You never change something by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
—R. Buckminster Fuller, 1975
The rich foundation of basic natural-history research conducted at field stations demonstrates their capacity to foster innovative and synergistic science. To survive in the future, field stations should also address important societal issues. Many reports have identified emerging environmental challenges that need to be addressed, and some have outlined strategic scientific plans for addressing them (NRC 2001, 2009b). A report of the National Association of Marine Laboratories and the Organization of Biological Field Stations (Billick et al. 2013) also outlined emerging environmental trends and developed goals and actions to maximize the use of field stations and marine laboratories to address those trends (Box 2-1). As described in the NAML-OBFS report, collaborative research is a hallmark of field station work and will be required in increasing measure to address the complex scientific questions facing society.
Field stations generally are strongly committed to the conduct of science, education, and public outreach in their mission statements. Some are informally connected through professional societies and regional research networks, but they do not have a unifying management structure. The ability to use field stations effectively to address important environmental and societal issues will require new and enhanced models of collaboration and networking and strategic business plans that are integrated with and as robust as their strategic scientific research plans. This chapter focuses on new models of collaboration that can help to fill knowledge gaps in science and engineering, support innovative policy decisions required in the face of global environmental change, and encourage and empower the public to engage in and support scientific endeavors.
New approaches to collaboration are needed to address knowledge gaps in biology, earth-systems science, environmental science, and engineering. Field stations offer unparalleled opportunities to address questions that fall between or span the domains of traditional scientific disciplines and academic departments.
Field stations have a long history of bringing multiple disciplines together to address scientific and societal challenges. Common practice at many field stations
In 2013, the National Association of Marine Laboratories (NAML) and the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS) jointly published a strategic vision report to guide, improve, and demonstrate the scientific and educational value of field stations and marine laboratories (FSMLs) to broader society. To develop their report, NAML and OBFS sought guidance from the field station community through a public workshop (NAML-OBFS 2013a) and a broad-scale survey (NAML-OBFS 2013b) that took stock of the perceived strengths, limitations, needs, and ideas for improvement of field stations around the world. The OBFS/NAML report recommended the following four strategic goals:
Goal 1 Increase the value to society of the science done at FSMLs, as well as the public understanding of that value.
Goal 2 Increase the scientific value of FSMLs by increasing the flow of information, both between [field stations] and scientists and among FSMLs themselves:
Objective A Develop a more comprehensive network of FSMLs.
Objective B Increase the ability of scientists to take advantage of FSMLs.
Goal 3 Enhance the synergies between research and education.
Goal 4 Promote the flow of scientific information for environmental stewardship by ensuring appropriate access by scientists and students to terrestrial, aquatic, and marine systems.
Goal 5 Increase the operational effectiveness of FSMLs:
Objective A Enhance the effectiveness of individuals working at FSMLs.
Objective B Maintain and improve critical infrastructure.
SOURCE: Billick et al. 2013 (pp. 36-40).
is the merger of different areas of expertise to address knowledge gaps by fostering interchange among communities that include natural and social scientists, educators, private-sector professionals, and society at large. A promising trend in the scientific community that embraces collaborative and multidisciplinary methods of inquiry to address daunting and urgent challenges has been given a name: convergence (Box 2-2).
Convergence of the life, physical, computational, and mathematical sciences is resulting in transformational paradigms for scientific and technological advances (Sharp et al. 2011, American Academy of Arts & Sciences 2013, Roco et al. 2013, NRC 2014a). As universities, industries, and funding organizations grapple with how to facilitate scientific convergence, field stations are positioned to contribute to the movement. Convergence to address societal challenges is an important pathway in science research that field stations can use as they strive to meet Goal 1 of the NAML-OBFS Strategic Plan. A National Research Council report (NRC 2014a) describes in detail barriers to, strategies that facilitate, and characteristics of successful programs for convergence. Some of the strategies that institutions have
Convergence is an approach to problem solving that cuts across disciplinary boundaries. It integrates knowledge, tools, and ways of thinking from life and health sciences, physical, mathematical, and computational sciences, engineering disciplines, and beyond to form a comprehensive synthetic framework for tackling scientific and societal challenges that exist at the interfaces of multiple fields. By merging these diverse areas of expertise in a network of partnerships, convergence stimulates innovation from basic science discovery to translational application. It provides fertile ground for new collaborations that engage stakeholders and partners not only from academia, but also from national laboratories, industry, clinical settings, and funding bodies.
