Living/Learning Center Programs
The University of Vermont
Prof. John Shane
Chair, Forestry Program
School of Natural Resources
Walking the Walk : Applying Your Natural Resource Education provides students with an opportunity to blend formal coursework in Natural Resources with a living environment that emphasizes application of that knowledge in day-to-day life. Students in Natural Resources (and related environmental majors) study very diverse issues including, for example, theoretical ecology, conservation biology, environmental design, tourism planning, and environmental policy. The Walking the Walk program encourages enthusiastic and energetic students to combine information from a variety of disciplines and to apply this knowledge through a series of student-chosen and student-administered projects. Each student will participate as a member of at least one project-team each semester. Project members will define their project, develop its goals, determine and implement its methods, and develop its final product. As projects proceed, student teams will provide the program with updates at regularly scheduled meetings. By bringing together students with strong commitments to the natural world, and a similar interest in applying their formal academic experiences in their residential environment, we will develop an exciting, stimulating, and rewarding learning community.
In one capacity or another, I have been teaching at UVM for almost 20 years. In that time, our classrooms have changed immensely; computers, audio/video displays, and distance-learning telecommunication have opened many doors. In that same time I have seen our students change, too. However, I have only recently realized how profound changes in the mind-set of college-aged students are, and what these changes mean to educators. Traditional models of education are no longer sufficient. Specifically, I question the efficacy of dividing a student’s time between “learning” in the classroom and lab, and “being” during the remainder of the 24-hour day. This is not a realistic or productive division.
I am fortunate in that I teach significant portions of my courses outdoors, in the forest. There is no question that the greatest proportion of learning in these classes is achieved outside the classroom, when students stumble upon real unknowns, and develop real answers. Over the past year, I have asked a large number of students how we might best take advantage of links between formal classroom experiences, and education outside these bounds. The overwhelming response is, “We want to DO something.” They want a chance to apply, in their own lives and in their own ways, the material they are learning in class. They don’t want more class, they want a chance to work with, and apply, the material they are already receiving. And, they want a level of control in deciding how to implement the ability to apply and experience their education. I was (pleasantly) surprised to discover that they want to take some risks -- to risk a project’s failure in order to have the potential of real, honest, successes.
This program is my attempt to help these students develop a residential program that enhances their formal studies, allows them the freedom to choose ways of exploring topics in more depth, and to do these things in a living environment that demands mutual respect and development of an exciting community of learning.
The goals of this program are aimed at developing a learning community focused on examining any and all aspects of the environment, and one that is committed to applying that knowledge through practical activity.
The residential experience of this program will be primarily defined in two areas: program administration and program projects and activities.
Administration-- Students will be charged with defining the rules and norms of the program’s community. Within the bounds of University rules, students will define behaviors that are acceptable within the community, and methods for addressing discord. The program will hold regular meetings; these meetings will serve several purposes. General program business will be conducted, including information exchange, and addressing any grievances. Additionally, these meetings will provide a forum for project teams to present regular project updates. Allocation of funds among projects will be done based on project reviews, updates, and assessments in these meetings.
Projects-- Students will participate in at least one project per semester. These projects will be student-selected, and developed in consultation with faculty, if desired. Early in fall semester, the program will immerse itself in “idea-generation.” From these sessions, students will form teams focused on selected projects. These teams will work on the selected topic for (at least) a semester. Special Topic academic credit will be arranged for any interested students.