Maureen Ryan

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Western Washington University

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Activities (3)

Ecological Autobiography part of Curriculum for the Bioregion:Activities
The ecological autobiography is a multi-stage reflective and written exercise that draws on students' personal history and experiences as they consider the ecological context of some period of their lives. The goal is to individually and collectively explore how the landscapes and ecological communities we have inhabited influence us as individuals, set the context of our lives, and influence our expectations of landscape. I have used this exercise in a variety of interdisciplinary courses, all focused at the intersection of ecology, evolution, and environmental history. The exercise can be easily tweaked to broad application across the natural sciences, environmental studies, environmental history courses, or other courses. The exercise involves two stages of personal reflection and writing, and a third stage of natural history exploration. These stages also can be combined or some can be made optional to shorten the assignment. The first reflection is focused on describing details of species or natural systems from memory; the second reflection is then intended to deepen personal connection and garner insights into the role that the remembered species or systems played in the individual's life. The third stage of natural history exploration is designed to enhance ecological knowledge and spark renewed curiosity about the species and natural communities that form the core of the reflection. While the assignment is completed independently, many students report that they turn to interviews of family members and friends to enhance their memory, and the assignment becomes a kind of collective revisiting and exploration of the places that they live or have lived together.

Migration: An Empathy Exercise part of Curriculum for the Bioregion:Activities
Migration: An Empathy Exercise is a multi-step reflective exercise designed to build empathy and personal insight into processes of loss, change, and reconnection associated with the disruption of personal and cultural connections to landscape. In the first step, students reflect individually on their experiences in unfamiliar landscapes and how they might feel were they to move away from a home landscape. Second, they envision personal means of building connection with new or unfamiliar landscapes. Having considered these questions at a personal level, students read or are presented with case studies of human movement and their consequences (historical or current). Finally, students reflect on new questions that arose as they considered case studies after thinking about migration or displacement at a personal level. Overall this process is designed to 1) build personal resilience in the face of future changes, 2) enhance understanding and build empathy for displaced or migrant peoples, 3) begin to consider the role of migration (and associated loss of knowledge and/or imported preconceptions about landscapes) in past land use (e.g. in the American West). The exercise can be done in class, or as an independent assignment with follow-up in class. The sequence can be altered depending on specific pedagogical goals. The context of the exercise can vary widely, with potential focus on historical, current, or potential future migrations and displacements of human populations. It can also be used as part of a broader curriculum to examine the implications of migration and displacement on land use. (For example, this exercise can be part of a broader curriculum on the colonization and development of the American West that follows What is the West?, another exercise posted separately in the Curriculum for the Bioregion). The exercise can be broadly adapted for courses in ecological sciences, environmental studies, cultural studies, ecological anthropology, or other classes focused on the intersection of human and natural systems.

What is the West? part of Curriculum for the Bioregion:Activities
What is the West? is a written reflective exercise, with associated readings and discussion, designed to 1) build insight into how personal experiences shape our perception of landscapes, and the American West in particular, 2) enhance knowledge of the geography and ecology of the American West, and 3) illuminate the role of water (or lack of water) in the natural and cultural history of the American West. Through written reflection, selected readings, and discussion, students explore and contextualize their understanding of the West within the larger geography of the continent. The process highlights the ways in which personal experiences, cultural narratives & myths, and ecological knowledge influence perceptions of landscapes. This exercise can be followed by a separate exercise (Migration: An Empathy Exercise) also uploaded on this site.