators (1)
Importance of this career field for our nation (1)
Collaborations are critical for management of wildlife (1)
Density dependence and carrying capacity (1)
Landscape change/history (1)

For the past few years, decision-making has topped the list.  It is taught during the early part of the semester, which means they are not prompted by much on the current exam over the final unit.  I'm happy about that, as I re-designed the course to emphasize decision-making 3-4 years ago.

It's always fun to see what students think is the best topic.  Someone always seems to enjoy predators more than anything else!  But, I'm also to see my biases creeping onto the list.  I want them to learn to think.  Decision-making.  Identification of proximate and ultimate factors in problems.  I want them to work in teams and think about other perspectives.  I am glad those stick in their heads, as it might be easy for them to get lost in the furry/fuzzy photos of endangered owls and polar bears.  

Where in the world will these students be working?  What will our world look like when they assume mid-level management jobs and start to make huge differences?  I am not sure.  It's the bane of the teaching profession--you rarely get to see the results of your efforts.  My fingers are crossed, and I feel much more confident about our world's future after seeing this list.  

CRP field in eastern Nebraska

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