Virgin Islands Project

Environmental Science in the Virtual Caribbean

Every year, about 20 Michigan State University students have the opportunity to participate in a once in a lifetime experiential learning adventure in the beautiful and diversified U.S. Virgin Islands, guided by environmental scientists who know and love the island ecosystem. As the students explore the tropical seas, colorful coral reefs, white sand beaches and island ecology from arid to rain forest, they encounter both subtle and dramatic examples of the worsening destruction caused by human consumption patterns, pollution, and land and water use practices that threatens to irrevocably change the delicate ecological balance. The students camp, hike, snorkel and study with an expert guide who helps awaken and sharpen their awareness by pointing out fascinating and frightening details and relating them to broad ecological concepts and local and global events.

Experiential learning in the Caribbean is exciting. Students quickly begin noticing and discovering on their own, asking questions and seeking answers from experts and from reference reading materials. During the 3 week experience, they acquire a profound understanding of the balances and processes of nature and the consequences of human action on that balance. Appreciation of the beauty of the islands heightens the sense of outrage at their destruction. Although the students' local ecologies often are much different from the island ecology, the students bring home a conceptual understanding of ecosystem dynamics in general and an enriched perspective on humanity's and their own personal relationship to the earth.

We are creating a first-of-its-kind discovery learning CD-ROM which uses virtual travel, agents, and information retrieval technology to bring learners dynamic, situated learning experiences using the Virgin Islands as an interface to objective, subjective and discovered knowledge covering a broad range of environmental science topics and diverse expert perspectives.

(c) 1995 Communication Technology Laboratory
Michigan State University