SOURCE: NRC 2014a (p. 1).
taken to promote convergence that may be familiar practices to many in the field station community include the following:
- organizing research programs around common themes or scientific challenges
- fostering opportunities for researchers to interact
- changing existing faculty structures and reward systems
- working with and across existing departments
- designing facilities and workspaces for convergent research
- designing education and training programs that foster convergence.
Essential elements of successful convergence programs include people, organizational structure, culture, and research ecosystems (Box 2-3). Notable among the strengths of a field station community are the people involved in station programs and activities and the station culture. People of all ages come together at field stations, and this fosters a thriving “station culture,” which in turn promotes a collaborative environment that can lead to serendipitous scientific discovery (Michener et al. 2009). The space and time to nurture cross-generational and cross-disciplinary relationships is a valuable component of convergence that is afforded at field stations where undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral students, faculty, and others may interact for weeks or months, year after year. This advantage is not lost at field stations close to or embedded in population centers. Field station users often interact with their surrounding communities. Hence, local governments and community members are more likely to play a role in identifying local scientific challenges that could serve as focus areas for field station research. Research focused on local issues may also encourage citizen participation in science. Local knowledge about wild species, landscapes, and human culture can be an important contributor to scientific research, and the use of local knowledge in ecological research is on the rise (Brooke and McLachlan 2008).
Field stations have the capability to nurture the formation of transdisciplinary research groups that address cross-cutting scientific questions and urgent societal concerns, and many have done so for decades. The formal codification of this approach into convergence opens the opportunity for station leadership to highlight and to strengthen these activities at field stations.
Managing and conserving ecosystems require incorporation of perspectives of disciplines beyond life and physical sciences and engineering—disciplines such as economics, demography, and the humanities (Ewel 2001). Despite the positive trend toward convergence, the social sciences, arts, and humanities—which have much to contribute—often remain underrepresented. Field stations provide a setting for natural and physical scientists, social scientists, humanists, and artists to come together and collaborate. The Ecological Reflections project—which brings environmental science, arts, and humanities together—has been particularly effective in bringing artists to field stations.10 The artists and humanists explore the cultural and moral meanings of nature and place in settings as diverse as the old-growth conifer forests of the Oregon Cascades, the north temperate lakes of Wisconsin, the Minnesota prairie, and the saguaro desert in Arizona. Artists-in-residence programs enhance the education and research activities of many field stations and lead to more innovative science and a greater understanding of the sociocultural consequences of environmental change (Ewel 2001; Sorlin 2012). Thus, some field stations have demonstrated the capability to encourage convergence not only of the life and physical sciences, but also of the social sciences and the arts and humanities.
The organization and ecosystem of partnerships (see Box 2-3) are areas where many field stations need strengthening—for their long-term viability as well as to support convergence.
As field stations become more networked and as distributed partners coordinate their efforts, the ability for scientific staff at field stations to address societal concerns (such as species invasions, fire behavior, water storage and cycling, and carbon sequestration) at a variety of scales from regional to national to global can be enhanced by a greater emphasis on convergent research. Networks of field stations have the potential to become Earth-scale test beds for developing and testing new monitoring technologies and sustainability practices (NRC 2009b, Roco et al. 2013).
Positioning field stations to address societal challenges with a broad-scale, convergence-driven approach is not a simple undertaking. For many stations, such a shift will require financial resources, enhanced infrastructure, and networking with other field stations and other kinds of institutions. Successful strategies will require careful consideration of how to leverage existing resources and infrastructure efficiently and effectively in addition to building new ones. Chapters 3 and 5 address the networking and financial needs, respectively, in more detail.
The unity of all knowledge, “the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation,” was captured by E.O.
People: A commitment to supporting convergence from all levels of leadership is key, as is the involvement of students, faculty members and staff, department chairs, and deans.
Organization: Inclusive governance systems, a goal-oriented vision, effective program management, stable support for core facilities, and flexible or catalytic funding sources are all critical to organizations seeking to build a sustainable convergence ecosystem.
Culture: The culture needed to support convergence, as with other types of collaborative research, is one that is inclusive, supports mutual respect across disciplines, encourages opportunities to share knowledge, and fosters scientists’ ability to be conversant across disciplines.
Ecosystem: The overall ecosystem of convergence involves dynamic interactions with multiple partners within and across institutions, and thus requires strategies to address the technical and logical partnership agreements required.
SOURCE: NRC 2014a (pp. 8-9).
Wilson with the term "consilience" (Wilson 1998). Consilience is a natural complement to convergence. Student, science professional, and citizen exposure to unifying theories across disciplines is needed in order to tackle and solve pressing scientific and societal challenges.
