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  • Created 09 Oct 2020

EREN-NEON Flexible Learning Projects Faculty Mentoring Network:

Teaching Ecology During A Pandemic

The deadline for this opportunity has passed. Check back to see what the participants have to share at the end of the Spring 2021 semester. For updates on FMN opportunities in the future, please sign up for the QUBES newsletter

Are you interested in retaining an element of field ecology in your course while still teaching online or in a hybrid environment? Apply now to join us for the EREN-NEON Flexible Learning Projects Faculty Mentoring Network (FMN).

Field ecology, which is usually taught through high-contact, in-person experiences at specific field sites, must be adapted to a virtual platform that allows students to collect data in a socially distanced way in diverse locations, including backyards, curbside verges, urban parks, farm fields, and campus grounds. Ideally, these data should be connected to a real, scientifically relevant hypothesis so that students are learning in the context of a problem-based, authentic research experience. Through a collaboration between the Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN) and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), faculty teams have developed four projects in field ecology that teach ecological concepts and skills.  During this FMN, participants will implement and provide feedback on at least one of the following projects.

Flexible Learning Project Descriptions

Full details and a link to the training webinar for each project can be found on the Flexible Learning Projects page.

Backyard Beetles + Pollinators, developed & led by Dr. Kaitlin Stack Whitney.
Students observe insect pollinators in their backyards, campus, or nearby natural areas to describe plant-pollinator networks and assess how the assemblages from their sites compare to those in a range of landscapes. Ground beetles, some of which are critical and understudied plant pollinators, are of particular interest. Students will learn how and why NEON samples ground beetles, develop an appreciation of the ecosystem services provided by these often overlooked arthropods and have the option to set up their own NEON-style pitfall trap using common household materials.  Students will develop an appreciation of the ecosystem services provided by these often overlooked arthropods and how the assemblages of pollinators from their sites relate to the broader North American landscape. This project can be the subject of a course laboratory activity lasting between 2 and 4 weeks.

Plants in the Human-Altered Environment (PHAE), developed & led by Dr. Jason Kilgore and Dr. Karen Kuers.
Woody plants provide an amazing variety of services to other organisms, including humans, many of which are overlooked in the human-altered environment. This project brings students face-to-face with the plants that share their neighborhoods or campuses. Students will use online resources to identify and classify plants. They will establish plots and measure the abundance, biomass, diversity, and ecosystem services provided by plants as a function of landscape alteration. They will also relate these data to nation-wide datasets on plants within the human-altered environment. This project can be implemented across a range of environments, used by independent students or groups of students, and lasts from 2 to 4 laboratory sessions. 

Mosquito Surveys along Anthropogenic Impact Gradients, developed & led by Dr. Allison Parker.
This project explores the role of human land use and other environmental factors that affect native and invasive mosquito species distributions and the diseases that they can vector. Students can collect data on campus or from their homes by collecting water in containers and monitoring them for mosquito eggs and larvae. Publicly available nation-wide data on mosquito abundances will be examined relative to a variety of environmental variables and related back to data collected by students. This project can be the subject of a course laboratory activity lasting between 2 and 4 weeks. 

Lichens in Diverse Landscapes, developed & led by Dr. Danielle Garneau, Dr. Matthew Heard, and Dr. Mary Beth Kolozsvary.
Lichens are well-known sentinels of problems with air quality. This project makes use of publicly-available datasets of lichen records along with field-collected data. A variety of environmental data are related to lichen abundance and diversity to better understand how lichens respond to anthropogenic environmental pressures. Lichens will be related to environmental variables at a variety of spatial scales, from tree bark substrates to regional patterns of air quality. Students and instructors explore and gain experience with GIS, NEON data, statistical analyses, and field data collection as part of this project. This project can be the subject of a course laboratory activity lasting between 1 and 3 weeks. 

The Ecological Research Education Network (EREN; and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON; are joining forces with QUBES ( to provide this FMN during Spring 2021. 

This work is supported by EREN, NEON, and NSF DBI-2037827 Developing online teaching tools for field ecology and data science through an EREN-NEON partnership

How to Apply

Applications are due November 20, 2020, please visit the Application page for information on how to apply. Accepted applicants will be notified by November 30, 2020. Space is limited.


The FMN will include 6 biweekly meetings on Fridays between 4:00 and 5:00 PM. The first of these happy-hour meetings will be on January 15. The FMN will continue online to support the implementation of activities in your course during the Spring 2021 semester. The final meeting will be March 26th. Final products are due by April 9, 2021.

Visit the Schedule page for full details and topics for each week's meeting.

Commitment and Benefits of Participation

To qualify, participants must be willing to incorporate at least one module from one of the projects during the Spring 2021 semester. Participants must also be able to commit ~1 hour per week for working with mentors and collaborating with other participants around the implementation of the teaching materials. Additional time outside of these discussions may be required for independent work on adapting and reviewing modules.

All participants will benefit from online support throughout the process of implementing new materials in your course. New course-based undergraduate research experiences, in addition to those described above) will be developed and piloted during the Spring 2021 semester, and participants will have early access to those materials. Throughout the FMN, you will have access to peer mentors on lecture/classroom/lab effective tips and strategies in small group virtual meetings every two weeks. 


If you have questions, please contact FMN facilitators Laurie Anderson or Tim McCay at