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Quantifying Behavior – Learning Observational Protocols in the Classroom

One of the challenges for teachers without a lab, is how to allow students to observe natural animal behavior directly. The freely available videos by the International Wolf Center are ideal for observation of naturalistic interactions, and last for long enough (5-15 minutes) to enable the practice of different observational techniques. This learning activity introduces novices to the quantification of animal behavior, and assumes no specific prior knowledge of focal, scan or ad libitum sampling protocols. After a brief discussion on “states” and “events” in animal behavior, students have to practice data collection using one of the International Wolf Sanctuary videos. Following on further discussion of their questions and mistakes, they are divided into groups, each group performing one of the three primary forms of data collection while watching a longer wolf video. This 10-minute data collection period allows students to directly experience how and why different data collections protocols work for various types of questions in animal behavior. This is a highly interactive class, with limited uni-directional didactic lecturing. It combines both individual work and group discussion, making the most of limited class time to introduce students to the benefits and limitations of different data collection techniques, also leading to improved understanding of Jeanne Altman’s seminal 1974 paper.
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Resource Group Animal Behavior Society Collection
Primary or BEN resource type
Secondary resource type
General Biology Core Concepts
Discipline Specific Core Concepts
Life science discipline (subject)
Keywords animal behavior, observation, scan sampling, focal sampling, ad libitum sampling
Intended End User Role
Educational Language
Pedagogical Use Description This is a collaborative learning exercise, engaging students through active learning. It could be adapted fully to a "flipped classroom."
Primary Author Controlled Name
Primary Author Affiliation University of the Free State-Qwaqwa
Primary Author email
Submitter Name Aliza le Roux
Submitter Email
Rights n/a
Date Of Record Submission 2015-02-24

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