Tropical Conservation Biology class discusses the Chek Jawa Case Study

Several years ago, I realised many of our students in NUS had, at best, only a vague impression about what happened at Chek Jawa in 2001 and 2002 – even those who were around when it was happening. After it was all over, more talks have probably been given by government officers than myself to NUS students. It is worth telling as it presents an interesting local story with many angles, one of which tells of an effort and approach of citizenry in engaging the public and the government.

A few years ago, sensing a receptive mood by the first year’s in the lecture theatre (some 200 students), I threw out the prepared lecture on tropical conservation and used an old presentation to tell them about Chek Jawa. The mood was electric and since then, Ng Ngan Kee who lectures in Semester 2 and myself in Semester 1 include some aspects of the story in the final lecture in the LSM1103 Biodiversity module, which we take turns to teach. All quite apt since the early part of the story discusses the biodiversity survey.

Earlier, I went to the senior students in the smaller LSM4262 Tropical Conservation Biology course which Peter Ng used to coordinate (usually about 40+ students), and in recent years, Ngan Kee. This two-hour session is adequate as a quick fix for a group of students who have greater exposure to ecological issues and accumulated practical experience in the field.

However, last year, I realised that some (not all) of the senior students had some difficulty in synthesising the information. Then other teaching demands flooded my mind and suddenly it was a year later, with most of the current batch of students in the throes of their honours year research projects! In order to avoid sudden and aditional demands on their time outside of the classroom, I opted to use two of the existing time slots for a lecture and a tutorial.

Much of the mechanisms involved were anchored on but not directly about biology, so I entitled the lecture “Beyond Biology: A Case Study of Chek Jawa”. Our roles were spelt out – I was the story teller and kept analysis mild during the lecture last Tuesday, while the students analysed the account as they listened, to extract some sense of the underlying mechanisms.

In the tutorial session this morning, the students were introduced to the session objectives and broken up into five groups of 5-6 students to discuss the tools, methods and strategies in specific areas in order to present highlights about

  • the uniqueness/characteristics of the Chek Jawa case,
  • communication,
  • organisational methods,
  • biodiversity survey and sampling methods and
  • the public education programme.

Photos by Ng Ngan Kee

Their scenario imagined them advising a bunch of ‘A’-level students who had approached them about the conservation of a site of concern. They were to present an analysis of Chek Jawa with suggestions about applications to the area of current concern. This scenario was actually prompted by some 20 ‘A’-level Project Work groups who had consulted me about their theoretical projects last year.

I decided to suggest Mandai mangroves and mudflats as the site in question as it is of real concern while a great contrast to Chek Jawa. Enough students too were familiar with Mandai from their research projects, so I had five of them form the groups, providing each group with a resource person. After an intense 30-minute discussion, the groups served up a representative (some provided two) to deliver a five minutes oral presentation followed by a two minute Q&A by their peers. Ngan Kee kept them strictly to the time so there was enough left of the two hour session for a partial debrief – I will send them the rest of the review.

While this year’s exercise was simply a dry run for next year, it has already help stimulate some analysis and discussion while the presentations reveal comprehension and effectiveness of communication. I’ll improve the method for next year – this first run unleashed a flood of ideas – and integrate it into the module. To think that just 45mins before the session, I had no idea what we’d be doing today.


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