Active Learning in a Natural History and Related Courses Using Video Open Educational Resources: Observations over a Decade

Gary D. GrossmanDownload PDF | Volume 14, 2020

The need for open educational resources (OERs) in STEM and natural history education has never been more important given COVID-19 and the continuing cuts in state and federal funding of higher education. Over the last ten years, I have developed active learning-based (see Grossman & Simon 2020), video OERs for natural history and related environmental courses, and in this essay, describe their use as data sources for university classes. I provide examples of an exercise and a grading rubric, as well as a link to a YouTube channel with over 230 video OERs. Experience using OER-based exercises at levels ranging from first-year seminars to graduate seminars, indicates that positive student experiences only occur when assignment rubrics are carefully matched to students’ biological experience, interest, and level of knowledge. First-year non-science majors require substantial detail and interaction regarding how to complete an OER-based research paper, whereas graduate students need only be instructed to develop and complete their own research project based on what they observe in the OER. The increased availability and low cost of high resolution digital video equipment and free video editing software render it easy to film OERs of animals behaving in situ. Given the shift in lecturing modes (classroom versus online) necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, OERs are likely to play an increasingly important role in life science instruction. [full article]

Why teach natural history through hybrid and online courses?

Alison K. Varty and Susannah B. Johnson-FultonDownload PDF | Volume 11, 2017

In this paper, we describe the current trends in online enrollment in higher education and summarize the research on the effectiveness of online learning in general and with a focus on online education in the natural sciences. We conclude that teaching hybrid courses with face-to-face field experiences or fully online courses with autonomous field experiences may be an effective way to educate a larger, more diverse student population about natural history. Furthermore, we describe some of the current online offerings in natural history and provide examples of how natural history topics could be approached in both hybrid and fully online courses. [full article]

Natural History in the Digital Age

The Use of Original Music Videos to Teach Natural History

Gary D. Grossman and C. Edward WatsonDownload PDF | Volume 9, 2015

We describe the use of original music videos as instructional aides for a large non-science major course in natural history. The course meets university general education requirements for life sciences and environmental literacy. Over two class years (Fall 2012 and 2013), the senior author wrote and recorded five music videos to reinforce class lecture materials including songs on: (1) conceptual topics, (2) important habitats, and (3) important species. The purpose of the videos was to utilize a multimodal form of instruction in a format (music videos) commonly used and appreciated by university students. The videos were uploaded to YouTube between 18 August 2012 and 13 November 2013. Anonymous, voluntary questionnaires in both years indicated that students’ perceived that videos improved their learning and attitudes towards both class and studying. We assume that a portion of the positive responses was due to the fact that the class instructor generally created and sang the songs in the videos, rather than employ materials from other sources. The results reveal potential for measuring actual gains in learning and retention and an investigation of their correlation with different video content (e.g., natural history concepts, habitat types, and species information) is ongoing. [full article]

Natural History in the Digital Age

Developing Mobile Tools for Biodiversity Informatics and Natural History Education

Melissa R.L. Whitaker, Joey Jiron, and Bryan MaassDownload PDF | Volume 8, 2014

The increasing availability of mobile educational technologies provides new opportunities for biodiversity research, education, and public engagement with the natural world. However, these tools are often time-consuming and expensive to create. Here we describe the The Butterfly Guide: Butterflies of the Sacramento Valley, Delta, and San Francisco Bay Area, a mobile natural history application with which users can collect and share species observation data. The app is free, but perhaps more importantly, documentation and source code are available on request. We describe our aim for The Butterfly Guide to serve as a template for others interested in creating similar tools, and discuss the future of such digital technology for enhancing natural history observation and experience. [full article]

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