Wednesday, August 6, 2008

PS 44-98: Evaluating learning gains from conservation exercises across multiple institutions

Matthew I. Palmer1, Nora Bynum2, Barbara J. Abraham3, John A. Cigliano4, Christine A. Engels2, Stuart R. Ketcham5, John F. Mull6, Jason Munshi-South7, Jennifer M. Rhode8, and Patricia Szczys9. (1) Columbia University, (2) American Museum of Natural History, (3) Hampton University, (4) Cedar Crest College, (5) University of the Virgin Islands, (6) Weber State University, (7) Baruch College, City University of New York, (8) University of North Carolina at Asheville, (9) Eastern Connecticut State University


One path towards effective teaching in ecology and conservation biology is through the use of materials that engage students in problem solving and the application of content knowledge. A series of active learning modules developed by the Network of Conservation Educators and Practitioners (NCEP) offers a wide range of teaching materials, including data-driven exercises that reinforce concepts taught through lectures or discussion sections. To evaluate both the effectiveness of these exercises and the extent to which they can be applied to a range of student audiences, we administered pre- and post knowledge and attitudinal tests for three exercises across a range of undergraduate courses at seven institutions. The exercises, which describe realistic conservation scenarios concerning definitions of biodiversity, applied demography, and conservation genetics, involve the students in the collection and interpretation of data and in writing summary reports. These exercises were used in introductory biology, conservation biology, ecology, and population biology courses for undergraduates. The seven institutions include both public and private colleges and universities. Results/Conclusions Initial results indicate that the use of these exercises lead to significant gains in content knowledge (mean improvements of 17-46% on post-tests; paired t-tests all p<0.02). A multivariate comparison evaluating the learning gains for classes across institutions is in progress. Continued evaluation and refinement of these publicly available education materials will improve the efficacy of these active teaching tools and ultimately improve learning in ecology and conservation biology.