Social science research demonstrates that active learning,11 which includes discovery-based learning, particularly through early research experiences, advances student persistence and success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, especially in women and other underrepresented groups (Nagda et al. 1998, PCAST 2012, Graham et al. 2013). Active learning enhances students’ ability to solve problems, an essential skill that is needed to address pressing societal environmental challenges (Hake 1998, PCAST 2012). Student research and other active learning experiences also improve grades, increase student self-identification as scientists or engineers, reduce the time to graduation, and increase interest in postgraduate education (Seymour et al. 2004, Lopatto 2007, Santer 2010, Dirks 2011). Field stations already play a critical role in exposing students—from elementary school to high school to college—to the natural environment and getting them excited about science. Empirically based approaches to education will be important as field stations strive to meet Goal 3 of the NAML-OBFS Strategic Plan, to enhance the synergies between research and education. Educational programs at field stations would be enhanced by embracing and implementing the findings and guidelines on active learning from the education-research community.
11Active learning is a student-centered approach to instruction that requires students to engage in meaningful learning activities (Dirks 2011). Discovery-based learning is one of a range of “active learning” approaches (Michael 2006).
Research at field stations, being hands-on and embedded in the environment, naturally lends itself to discovery-based research experiences for students. As universities focus on increasing student recruitment into and retention in STEM disciplines, the time is ripe for field stations to create educational research programs that benefit not only students in earth science, environmental science, and ecology, but students in other STEM disciplines as well. By expanding opportunities at field stations for independent and collaborative research projects, and perhaps by moving some undergraduate laboratory courses from campuses to field stations and adding a field component to them, universities might increase students’ interest in pursuing STEM disciplines.
Discovery-based learning at field stations should not be limited to STEM majors. Social science and humanities programs can also attract students to field stations. Science can be made both real and relevant to social science students by allowing them to study at field stations for a semester-long or summer program. In addition, bringing together STEM, social science, and humanities majors at field stations could nurture rich educational experiences for students in all groups.
A good example of the integration of the arts and sciences at field stations can be found at the Mountain Lake Biological Station (MLBS) in Virginia. The MLBS ArtLab program brings artists and scientists together to “share viewpoints, observations, philosophies, and perspectives in their common quest to observe and understand nature and biology” (MLBS 2014). In 2013, the MLBS hosted its first artist-in-residence, recognizing that the field station’s setting would serve as a great inspiration for those working in creative arts. Another example is the Logan Science Journalism Program12 at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The Science Journalism program is an opportunity for communication professionals to learn about and engage in basic research, thus improving their understanding of the process of science. Field stations should expand such opportunities for social science and humanities majors and professionals, to enable them to learn and create in settings where scientists have been working for decades.
As they build and expand discovery-based learning programs in STEM and social science disciplines, field stations should partner with the education research community. They can be platforms for research on how people learn. An example is the partnership between Oregon Sea Grant’s Free-Choice Learning Laboratory and the Hatfield Marine Science Center (OSU 2014). Field stations should look for opportunities to develop similar research partnerships.
Field stations carry out a wide range of public engagement activities to improve public access to and understanding of science. Public understanding and participation in science are important to increase human connectedness to the natural world and empower citizen decision making and involvement in public
policy (Brossard and Lewenstein 2010, Fischoff 2012, Nadkarni and Stasch 2012). Most scientists and research institutions “communicate” about science through peer-reviewed journal publications (Harley 2013), which reach primarily scientific audiences. The outreach activities of field stations break this mold, and the committee applauds such efforts.
Over the last 30 years a small, but robust research base has been built on effective science communication and informal education (Brossard and Lewenstein 2010; Fischoff 2012; NRC 2009a, 2014b). Infusing principles that stem from science communication and informal education research into engagement activities at field stations may help to enhance the relevance, effectiveness, and thus the long-term sustainability of their outreach programs. Use of empirically based approaches will also propel field stations toward achieving Goal 1 of the NAML-OBFS Strategic Plan, to increase public understanding of the value of field station research to society. Science-based approaches to outreach activities can also create opportunities to train students and early-career scientists in public engagement. Four important tasks for developing effective science communication activities are: (1) identify the science relevant to decision making, (2) determine what people already know, (3) design communications to fill the critical gaps, and (4) evaluate their adequacy and repeat as necessary (Fischoff 2012). The National Research Council report, Learning Science in Informal Environments (NRC 2009a), outlines six interrelated “strands of science learning” that form a framework for “science-specific capabilities supported by informal environments” and “serve as a conceptual tool for organizing and assessing science learning (Box 2-4). Central to both empirically based science communication and informal education is to first listen to and understand what people value and to evaluate the effectiveness of engagement activities given what is known about people’s values. The Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education13 is an informal science education resource for many institutions involved in public engagement activities, including field stations. Many of the principles of developing effective public participation in science activities are also relevant to formal education.
