Coastal LTER sites offer online graduate course

Network News Fall 2013, Vol. 26 No. 3

Several coastal Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites have teamed up to offer an online graduate course, “Linking biology and geomorphology in coastal wetlands (and other habitats)”. The course is a unique opportunity for graduate students to learn from experts in the field, who are distributed across multiple universities.

Nine universities (Boston University, Coastal Carolina University, Florida International University, Indiana University, Texas A&M University, the University of Georgia, the University of Houston, the University of South Carolina, the University of Virginia) are offering the course for credit. Over 140 people are participating, including graduate students and faculty members at over 30 academic institutions, and staff at nine National Estuarine Research Reserves and two Federal Agencies. The lecturers include 15 scientists from the Florida Coastal Everglades (FCE), Georgia Coastal Ecosystem (GCE), Jornada Basisn (JRN), Moorea Coral Reef (MCR), Plum Island Ecosystem (PIE), Santa Barbara Coastal (SBC) and Virginia Coast Reserve (VCR) LTER sites, and from outside the LTER network.

This interdisciplinary course  provides a general background on biological, geological, and hydrological processes that take place in wetlands, and how these processes interact to affect wetland structure and function. Because many of the processes discussed transcend wetlands, some lectures discuss parallel processes in other habitats.

“I’m very happy about the high level of interest in the course,” said Steven Pennings (GCE), the lead organizer.  Pennings noted that it would be very difficult for a single university to offer a specialized graduate course like this one that allows students to interact with so many experts in a field”, adding that “video-conferencing technology has matured to the point that groups like LTER can now collectively offer courses with an extraordinarily high level of content that will reach a large audience.”

The course is taught live online, using Adobe Connect software. This allows the audience to see the speaker and lecture slides simultaneously. Audience members can type questions or comments using the chat box, or can click on an icon to request that their camera and microphone be enabled so that they can ask questions verbally. At some universities, the live lecture is preceded or followed by discussion of the lecture topic and related papers. Forty to 50 computers have been connected to the web site for each lecture to date, with some computers representing individuals and others representing classrooms with many people.

The course web site ( includes a list of suggested readings and slides from past talks. For information about the course, contact Steven Pennings (