Animal Diversity Web: Using vertebrate data to teach
Posted by Carla Cicero , 30 November 2011 · 132 views
Since its creation in 1995, the Animal Diversity Web (ADW) has become one of the Web’s most widely used resources for biodiversity information and educational tools and ideas. Currently it delivers 2 to 4 million pages per month to 300,000 to 400,000 visitors, over 70% of which identify themselves as coming to the site for educational purposes. A spin-off site, focused on the fauna of southeastern Michigan and re-written to make it easily accessible to kids, is a foundational part of the BioKIDS project and has been used widely in Detroit Public Schools.
The goal of the ADW is, and has always been, to create a database that supports student inquiry, a resource that would make it possible for students to discover patterns and processes underlying ecology, evolution, and conservation biology. To be truly effective, these activities require a relatively large database constructed to facilitate retrieving information of many kinds. The ADW’s approach to building this resource has been to recruit student authors. Students write species accounts using a template that guides them in their research and writing. The template enforces controlled vocabularies, requires the filling in of specific data fields, and asks students to write extensive descriptive text, all organized into a standard form. Data from keywords, data fields, and text fields are loaded into a MySQL database to facilitate querying (pages are generated on the fly as visitors ask to see them). Students and instructors have found that the preparation of a species account itself is a valuable learning experience. It teaches them how to find resources, evaluate the quality of on-line and traditionally-published materials, recognize and avoid plagiarism, and the process gives them an opportunity to hone their scientific writing skills. Students at over 100 institutions and in hundreds of courses have contributed more than 3400 species accounts to the ADW.
To take advantage of ADW data in undergraduate education, the ADW recently received support from NSF to develop a query tool (“Quaardvark”) and a library of inquiry activities useful in specific undergraduate biology courses. In early November 2011, the ADW hosted two workshops for ten biology faculty who traveled from across the U.S. to spend two days developing and testing inquiry activities for use in their courses. The results clearly showed the potential of using student exploration of these data in biology courses and helped us recognize and attack some of the problems associated with limited data.
One of the most important goals of the Quaardvark project is to find ways to reach out to external databases to expand the quality and quantity of data available for students to explore, using sources such as EOL, IUCN, NatureServe, and several others. Further, while the focus of ADW and these other sites is on species-level information, several other exciting efforts are underway to make specimen-level data from research collections available for student exploration, including VertNet, Aim-UP!, and CollectionsWeb. The ADW team is collaborating with these efforts to expand student inquiry opportunities.
The ADW team is excited to be part of the VertNet community. There are many possibilities for sharing data, expertise, and enthusiasm! We also look forward to using some of the proposed new VertNet tools, such as a map API and annotation functions, to expand opportunities for user interaction and to further enrich the student experience.
The guest post was written by Tanya Dewey, content expert, curriculum consultant and all around zookeeper at Animal Diversity Web.