Citizen science is one powerful channel through which field stations can engage and empower the science-interested public and advance science. The democratization of science, enabled by the general public’s increasing access to information and tools that were once the exclusive domain of experts and specialists has enabled citizens to become increasingly involved in the collection and analysis of biological and environmental data. Those data, in turn, are increasingly being transformed into scientific information and understanding, critical at a time when public understanding of science concepts and processes is disturbingly low (Miller 2007). Citizen science facilitated or hosted by field stations constitutes a potential win-win scenario: an engaged public may be better at understanding, appreciating, and supporting how scientific knowledge is acquired
13Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) serves as a resource for strengthening and advancing the field of professional informal science education (http://informalscience.org/). CAISE works in collaboration with the NSF Advancing Informal STEM Learning Program and the Association of Science-Technology Centers.
Learners in informal environments:
Strand 1: Experience excitement, interest, and motivation to learn about phenomena in the natural and physical world.
Strand 2: Come to generate, understand, and remember, and use concepts, explanations, arguments, models, and facts related to science.
Strand 3: Manipulate, test, explore, predict, question, observe, and make sense of the natural and physical world.
Strand 4: Reflect on science as a way of knowing; on processes, concepts, and institutions of science; and on their own process of learning about phenomena.
Strand 5: Participate in scientific activities and learning practices with others, using scientific language and tools.
Strand 6: Think about themselves as science learners and develop an identity as someone who knows about, uses, and sometimes contributes to science.
SOURCE: NRC 2009a (p. 4).
at field stations and applied, and scientists’ research may be enhanced by the intellectual and data input from an engaged public.
Although some field stations are actively engaged in citizen science initiatives, there are many ways in which field stations could expand and enhance these initiatives. There is a large potential range of approaches to promoting citizen science—from smaller, place-based programs that investigate relevant questions on site, to large-scale, existing programs for which a field station may facilitate one of many nodes of input and can include inputs from an expanding community of citizen scientists. Field stations seeking to add a citizen science component to their monitoring programs have more tools and resources at their disposal than ever before. Web applications, social networks, and digital games are some of the new digital tools that are facilitating citizen science projects (Bowser and Shanley 2013). In addition, new developments in information science—including data informatics, graphical user interfaces, and geographic information system applications—can now be used on smartphones, tablets, and personal computers. For example, eBird is a large-scale citizen science program that engages thousands of volunteers in documenting millions of bird observations (over 3 million in 1 month alone in 2012). eBird encourages users to participate by providing Internet tools to maintain their personal bird records and to visualize data with interactive maps, graphs, and bar charts, which allow rapid access to the records in the field. The embedding of environmental sensors in smartphone technology and wearable accessories are additional technological advances in a rapidly growing commercial enterprise that has parallel scientific applications. The distributed networks of
mobile sensors combine citizen science with health monitoring and systems analysis and ideally could be tested by the field station community (Zhang et al. 2011).
Citizen science is an increasingly important component of environmental monitoring and public engagement with the scientific community. Collaboration and connection with other government initiatives—such as America’s Great Outdoors, 14 which engages volunteers and citizens, especially youth—have been noted as having substantial benefits both for environmental monitoring and conservation and for society as a whole. LiMPETS (Long-term Monitoring Program and Experiential Training for Students) is an environmental monitoring and education program for students, educators, and volunteer groups that was developed to monitor the ocean and coastal ecosystems of California’s National Marine Sanctuaries to increase awareness and stewardship of these important areas. About 4,000 teachers and students along the coast of California are involved in the collection of data on rocky intertidal beaches and sandy beaches as part of the LiMPETS network.15 Citizen science initiatives have the ability to enable coordinated networks of volunteers to collect useful data that can inform our understanding of the state of ecosystems.
Field stations are places where citizen science can be encouraged, where cooperation in the collection and understanding of data can be collectively transformed into an understanding of the environment and expressed in ways that are relevant and important to public audiences. Citizens do not replace scientists, but can contribute to the vast array of environmental data and information that are needed to study and understand our changing world, from species identification, to water-quality and air-quality monitoring, to building networks for early detection of environmental change. In addition, field stations could collaborate to develop coordinated networks of citizen science monitoring programs at national and international levels. The New Visions in Citizen Science report (Bowser and Shanley 2013) outlines evidence of impact and approaches to address challenges for 17 case studies of citizen science projects that may be instructive to field stations seeking to build such programs. The Citizen Science Association (CSA)16 is another resource that field stations might consider to foster the development of their citizen science programs and incorporate best practices. Because the CSA was just formed in 2014, leaders in the field station community have an opportunity to be inaugural members and to help the CSA define its scope and direction.
