Biological Sciences (61). The Exploring Natural History project addresses the difficulties faced by most college and university faculty when trying to incorporate active learning techniques into courses in organismal biology. Unique online tools and educational materials are being developed to support inquiry teaching in organismal biology based on a well-established and popular online natural history database, the Animal Diversity Web. Students using these materials are guided to searches and self-directed inquiries of natural history data in activities designed to illustrate core concepts in organismal biology and ecology. Project staff are working with talented instructors at seven institutions in the Great Lakes region to design activities that fit directly into a wide range of biology courses, including ecology, general biology, animal diversity, evolution, and behavior. These educational activities are being supported by an online, collaborative workspace that includes materials to guide faculty and students in the development of queries and tools to facilitate the analysis, synthesis, and presentation of results. The flexibility of these tools allows their use in a wide range of undergraduate educational settings. This project's online tools and workspaces are being designed to be freely available to instructors at all levels in any part of the country and are encouraging participants and other interested educators to share exercises and experiences. The online components are modular, not content-dependent, so other online digital resource sites can incorporate them into their own educational support efforts. The effectiveness of these inquiry activities is being evaluated through testing of modules by faculty experts, and through examination of student reactions to the activities, gains in content knowledge, and gains in their ability to reason from and use data to support claims. Project results are being disseminated widely through presentations and workshops at national education and biological conferences, as well as through various online tools.
Exploring Natural History: Promoting Active Learning in Ecology and Biodiversity