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Asking and Answering Questions: ADW’s Flexible Querying Tool

By Tanya Dewey1, Phil Myers2, Roger Espinosa2, Tricia Jones2, George Hammond2

1. Colorado State University and the Animal Diversity Web ( 2. Animal Diversity Web

Presentation made by Tanya Dewey 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.

Listed in Teaching Materials

Version 1.0 - published on 15 Aug 2017 doi:10.25334/Q48Q1F - cite this

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



Expanding opportunities for authentic student inquiry using real data is critical in improving scientific competency. Providing more opportunities for student exploration of patterns in the natural world is also a central goal in renewed calls to reinvent undergraduate life science education. Natural history and organismal data form the basis for patterns and concepts taught in a wide variety of undergraduate courses. If students can work with these data themselves, they can learn through discovery and analysis.

The Animal Diversity Web (ADW, has developed a large natural history database and advanced query tool that make it possible for students to discover natural history patterns on their own. The query tool takes advantage of the structured database of the ADW, where data on many aspects of life history are documented for over 3400 species. Data are structured as data fields, keywords, and text, and follow a standard template format. The query tool, which we call "Quaardvark," is open-source and designed to be extensible, so that student queries can reach beyond the limits of ADW data.


Working with undergraduate faculty, we have developed activities and queries to support particular learning goals. These have been tested in over 20 courses at a wide variety of institutions, from community colleges to research universities, and are freely available. Faculty who use Quaardvark find it valuable because it engages their students in large-scale hypothesis-testing science. Students report that their experiences conducting queries have given them insight into the scientific process and how these kinds of data can be used to compare life history strategies. We will provide an introduction to this querying mechanism, how it is being used in courses across the United States, future directions in incorporating addition sources of data, and summarize results to date concerning learning gains and usability.

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