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Behind the Scenes with Dave Stemper, forest ecosystems & society instructor

College of Forestry instructor Dave Stemper, who teaches in the undergraduate and graduate online natural resources degree programs, is addressing a group of students, three of whom are visible, in an outdoor setting with trees in the background. Dave is wearing glasses with thin wire frames, a blue polo, a red vest with pens in the pocket, and a green baseball cap.

Dave Stemper is an instructor for Oregon State’s College of Forestry. His rich understanding of natural resource management and communication reaches students of all ages, including the Gladstone High School students pictured above. The students accompanied Dave on an urban wildlife monitoring project, installing infrared cameras in parks near the Willamette River.

By Julie Cooper
Oct. 11, 2018

An environmental interpreter is responsible for passing on knowledge that connects people intellectually and emotionally to the natural resources that make up their world. Whether presenting at a conference, developing an open education resource, coordinating an environmental summer camp for youth or instructing students across multiple disciplines online and on campus, Dave Stemper’s deep-rooted environmental scholarship has been passed on widely to help shape a thoughtful new generation of natural resource managers and communicators. Dave is a senior instructor in the Oregon State University College of Forestry Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in natural resource communication and interpretation at the University of Minnesota.



Briefly describe what you do as an OSU Ecampus instructor.

“As a senior instructor for the OSU College of Forestry, I facilitate a range of courses within the realm of natural resources and natural resource management. The courses I teach lean toward the social aspects of natural resource management, focusing on natural resource communication, outdoor recreation and wilderness management. To keep my courses fresh, topical and up to date, I am constantly engaged in course modification and improvement. Like many other instructors, I take student input very seriously. Feedback received also results in occasional ideas for new courses. I am currently designing a new course for the College of Forestry that will explore the role of nature in mythology and storytelling.

I also serve as a mentor for College of Forestry undergraduates earning independent project credits, advise graduate students and serve on graduate committees, and have a role on the College of Forestry’s Natural Resource Curriculum Committee.”

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What made you get into your field of expertise in environmental interpretation?

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had an interest in natural resources. Back in my undergraduate years – when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth – I was lucky enough to participate in field studies and ecological research. I thoroughly enjoyed those projects and took full advantage as my time allowed. One day, when I lived in Minneapolis, I was asked to present at a local grade school about my experiences with humpback whales and whale researchers. That was a wonderful experience and a turning point, in a way. I was hooked, and my connection to natural resource education and environmental interpretation more or less snowballed from there. I pursued graduate work in natural resource communication and interpretation and found that it was a wonderful and effective way to combine my interests in natural resources and natural resource communication.”

What do you like most about instructing Forest Ecosystems and Society courses online?

“While I thoroughly enjoy teaching in both the on-campus and online settings, there is one particular aspect of online instruction that cannot be duplicated on campus. Online courses typically bring in a cadre of students from all corners of the United States, and in some cases other countries. I love meeting the wide array of students and learning about the places, experiences and interests they represent. This lends a dynamic and inspiring aspect to online learning, and I never get tired of it.”

What are the benefits of online learning?

“One obvious benefit is that students can engage with content according to their own schedule. Then, OSU Ecampus does a wonderful job of helping instructors design courses that are engaging and infused with a range of multimedia tools. This helps ensure that courses cater to the various learning styles represented within the student body.”

How do you build a genuine connection with students who, in many cases, you’ll never meet in person?

“Years ago, I had a conversation with a high school teacher who was nearing retirement. A successful, award-winning teacher. He shared that the best way to connect with a student, make them comfortable and earn their trust is to get to know their name and something about them as soon as possible. What are their interests or hobbies? Where did they grow up? How large is their family? If you can reveal to a student that you genuinely care about them as a person, then the learning on their part becomes much easier. This is especially important in the online environment, where it is so easy to feel alone and anonymous. I took my teacher friend’s advice to heart, and put his words into practice within every one of my courses.”

“Online courses typically bring in a cadre of students from all corners of the United States, and in some cases other countries. I love meeting the wide array of students and learning about the places, experiences and interests they represent.”

How have you evolved as an educator since you began teaching forestry classes online with Ecampus?

“Success comes through trial and error. You discover what works well, and perhaps not so well. Working with Ecampus over the years, I have learned how to better put my teaching ideas into action, grounding my course content in pedagogy and stages of cognitive development. With the help of Ecampus, I have also learned a great deal more about the theoretical underpinnings of online instruction and how to transform my course objectives into meaningful learning experiences.”

Do you have a favorite course that you teach?

“My favorite course to teach is Environmental Interpretation, as it encourages students to tap into and flex their creativity. Students come up with innovative ideas for sharing important conservation messages and share them with classmates via a series of peer-review sessions. In addition, students provide feedback to one another on ideas and project mock-ups. The peer-review sessions are so constructive and inspiring; I consider them a highlight of the course. Students really appreciate the constructive interaction.”

What advice would you like to give to students?

“I am a true believer in the cliché ‘you get out what you put in.’ Not only do students perform well when they immerse themselves in course content – they enjoy the course even more as a result. So, my advice is to engage with course content early in the term and be sure to ask any and all questions that pop into your head. Chances are high that classmates have the same questions, so you are doing both yourself and them a service when you ask.”

What is one surprising thing about you that not many people know?

“I never intended for it to happen, but I know the entire musical Jesus Christ Superstar by heart. I’ve been a fan of that musical since the ‘70s, so I suppose it was bound to happen.”

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