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Teaching Biology with Big Data: An ESA Online Journal Club program

Subject: What Works, How can you make it work?
Posted By: tmourad
Date Posted: 2014-03-20 15:12:47
Welcome to the very first ESA Online Journal Club (OJC) discussion! As discussed during our workshop at the 2013 ESA Annual Meeting, we will focus our first discussion on Tom Langen's teaching resource:

Drivers of Avian Local Species Richness: Continental-Scale Gradients, Regional Landscape, or Local Land Cover?

http://ecoed.esa.org/index.php?P=FullRecord&ID=465
Please copy and paste URL in new window or search for "Langen" in Keyword Search in the top right hand corner of the banner.

The Ecological Core Concepts addressed in the resource include:
-- Communities -- Species composition, abundance, and diversity
-- Populations -- Density and distribution

Competencies addressed relate to the science of ecology
-- Statistical analysis

Current discussion: Please review the teaching resource and comment on aspects of the activity that will work
1) for the students you have,
2) the setting you are in and
3) any technological constraints you may have.

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This message was edited by tmourad on March 21, 2014 at 12:29 pm.

Subject: Alternative ways of doing the activity - what works best for different kinds of classes, students?
Posted By: tlangen
Date Posted: 2014-03-24 22:27:04
Hello Everyone

I am the author of this teaching resource. My original goal was to create an activity that I could use in my sophomore-level ecology course that would engage students in testing hypotheses using real data at the landscape and continental scales. I found that the challenge was to draft an activity that is structured enough that students can figure out what to do without too much need for additional instruction, yet open-ended enough that they can make choices about what hypothesis to test and what data to use to test their hypothesis.

One issue is how to assign an activity like this one. I assign this exercise as a small-group, out-of-class exercise. Students work in small groups, and then present as a group their hypothesis - results - conclusion to the class as an oral report. At my institution, it is easy for students to work together outside of class because most live on campus. Having this be a homework assignment means that I have more class time for other activities. I like the small group approach, because students can collaborate at understanding the directions of the exercise, and collectively assemble a sufficiently large data set without becoming overburdened by tediously repetitive data extraction. I do have to take measures to prevent (or punish) free-riders in groups. One disadvantage of my approach is that I am not present when students are working together in their small groups, so I canít immediately respond to questions that arise about the assignment, nor can I immediately detect when groups drift off track or develop misconceptions. I do schedule time to meet with groups that have questions or concerns, and answer occasional emailed questions.

How would you assign this teaching resource Ė as an in-class activity or homework assignment or some hybrid? As a small group project, or a whole-class collective project, or as an assignment for each student to do individually? What are the advantages and disadvantages of your approach?

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