Educating first-year students about the benefits of conservation partnerships: an experiential approach
AbstractLoss of biodiversity and habitats is one of the greatest threats to the Australian environment and education has a critical role to play in addressing this issue. Conservation of Australia’s environment occurs as a partnership of government agencies, private enterprise, scientists, educators, and the community. As future leaders of conservation activities it is essential for students to gain an understanding of the application of this partnership model. This presentation describes practical work undertaken by first year students studying in the Bachelor of Science at the University of Newcastle that has been designed to mimic a real-world conservation project. The project involves students in a partnership with government and the community to rehabilitate a local nature reserve where several endangered species are threatened by weed invasion. Students research the problem (weed invasion), quantitatively assess the impacts of weed invasion and a management intervention (community-based bush regeneration), and work alongside a community-based bushcare group and government agency during on-ground rehabilitation of the reserve. Surveys of students (via a reflective diary) have found that key outcomes have been the acquired knowledge and skills that are relevant to a critical issue for the Australian environment; a more optimistic attitude towards environmental issues and their potential to develop solutions; a positive perspective about the role of community involvement in conservation of Australia’s environment; continued participation in community bushcare groups outside the classroom; and personal involvement in solving a critical conservation issue. The students’ work has provided long-term monitoring of the effectiveness of the conservation activities since 2003, a task that is beyond the technical capabilities of most community volunteer groups and the financial constraints of government agencies.