Minnesota’s Environmental Classroom
One of the greatest aspects of a liberal arts education at the University of Minnesota is the breadth of opportunities for students to actively engage with their communities. Professor Mark Pedelty has a passion for the environment, which is evident in his research on environmentalist movements and music. He shares his enthusiasm with undergraduate students through an environmental communication course that he teaches each spring.
The class focuses on Minnesota's public lands and aligns with the University of Minnesota's land grant mission. Pedelty's students select a piece of public land in the state of Minnesota, such as a state or national park. Next, they explore it both digitally and physically in the field, and create an interpretive talk based on field and library research, much as a park ranger does. Students work to develop solutions for that area's problems, such as identifying ways to control invasive species. The class culminates with the students creating videos to build awareness of what was occurring in the land they were studying.
Pedelty received an Experiments in Learning Innovation (ELI) grant from the Provost's office, allowing him to take his previous in-person classroom version of the course to convert it into a "digitally-networked field course," turning the entire state of Minnesota into an environmental communication classroom. "The positive driver and byproduct of their learning," Pedelty says, "is that students spread environmental knowledge and awareness of public lands to off campus communities."
Assisting that effort and many other classes Pedelty has taught over the past 12 years are his community partners at Metro Blooms. Metro Blooms is a private, nonprofit volunteer-based educational organization that partners with other organizations, businesses, professional associations, local governments, and watershed districts to promote environmentally sound gardening and landscaping practices to improve the health of land and water resources. Pedelty's students have partnered with Metro Blooms in a number of on- and off-campus community raingarden projects.
When asked what drove him to teach this course, Pedelty says, "I want students to engage beyond the confines of the classroom and take a more hands-on approach to learning. It's a different learning experience when you get out there than it is when either collectively confined to the campus classroom space, and with social media and smartphones, we can all be learning together even if we are geographically distant and learning in an 'isolated' wilderness area, superfund site, or park."