spea magazine


Faculty Adventures in Cyberspace!

In this column we ask SPEA faculty members to describe their relationship to the Internet, e-mail, and related gadgetry. This month we go online with SPEA assistant professor Vicky Meretsky.

meretskyWhat are your favorite work-related Web sites and why do you like them?
Greenwire and Climatewire (both at www.eenews.net/gw/), absolutely – they provide up-to-the-minute environmental news and a searchable archive. Weather Underground www.wunderground.com/), particularly for checking conditions for field work, field trips, etc. And I find that my “need a little information fast” searches (using Google, constantly) often end up at Wikipedia.

Where do you go on the Web for fun?
I hope not to go to the Web for fun until I have become completely immobile! I would never willingly give up my access to the Web, but I don’t waste what little free time I have looking for fun there! But I do use it for support for fun stuff – buying hiking boots, figuring out why an orchid is trying to die, learning when squirrels nest so I know when not to nail up the hole they’re using to nest in the side of the house. . . . And I use e-mail to keep in touch with the non-work world.

Has your work life changed as a result of the Internet and e-mail?
Of course. E-mail eats insane amounts of time, and saves a bit, just to keep us hooked! But the Internet has made it possible to find and read literature very quickly, allows quick fact-checking and people-finding. I can answer student questions that are outside my area, and even, during class, look up information relevant to an issue that arises during discussion. I’m not sure there’s a net savings in time, but I am sure there’s a net increase in information flow. How much of that we need would be a different question!

How are you using the Internet to connect with your classes?
There’s the usual course-related e-mails that all classes use, but we also use e-mail in Conservation Biology to put together our night-time frog surveys – who’s going, who needs a ride, who has a ride to offer. Students submit most assignments electronically – we’ve reduced our dead-tree quotient considerably. Using the computer projector, I bring information from Websites into class discussion and lecture, and walk beginning students through Web-based processes such as literature searches. I can update lectures and readings faster with online support.

Do you have other gadgets (PDA, Blackberry)?
GPS, digital camera, and a variety of other field instruments – temperature, pH, humidity sensors, etc. Personal stuff – just a cell phone purchased in Kyrgyzstan, mostly off.

What’s the one Web site, academic or not, that you can’t live without?
Greenwire. There are substitutes for Google and Weather Underground, but not for Greenwire. In terms of visits, though, I visit Google more than anything else.

Vicky Meretsky is a conservation biologist with research interests at both the single species and landscape scales. Her doctorate is in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Arizona (see relating story for her coursework involving “Greening the Classroom”).