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Jana Wilson
School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Innovative SPEA class practices what it teaches: reducing the carbon footprint

Nov. 12, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University students and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service professionals are learning together this semester in an IU course on conservation and global climate change. And, through the use of innovative technology, they are doing so in a way that doesn't produce greenhouse gases and contribute to further climate change.

The IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs course meets on the IU campus in Bloomington. Dozens of Fish and Wildlife Service personnel from eight states participate from their homes or offices, linked to the classroom by a high-quality telephone connection and desktop sharing computer software.

Meretsky class

Vicky Meretsky

Print-Quality Photo

For the government agency, it's an opportunity to provide employees with high-quality professional development on an essential topic at little cost and with a small carbon footprint -- with no travel to central training site, no overnight hotel stays and little time away from work.

"This is a training opportunity for them as well as a learning opportunity for our students," said SPEA Associate Professor Vicky Meretsky, who supervises the class with SPEA Professor J.C. Randolph. "This approach is ready for prime time. We just seem to be the first people using it in this sort of leveraged environment."

Thirty-six IU students, most of them graduate students, attend the weekly class in a distance-learning classroom at the IU Radio and Television Building. A comparable number of staff from the Fish & Wildlife Service Midwest region -- Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin -- dial in and log on for every class. Dozens more Fish and Wildlife Service employees join in when the lecture topic interests them or relates to their work.

"This forum represents an unprecedented opportunity for collaboration on the projected impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife, and natural systems in the Midwest," said Tom Melius, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest region, based in Minneapolis. "Indiana University's School of Environmental and Public Affairs is nationally regarded for the quality of its professional training, and the forum allows U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel to share knowledge and experiences acquired through years of field work. Simultaneously, our employees are exposed to the latest research findings and innovative solutions being generated within the scholarly community. It's truly a win-win situation."

Leading national experts in various aspects of climate change science and policy make up the list of weekly lecturers. They include professors at eight universities and officials from such organizations as the World Wildlife Fund and the National Wildlife Federation, as well as the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Meretsky said almost all the experts she contacted agreed to lecture, thanks in part to the convenience of being able to speak from their own homes or offices. The guest speakers donate their time, the Fish and Wildlife Service pays for the phone connection and IU staff provide technical support.

The speakers use PowerPoint slides that are viewed on a screen in the IU classroom and, simultaneously, on the computers of Fish and Wildlife Service participants. A "chat" function with the software lets viewers at remote locations ask questions. They can also converse by phone.

For the Fish and Wildlife Service, the class allows employees to take part in an important conversation about climate change and its causes and impacts, said Dan Ashe, science adviser to USFWS Director H. Dale Hall. It also helps the agency experiment with a new approach to delivering training and start preparing for the workforce of the future, which will expect more intensive use of distance-learning and conferencing technology, he said.

"If we're going to meet the challenge of climate change and reduce our carbon footprint as an organization, it's critical that the Service increasingly consider and start using these technologies," Ashe said. "It's an important part of breaking new ground for us, and we appreciate Indiana University's support."

IU students also benefit from learning to use the technology and from extensive classroom contact with Fish and Wildlife Service professionals. Meretsky and Randolph plan to produce an article about the class experience and give poster presentations about it at national conferences. Also, the Fish and Wildlife Service has offered to provide comments on final papers that IU students produce for the class, and possibly to consider them to inclusion in a peer-reviewed agency publication.