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Enabling authentic ecological inquiries using research data and imageries in large classrooms

Author(s): X. Ben Wu1, Stephanie Knight2, Xavier Jaime1, Jane F. Schielack1

1. Texas A&M University 2. Pennsylvania State University

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Presentation made by Ben Wu et al. as part of the "Bringing Research Data to the Ecology Classroom: Opportunities, Barriers, and Next Steps” Session at the Ecological Society of America annual meeting, August 8th, 2017, Portland Oregon

Licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International according to these terms

Version 1.0 - published on 15 Aug 2017 doi:10.25334/Q4PQ15 - cite this



Authentic scientific inquiries using research data and imageries are a high-impact learning experience in undergraduate STEM education and has the potential to improve learning and retention in virtually any institutional or classroom setting. A blended approach was used to enable authentic ecological inquiries in large-enrollment introductory ecology classes. Students conduct web-based individual research projects outside of class over a 5-week period with on-going peer feedback through online group discussions as well as instructor facilitated discussions and activities in class. In a project using archived BearCam photos from a study on grizzly bear behavior ecology in Alaska, students conduct background study of grizzly bear biology and behavior, observe BearCam photos and generate testable hypothesis, design sampling and collect and analyze data, interpret results and develop a report, conduct Calibrated Peer Review, and revise their reports based on peer feedback and self-evaluation. In another project with the same approach, students explore changes in spatial distributions of birds and land cover and their relationships using spatial-temporal data from Christmas Bird Count and National Land Cover Database. A rubric for research report is used to communicate expectations, facilitate peer feedback and self-reflection, and evaluate student product and learning.


Both formative and summative assessments were used to facilitate and assess student learning, using direct and indirect measures with pre/post-tests and surveys. Across all implementations (Fall 2006-2016 for BearCam project and Fall 2016 for CBC project), students consistently reported significant learning gains in interest in ecology, ability to formulate testable hypothesis, understanding how ecologists conduct research, and ability to evaluate quality of scientific report. Direct pre- and post-assessments showed significant gains in students’ ability to evaluate ecological reports using rubric overall and the lowest performers in the pre-assessment had the largest learning gains. These and other evidence show significant positive impact of the authentic ecological inquiries on student learning. Many other research and monitoring datasets and imageries can be used to enable authentic scientific inquiries in similar ways, which can help students develop deeper understanding of the nature and process of science, skills in critical thinking and communication, as well as a greater sense of relevancy of science and especially ecology. 

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