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A comparative study between outcomes of an in-person versus online introductory field course.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many standard approaches to STEM education. Particularly impacted were field courses, which rely on specific natural spaces often accessed through shared vehicles. As in-person field courses have been found to be particularly impactful for undergraduate student success in the sciences, we aimed to compare and understand what factors may have been lost or gained during the conversion of an introductory field course to an online format. Using a mixed methods approach comparing data from online and in-person field-course offerings, we found that while community building was lost in the online format, online participants reported increased self-efficacy in research and observation skills and connection to their local space. The online field course additionally provided positive mental health breaks for students who described the time outside as a much-needed respite. We maintain that through intentional design, online field courses can provide participants with similar outcomes to in-person field courses.

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