No Crowds? Virtual Outreach to the Rescue!

by Adam Hinterthuer

Here at the CFL, we are big believers in the Wisconsin Idea. But we also believe in science and “safer at home” orders – which means in-person outreach was off the table in 2020. However, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, we still managed to find some new ways to connect. Here are a few examples:

Water We Talking About?
Mussel shell being held under water withtext bubble of Water We Taking About?As parents across the world found themselves thrust into homeschool duty in March, we wanted to help keep their new virtual learners entertained. One idea was the CFL blog series, “Water We Talking About?” Each week, kids sent in questions ranging from why water can look like root beer to why there aren’t any seashells on the lakeshore. The series really took off and had CFL faculty and students fielding questions from across Wisconsin and as far away as Pennsylvania. Some queries even had us hunting for outside help from folks like the WDNR’s furbearer ecologist, Lake Erie’s “snake lady,” and even a freelance astrobiologist!

Facetime Fellowship
Each year, a handful of accomplished students give presentations summarizing their summer fellowships at Trout Lake Station. These fellowships are made possible by gifts from generous donors, many of whom also spend their summers up in the Northwoods. They usually stop by for our annual “Fellows Luncheon” but, this year, that luncheon looked a little different. Instead of gathering in the Tug Juday conference room for sandwiches, we gathered around our laptops to watch students explain how they worked on Trout Lake research projects from home. Some even got creative and photoshopped their faces onto photos of in-person fieldwork! These talks are now on our YouTube channel for anyone to enjoy.

Limnology 2.0
In 2020, North America’s oldest limnology course got a digital update. We love to boast that we have the largest and longest-running undergraduate limnology course in the world. When CFL assistant professor Hilary Dugan began building her syllabus for Zoology 315 this year, she didn’t think she’d be teaching from home. Still, Dugan pivoted brilliantly, deciding to prioritize virtual lectures. Instead of two in-person lectures a week, this year’s students got weekly YouTube videos and live Q&A sessions. While creating all this content meant less summer vacation time, Dugan’s work helped improve the way future limnology courses get taught and produced some online artifacts that will be used well into the future.

Trout Lake Station Virtual Open House
Since 2011, the Trout Lake Station Open House has drawn hundreds of visitors to our station each year to chat with students about their summer research projects and enjoy free Babcock Dairy ice cream. While we weren’t about to ask 300 people to hang out this year, our summer science communication intern, Cassie Gauthier, took the lead on a cool idea to keep people engaged. Using a mobile app called ActionBound, Cassie put together a massive smartphone scavenger hunt involving each of the northern Wisconsin study lakes in our long-term ecological research project. Participants could visit each lake either in person or virtually and learn about invasive fish, carnivorous plants and much more. To top it off, The Corner Store – a popular Vilas County spot for summer ice cream stops – offered up cones for folks who finished the hunt!



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