PS 24-106 - An interactive learning module for teaching ecology students (and professors) about databases for managing and querying large datasets

Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Exhibit Hall, Oregon Convention Center
Becky A. Ball1, Suzanne W. Dietrich1 and Don Goelman2, (1)School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences, Arizona State University at the West Campus, Glendale, AZ, (2)Department of Computer Sciences, Villanova University, Villanova, PA

Data and databases are ubiquitous: they are relevant across all disciplines to solve real-world problems. In the modern era of “big data” ecology, future generations of ecology students need to be problem solvers who can appropriately handle large amounts of data using applied computing approaches, despite majoring in STEM fields that are typically light in applied mathematical and computing coursework. Through an interdisciplinary collaboration with applied computing faculty, we have developed an ecology-specific interactive visualization module that teaches students the basic principles of databases. The goal of the module is to provide a foundation for students to understand how databases can be used as an effective tool in their future field of study.


The learning module uses a specific ecological example examining data from a collection of hypothetical studies simulating multiple factors of climate change across multiple sites in the Long-Term Ecological Research Network (LTER). In the interactive visualization, students learn: (1) conceptually, what is a database is and how does it differ from a spreadsheet? (2) How to query databases to answer their research questions. The module is available open-access, online (, utilizing not only the ecological customization described above, but also examples in GIS and other fields of study potentially relevant to ecology.