Exploring Great Lakes literacy and stewardship from the comfort of home

Lessons learned from making the switch to a virtual teacher training.

Michigan State University Extension, a partner in the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLSI) network, pivoted this summer to support teachers planning to engage youth in place-based stewardship education (PBSE) in the upcoming school year by shifting their annual summer institute to a virtual course. The 2020 NEMIGLSI Lake Huron Watershed Place-Based Stewardship Education Summer Institute was hosted by the NEMIGLSI network and its leadership partners, Huron Pines, MSU Extension and Michigan Sea Grant with funding support from the Center for Great Lakes Literacy and NOAA Great Lakes BWET program

Typically offered as an in-person, three-day institute, this year’s virtual offering included six content sections, which were held asynchronously (i.e., not live sessions, instead self-paced learning) over eight weeks.

The 2020 virtual summer institute consisted of three sections of content:

This was followed by three sections focused on the components of a successful PBSE project:

  • Exploring and identifying community issues, needs or opportunities.
  • Building community relationships in order to address the issue with their community.
  • Meeting Michigan’s education expectations.


Teachers first explored how forest management, gardens and public land use interact with and can impact the Great Lakes. Then they began to develop their class PBSE project plan, exploring how to launch and implement a successful PBSE effort while adjusting for the challenge of implementing during a pandemic. 

While the focus remained on the stewardship content and place-based education, an effort was made to engage the teachers in a variety of virtual learning tools they could use in the coming school year, from Google Classroom to Flipgrid to Jamboards. Teachers indicated an appreciation for experiencing many of the tools from a student perceptive. 

Many lessons were learned over these eight weeks, including:

  • Make decisions for the learning platform as early as possible. We committed to pivoting to virtual in April.
  • Reach out for help! Ohio Sea Grant through the Center for Great Lakes Literacy was a valuable mentor as we learned how to develop content in a virtual classroom.
  • Building relationships is still It just looks different in a virtual classroom.
  • Do it as a team. While our summer institutes are always supported by partners, this collaborative approach was vital to the success of the virtual summer institute.
  • Activities in a virtual classroom takes more time, both for us to build and for students to complete.

While the NEMIGLSI 2020 Lake Huron Watershed Place-Based Stewardship Education Summer Institute was not what anyone had anticipated, participants and facilitators learned together, shared experiences, made plans to empower youth to change their communities through PBSE, and most importantly, had fun!

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