Tag Archives: Teaching

Digital resources for teaching biodiversity online: some ideas to steal

Andrena bicolor

As I mentioned in an earlier post this week, the University of Northampton is stopping all face-to-face teaching from Friday.  Other UK universities have already done that, more will surely follow.  Luckily we are close to the end of term and I only have a few teaching session left to deliver for my Biodiversity & Conservation class.  For one of these I’ve dusted off an old “virtual seminar” that I put together a few years ago when I had to miss another class (I think I was ill).  If anyone is in need of a teaching resource like this, you are most welcome to steal it.  It’s infinitely adaptable.  The range of digital resources can be changed to reflect different countries and languages.  Also, I’ve deliberately kept it broad in scope, but you could tailor it in multiple ways.

It could also be integrated into the two other taxonomy and biodiversity teaching sessions I’ve discussed in the past:

The Taxonomy of Gastronomy – https://jeffollerton.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/engaging-students-with-the-fundamentals-of-biodiversity-1-the-taxonomy-of-gastronomy/

An Assessed Plant Taxonomy Questionnaire – https://jeffollerton.wordpress.com/2016/11/22/engaging-students-with-the-fundamentals-of-biodiversity-2-an-assessed-plant-taxonomy-questionnaire/

Again, feel free to steal these if they are useful

 

Here’s the text I send to students:

 

Digital resources for biodiversity: a virtual seminar

One of the great advances in understanding how biodiversity is distributed in time and space, and how it is changing, is the huge amount of digital resources (both raw data and data visualisation) that are available via the internet at no cost.  In this virtual seminar you will explore just a fraction of these resources; bear in mind that many more are available.

First of all, read this blog post about the definition of “biodiversity” and what it really means:

https://jeffollerton.wordpress.com/2016/01/22/tight-but-loose-just-what-is-biodiversity/

[Note: if that post isn’t suitable, you could point them to another definition, e.g. the Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiversity.]

Next, take a look at each of the digital resources for biodiversity listed below.  Spend some time exploring each website and the information that is available.  As you are doing so, consider this: do these digital resources provide data and information that corresponds with all aspects of biodiversity, as defined in that blog post and by your own understanding of the term?  If not, what’s missing, what else is required?  Do a web search and see if you can find resources to fill any gaps yourself.  [Note: at this point you could ask more specific questions about these resources and their usefulness for particular tasks or objectives, or set up a chat room in a VLE or similar to discuss issues raised].

Digital resources:

Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF)

https://www.gbif.org/

 

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Data Explorer

http://geodata.grid.unep.ch/

 

Interaction Web Database

https://www.nceas.ucsb.edu/interactionweb/

 

Kew Herbarium

http://apps.kew.org/herbcat/gotoHomePage.do

 

National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas

https://nbnatlas.org/

 

Database of Insects and their Food Plants

http://www.brc.ac.uk/dbif/

 

Natural History Museum Data Portal

data.nhm.ac.uk/

 

British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Garden Birdwatch

https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/gbw/results

 

British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Bird Trends

https://www.bto.org/about-birds/birdtrends/2019

 

Global Biotic Interactions (GloBI)

https://www.globalbioticinteractions.org/about.html

 

Global Invasive Species Database

http://www.iucngisd.org/gisd/

 

 

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Advice to students: choose your email address carefully (and think about changing it)

At symbol

Some years ago a first year undergraduate emailed me from his personal email address which began “iwillrapeyou@xxxxx”.  I’m sure the student and his mates thought this was hilarious when he set up his first email account as a young teenager.  I politely suggested to him that maybe now, as a grown-up interacting with other grown-ups who were supporting his education, it might be time to change it.  “Do you really intend to submit applications for jobs using that address?” I asked.

To his credit he agreed and did change it.  That’s the only time I’ve said to a student that they probably ought to change their personal email address, but lately I’ve come to the conclusion that students need to consider what their email addresses are saying about them to the wider world.  However it’s not a topic I see discussed very often

Looking at the addresses of some recent students I see things such as “buttercup123@xxxx”, “reds360@xxxx”, “halilulyah247@xxxx”, “canadiankckrz@xxxx”, “MAXSAMJAM@xxxx”, “beaniethemanmusic96@xxxx”, “iamwoody22@xxxx”, “SAVETHEPANDAS@xxxx”.  Now none of these addresses are as obnoxious or inflammatory as the first example I gave, but all of them say something about the person behind the email address, whether they are aware of it or not.  These addresses tell the wider world that the person who sent an email is a football fan, or an environmentalist, or a music fan, or has a wacky nickname, etc.  And it’s fine to be all of those things.  But what they lack is any kind of professionalism, they all sound like they are emails from teenagers, not grown ups.

