Given the expanding view of forest management, how do we educate the next generation of foresters? To be successful managers, forestry graduates must be broadly educated and possess a variety of skills, tools, and technologies in order to understand the ecologic and social processes affecting ecosystems (Sample et al., 1999; Bentley, 1999). Graduates must also have solid skills and fundamental knowledge in basic sciences. In response to comprehensive and integrated approaches to resource management, the challenge is to find the means by which focused education, interdisciplinary systems thinking, and communication skills can be developed and applied by forestry professionals.
The need for a focused education and interdisciplinary thinking might appear to be contradictory. Yet the challenge for academic institutions in educating the next generation of resource managers is to provide each student with a common set of skills that include oral and written communication, interpersonal skills, problem-solving, and critical thinking and with the ability to implement the skills in natural-resource management. In addition to the skills, there is a need for basic knowledge in a discipline that can be applied in a holistic context.
It has been recognized that there is a need to promote and achieve disciplinary integration and apply the resulting knowledge to complex social and biologic problems (see, for example, the article “The Employer's Perspective on New Hires” in the September 1999 issue of the Journal of Forestry). Progress toward those goals has been thwarted by discipline-focused faculty, a tradition of reductionism in conducting research, and fragmented curricula in many academic institutions. But integration can come from achieving both depth and breadth in an academic program that includes both teaching and research. One set of courses can ensure depth in a discipline, and another set can promote breadth of exposure and connections to other disciplines.
Creative approaches to disciplinary integration at the undergraduate level have been implemented and evaluated in several forestry programs, including those of the University of Vermont (Ginger et al., 1999) and Northern Arizona University (Fox et al., 1996). Those experiments in teaching and learning generally involve the study of natural resource issues and use core and capstone courses that blend the biologic and social sciences. Without question, integrating across disciplinary boundaries places additional burdens on instructors. Practical matters need to be resolved, such as defining content, coordinating schedules, and establishing teaching assignments (Ginger et al., 1999). More important, there needs to be an intellectual commitment to operating outside the comfort of one's discipline. Obviously, administrative support is critical to success (Fox et al., 1996). Finally, there are pedagogical issues. For example, social scientists are more apt to use discussion, debate, case studies, and team efforts in teaching, whereas biologic scientists have a tradition of using lectures to transfer information in the classroom (Ginger et al., 1999).
Many of the prerequisites for integrated teaching and learning also apply to integrated research. It seems logical to operate as a member of a diverse team of scientists to address multifaceted problems, but true integration is rarely achieved.