Macrosystems EDDIE teaching modules significantly increase ecology students' proficiency and confidence working with ecosystem models and use of systems thinking
Simulation models are increasingly used by ecologists to study complex, ecosystem-scale phenomena, but integrating ecosystem simulation modeling into ecology undergraduate and graduate curricula remains rare. Engaging ecology students with ecosystem simulation models may enable students to conduct hypothesis-driven scientific inquiry while also promoting their use of systems thinking, but it remains unknown how using hands-on modeling activities in the classroom affects student learning. Here, we developed short (3-hr) teaching modules as part of the Macrosystems EDDIE (Environmental Data-Driven Inquiry & Exploration) program that engage students with hands-on ecosystem modeling in the R statistical environment. We embedded the modules into in-person ecology courses at 17 colleges and universities and assessed student perceptions of their proficiency and confidence before and after working with models. Across all 277 undergraduate and graduate students who participated in our study, completing one Macrosystems EDDIE teaching module significantly increased students' self-reported proficiency, confidence, and likely future use of simulation models, as well as their perceived knowledge of ecosystem simulation models. Further, students were significantly more likely to describe that an important benefit of ecosystem models was their "ease of use" after completing a module. Interestingly, students were significantly more likely to provide evidence of systems thinking in their assessment responses about the benefits of ecosystem models after completing a module, suggesting that these hands-on ecosystem modeling activities may increase students' awareness of how individual components interact to affect system-level dynamics. Overall, Macrosystems EDDIE modules help students gain confidence in their ability to use ecosystem models and provide a useful method for ecology educators to introduce undergraduate and graduate students to ecosystem simulation modeling using in-person, hybrid, or virtual modes of instruction.