For almost 20 years, UWA has been delivering field-based units from its regional campus in Albany, with tangible benefits for both students and local regional communities.
Taught using a blended-learning approach, these units comprise a mix of online study, real-world experiences, exposure to potential employers and embedded research opportunities. The benefits to students are many and varied – three of these are outlined here.
Firstly, students get the opportunity to learn in a regional place. For students who will never be able to take up the option of overseas study, this might be their only opportunity to diversify their place of learning.
Secondly, students get to apply their newly acquired skills in a ‘real world’ setting. Providing Work Integrated Learning opportunities for students is now the norm and complements the academic curriculum. It is one thing to learn how to quantitatively sample animals and plants in the classroom, it is quite another, eye-opening experience to apply these skills out in the field where snakes, ticks, and other challenges abound!
Thirdly, students get to meet potential employers as they work side-by-side on applied projects, and are encouraged to engage and network with these practitioners. The conversations initiated out in the bush can lead to volunteer opportunities, internships and future employment.
Equally important are the benefits to regional communities. Since 2007, students enrolled in the Saving Endangered Species unit have helped generate valuable data for many endangered species, and these data sets are now being used by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions to assist with the management and conservation of endangered species.
Local shires have also embraced the use of student groups to help them solve some of their more ‘vexing’ management issues. For example, students have assisted the City of Albany with monitoring a pilot mountain biking trail in 2017 and 2018, and in 2019 students tackled the assessment of abundance of nuisance populations of straw-necked Australian white ibises at an urban lake.
The opportunities for student involvement in regional initiatives are endless, with many new prospective partnerships on the horizon. As Albany continues its mission to become a globally recognised ‘trails town’, students enrolled in the unit Research Methods in Environmental Science have recently been enlisted to assess the condition of local walking trails. Last year, they walked the picturesque, but very challenging Bald Head Trail in Torndirrup National Park while the 2020 cohort of students will be tackling the Peak Head Trail.
An exciting opportunity exists to grow the regional delivery of units that promote cultural competence in students. UWA Albany, in collaboration with local Noongar elders, currently delivers the postgraduate unit Biodiversity on Country. Based on the premise of mutual respect and recognition of the existence of multiple ways of ‘knowing’, this unit is aimed at improving the cultural competence of UWA students as they experience the natural environment around Albany through two viewpoints – traditional ecological knowledge and Western science.
With its well-developed infrastructure, and strong connections to the local community, UWA Albany is ideally placed to take a lead in the further development of regional education delivery for the benefit of all UWA students, and welcomes collaboration with other colleagues to further explore opportunities for students to ‘go bush’.