Programs to implement convergence, to develop interdisciplinary-based education opportunities, and to enhance public outreach do not come without challenges. Tenure and promotion criteria can be impediments to young
researchers interested in public outreach activities or collaborative research programs such as convergence. Teaching space and equipment and transportation are important elements to consider for education programs. Data quality, trained personnel, and liability for the safety of volunteers are common challenges in citizen science programs. The need to restrict access to sensitive ecosystems can be an impediment to both formal education and public outreach activities. To move forward, each field station should consider how to tailor programs given its facility, location, personnel, and other available resources. Field stations will also need to consider whether changes are needed in their organizational or cultural infrastructures. Networking, cyberinfrastructure, and business planning, as discussed in the next chapters, will be important elements for overcoming a variety of barriers.
Field observations have played and will continue to play an important role in the physical, natural, and social sciences. Field stations collectively constitute a critical global asset with the potential to facilitate a unique merger of natural capital, intellectual capital, social fabric, and infrastructure that lead to important scientific research required to understand our rapidly changing natural world. Greater emphasis needs to be placed on cross-disciplinary research, including research in the geosciences, the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts.
Sustained infrastructure support for field stations allows access to historical data, (longitudinal data that have not been archived in databases) and to long-term studies and manipulative experiments that are unique to specific ecosystems and that enable us to understand the driving forces behind environmental change. A greater emphasis on convergent research that includes the geosciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts will enhance scientists’ use of historical datasets to address global challenges. The recognition of the importance of this set of activities in what is now called convergence is an identified strength of many field stations.
Recommendation: Field station leaders should identify and support the development of scientific and educational assets that harness their station’s unique qualities to address local, regional, national, and global challenges by bringing together scientists in a number of disciplines, including the social sciences, through what is now called convergence.
Recruiting students into STEM fields has been identified in many nations as having high priority, given the importance of these fields for innovation and economic growth. Field stations are venues for discovery-based learning and offer rich opportunities for other types of active learning that have been shown to promote diversity and persistence in STEM education. Integration of research into
formal and informal education and public engagement in science activities provide engaging learning opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds.
Recommendation: Universities and other host institutions should expand opportunities at field stations for independent and collaborative research and active learning activities to increase interest and persistence in STEM fields.
Public understanding and participation in science is important to increase human connectedness to the natural world and to empower citizen decision making and involvement in public policy. Field stations support a wide range of public outreach and engagement programs—public lectures and workshops, science cafes, field trips, and nature walks, among other informal education opportunities—to enhance public understanding of science. The committee applauds these public outreach efforts because they break the mold of traditional science communication with programs that more actively involve members of the public in science. However, field station outreach programs are often disconnected from empirically based approaches to develop, evaluate, and document the effectiveness of their science communication and informal education activities.
Recommendation: Field stations should continue to explore a wide range of approaches to engage the public in science, and to select and tailor their activities in a manner that best leverages a field station’s infrastructure, location, personnel, and other available resources. Empirically based approaches in science communication and informal learning should be used to guide the development and assessment of engagement activities to promote public understanding of science effectively.
Citizen science is an emerging channel through which field stations can advance science and empower people interested in science by engaging them actively in data collection and research, particularly in science issues that affect their communities. There is a broad spectrum of citizen science initiatives, from simple observational programs to coordinated, training-intensive environmental monitoring programs. Citizen science initiatives empower people to learn about science and the ecosystem dynamics of the natural communities in which their field stations are embedded. Citizen science initiatives also can enable coordinated networks of volunteers to collect data that can inform our understanding of how human activities may be altering ecosystems. Much of citizen science is facilitated through advances in Web-based technologies that allow citizens to collect and analyze data through accessible platforms, such as smartphones, tablets, and personal computers. A few field stations have developed sustained outreach programs that include citizen science, but citizen science initiatives are not yet widespread outreach activities among field stations.
Recommendation: Field stations should collaborate in, connect with, and formalize citizen science programs by using the latest technologies and
networking initiatives throughout the American and global system of stations and thus offer a coordinated infrastructure for interested members of the public to engage in, learn about, and contribute to science.