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Clarkson University Professor Helps Promote Ecology in the Digital Age

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A Clarkson University faculty member is teaming up with several colleagues from across the country to develop ways to teach students how to learn about the environment by analyzing the large amount of data available on the Internet.Langen

Tom A. Langen, an associate professor of biology and psychology, is part of a group of higher education professionals working "to develop activities using large, publicly available data sets" that will help college students understand ecological concepts. The group, including faculty from eight small colleges and universities, developed curricula that let students study such topics as climate change and polar bears, spatial patterns of bird diversity, and the carbon cycle.

The students will analyze data collected from a large number of sources, including atmospheric chemistry sensors, global weather stations, and satellite imagery of land use patterns.

Langen said one of the reasons he enjoys the experience is because of the diverse types of small colleges represented in the working group, including Native American tribal colleges and historically black colleges.

"By working with this team representing colleges with a variety of missions, I learned the kinds of challenges these faculty and their students face, and could apply what I learned to develop ecological learning activities that will benefit a wider range of faculty and students," said Langen.

The group met recently to finalize their plans in a recent workshop in Santa Barbara, Calif., hosted by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). Also participating were members of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON, Inc.)

The faculty will test the curricula in their classrooms beginning this fall. The experiment will continue in the spring and end with the 2010 fall semester.

Late next year, Langen said, each faculty member will take two students to Santa Barbara where the group will discuss what the students learned from the curricula and how well they liked doing each activity. The curricula will be improved based on the students’ comments, and then distributed to educators via publications of the Ecological Society of America.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in six alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: Tom Langen (Clarkson University), Marnie Carroll (Dine College), and Bruce Grant (Widener College) work together on developing an undergraduate learning activity using publically available data on invasive species and Google Earth.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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