Student experience

Environmental science instructor turns cancelled event into virtual showcase

April 27, 2020

From outdoors to online, Tara Holland, a lecturer in SFU’s new School of Environmental Science, takes an unconventional approach to teaching amidst a global pandemic.

In January, Holland launched a capstone class that prepares students to become environmental scientists. Teaming up with the innovation hub CityStudio Vancouver and the Vancouver Park Board, Holland and her students spent the semester developing methods to assess the ecological condition of Vancouver parks. Conducting fieldwork in five local parks, the students applied their knowledge and skills to solve environmental issues, like how to ensure naturally managed areas retain their value to human physical and mental health, while also maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

Days before students were scheduled to present their findings at a public poster session, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, requiring Holland to dramatically shift the final weeks of her course.

“When SFU moved all classes online, I didn't want students to miss out on the opportunity to showcase their hard work,” says Holland.  “The students produced some excellent projects and I wanted that to be celebrated.”

Together, Holland and her students got creative. They turned their poster session into a virtual showcase and invited the public to tune in.

Holland’s biggest concern was how to make the session as interactive as possible without it turning into chaos. She says striking a careful balance between flexibility, openness, and patience helped the event run smoothly. But she credits her students, their grit and determination, as the key factor in the showcase’s success.

“The students have all performed incredibly well in this strange new reality that has been thrust upon them,” says Holland.  “They have quickly become adept at navigating our new environment and continued to work professionally and effectively. I can't speak highly enough about how well they have adapted.”

Two teams advanced to HUBBUB14, a digital showcase competition hosted by StudioCity Vancouver.

“In times like these we learn how resilient we are.”