So my advice to all students (undergraduate and postgraduate) would be: think carefully about your email address and what it is saying about you, and consider whether that’s the perception you wish to give to prospective employers.

And while you’re at it you might also want to reconsider including your birth year in the address: that’s an important piece of personal information that could be of use to unscrupulous cyber criminals.

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Engaging students with the fundamentals of biodiversity (2) – an assessed plant taxonomy questionnaire

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In my post last week I described “The Taxonomy of Gastronomy“, a first year undergraduate exercise aimed at giving students experience and confidence using scientific names for species, as well as providing an understanding of taxonomic hierarchies and food diversity.  The follow-up to this is an assessed questionnaire that focuses more deeply on plant taxonomy, phylogenetics, and human uses.  Here’s the text of the exercise [with a few annotations in square brackets for clarity]:

 

ENV1012 Biodiversity: an Introduction

Assessed Questionnaire

This exercise is assessed and is worth 25% of your final grade for this module.

The questionnaire is time constrained; you have two hours in which to complete it. Once completed, upload it to NILE using the Submit Your Work folder [NILE is our Blackboard e-learning platform]. Any questions, please ask or email me if I’m not in the room [email provided – the class is so large that I had to split it across two computer suites].

The Task

At the beginning of this session you will be given the name of a plant family.  Your job over the next two hours is to research that family and answer the questions below. Each of you will be researching a different plant family so by all means discuss what you are doing and collaborate, but everyone’s final answers will be different.

For this exercise focus on the following websites:

The Tree of Life Project: http://www.tolweb.org/tree/

Wikispecies: https://species.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

Note that we don’t usually recommend Wikipedia as a source of information, but much of the taxonomic material on this site is quite good because it is produced and maintained by experts.

 

The Questions

Be accurate in your answers: you will lose marks for misspelled scientific names, genus and species names not italicised, appropriate use of capital initials, etc.

Do not copy and paste from websites – this will be spotted with the software that we use and your answers will be rejected.

 

  1. What is the scientific name of the plant family you are researching?
  1. Which botanist named the family? Hint – you will find an abbreviation of the name on the Wikipedia page.
  1. Does this family have a common name? If so, what is it? If not, say so.
  1. What is the distribution of the family, e.g. tropical or temperate, New World or Old World, global?
  1. Fill in this blanks on this taxonomic hierarchy:

Kingdom:  Plantae

Order:

Family:

Subfamilies (if present):

Tribes (if present):

 

  1. What is the estimated number of genera in the family?
  1. Provide the names of up to three of those genera:

a.

b.

c.

  1. What is the estimated number of species in the family?
  1. What mode(s) of pollination do species in this family possess (e.g. wind, animal, water)?
  1. Provide a short description of the human uses of this family (no more than 50 words):

 

Using the Tree of Life site, find and list:

  1. The sister family or families to your family (hint: it’s the family or families closest on the evolutionary tree).
  1. The first “containing group” for your family (may be an unranked, informal taxonomic level).
  1. The next “containing group”.
  1. Keep going until you get to the final “containing group” – where do you end up? [a slightly trick question – everyone ends up at the same place]
  1. State one surprising or unexpected thing that you have learned from doing this exercise (no more than 25 words).

 

My students have now completed this exercise and I was very pleased with the outcome: the average grade was around A-/B+ and no one failed (yet, there are still come non-submissions…).  The answers to question 15 were particularly interesting and included things like: “I had no idea that potatoes and chillies were closely related”, “amazed at the diversity of plants”, “didn’t realise that plants were so fascinating”.

The fact that students were able to do this in small groups, and discuss their findings, yet still produce largely unique answers, added a lot to the enjoyment of this exercise I think.  Certainly there was a buzz in the room while they were researching their answers.  It will be interesting to see what the module feedback is like at the end of term.

The grading criteria for this assessed questionnaire were fairly simple and straightforward:

  1. All questions answered.
  2. Answers are grammatically correct, with appropriate use of scientific conventions, e.g. underlined genus and species names, use of capitals, etc.
  3. Information presented is accurate

 

As always, feel free to comment, make suggestions, and point out errors and improvements.

 

 

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