TELE in the Classroom

The University of Kentucky uses TELE as a framework for their Human Dimensions of Forestry and Natural Resources Course

Sarah Butler

January 22, 2020

This past fall, TELE took a giant step forward – into a university classroom. University of Kentucky professors Laura Lhotka and Billy Thomas decided to use the TELE approach as the foundation for their upper level Human Dimensions of Forestry and Natural Resources course. This course did not traditionally have a strong focus on stakeholder partnerships or outreach to landowners, and Lhotka and Thomas felt that TELE could remedy this gap in the students’ education. They also felt that the TELE Engagement Guide offers a simple and direct framework on which to build a course. 

“TELE provides a framework, a very structured framework, and I thought it was applicable beyond just addressing landowners. Regardless of what the students got involved with, if it’s other organizations or other things not related directly to landowners, I still felt that there was some utility and that it would give them skills to apply to real projects later. It gave the students good examples, a guide, and a framework to hang their projects on,” Thomas explains. 

Lhotka and Thomas also designed the course to be representative of the work students might be involved with in the future. Students were divided into four groups, with each group assigned to work with a local partner organization to accomplish a broad goal. The local organizations that participated in this class were: the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture (AMJV), the Kentucky Woodland Owners Association (KWOA), the White Oak Initiative (WOI), and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). 

The student groups used the TELE process to set project goals and objectives, frame and manage the partnership, choose a target audience, develop an audience profile, design an effective message, develop materials, plan an outreach effort, and define an evaluation plan. They started by creating a Ladder of Engagement to map out a path of landowner actions to ultimately achieve the landscape goal, and ended with developing outreach materials and dissemination strategies for partners organizations. Here are two examples of what they created.

This postcard created for the KWOA targets landowners who use their land for hunting. It encourage them to join KWOA to access the support they need to increase deer populations in their woods. 


This postcard created for AMJV urges Woodland Retreat landowners to help create habitat for priority bird species.


Exposing the students to real natural resources or forestry groups in the region and allowing them apply TELE to a real service project gave students important tools and skills that they will continue to use throughout their careers in forestry and conservation. According to Lhotka and Thomas, the top three skills that students gained were:

  1. Understanding how to segment audiences and use landowner profiles; 

  2. Narrowing the focus of the outreach to something attainable using the SMART objectives goals and ladder of engagement; and

  3. Identifying partners and working with them to accomplish your mission.

“This is one of the few human dimensions courses they get in their forestry program. They have learned a lot of the science – the ecology and the silviculture. You can know all the science and you can know the wildlife and you can know the forestry, but if you can’t communicate it to the landowners, then it doesn’t matter. This course helped opened their eyes to that and gives them the tools through the TELE method to use as a guide,” Lhotka explained. 

Lhotka and Thomas plan to teach the class again next fall, with a few minor modifications. They believe the structure of TELE could be applicable to many other domains, and that TELE could be taught in a variety of disciplines beyond forestry. 


Click here for a copy of the engagement guide.

If you’d like to use the TELE method in your classroom, please contact Billy ThomasLaura Lhotke, or Purnima Chawla.

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