Teaching at the interface of Machine Learning and Forestry

École d’été en Finlande

Summer school in Finland

Teaching at the interface of Machine Learning and Forestry
Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland and INRAE were giving a joint summer school on machine learning and forest resilience in Joensuu, Finland. The summer school was supported by IUFRO D8 Forest Environment.
There was a mixed batch of students from very diverse backgrounds (ranging from computer sciences and education to biology and forest sciences). Thanks to the advertisement by IUFRO, 26 students from about 15 countries were attending. The summer school was partially sponsored by the Eco2adapt Horizon Europe project on forest resilience (grant agreement N 101059498). The main teachers were Frank Berninger (UEF), Dino Ienco (INRAE), Kenji Ose (INRAE), Liang Chen (UEF) and Marina Peris (UEF).
During the first week participants visited the field and discussed about the role of forest information for resilience including a field visit. The second week focused more on the application of machine learning. The course was based on an existing data ecosystem (in this case the Microsoft Planetary Computer) and all computations happened in the cloud. The use of these platforms makes analysis of remotely sensed data, and collaboration of across organizations easy.
Sharing of code via notebooks works well and, from a teaching point of view, it is easy to configure the computing environment in the cloud. We felt that working with individual computers would have caused much more problems with incompatibilities and in setting up the computing environment.
For the teachers the variety of backgrounds and levels of prior knowledge was a challenge. Some students were seasoned specialists in the field while others came to learn the basics. For me, who was teaching forest disturbances and management, it was fun because I needed to look at it from a fresh perspective. I chose to present forest disturbances from the viewpoint of forest information and management. It would not have been my choice for a basic course but did the job of scratching the surface for newcomers without boring seasoned professionals. 

Text by Frank Berninger, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Eastern Finland

Photographies : Marina Peris

Dino Ienco and Kenji Ose from UMR Tetis were trainers at this summer university in Finlande.

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