Selection for Tuskless Elephants
Editor's Note: We're excited to feature a series of video blog posts filmed at HHMI. Below is the second installment of this series.
I am an assistant professor in the biology department at St. John Fisher College, a primarily undergraduate liberal arts school located in Rochester, NY. I was using the HHMI BioInteractive Scientists at Work video “Selection for Tuskless Elephants” to discuss differential selection patterns in my upper-level evolution course. In my search to find some primary literature and appropriate figures to discuss, I came across Chiyo et al.’s 2015 paper “Illegal tusk harvest and the decline of tusk size in the African elephant.” In my class, we discussed the figures through a Data Point-style activity.
Since the data set is publicly available through the Dryad Digital Repository, I began to think about how I could use this rich, authentic research in my other courses to support quantitative skill development. The story is engaging and easy for students to get into. The use of the videos provides context, giving the students a chance to experience the environment and collection of the data. Working with the actual research data allows students to think and act like scientists.In the end, I created three different approaches to using this data set in the classroom. These approaches vary according to students’ quantitative skill development levels, with resources involving figure interpretation, data set manipulation and graphing in a spreadsheet application, or data set exploration through Radiant (an R graphical user interface) with integrated R Markdown. This activity has been implemented using spreadsheets in a high school classroom setting and Radiant in a first-year biology course, in addition to the initial figure exploration in an upper-level biology course. The combination of HHMI video resources and getting to work with research data collected by scientists promotes quantitative literacy skill development in an engaging, authentic learning experience.
Kaitlin Bonner is an assistant professor of biology at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY. She teaches a variety of courses, including Evolution, Genetics, Anatomy and Physiology for Nursing Majors, Zoology, and Parasitology. Students research a wide variety of projects in her lab focusing on population genetics, molecular ecology, or ecology of Daphnia, spiders, and nematodes. In her free time, she loves to get out hiking and kayaking with her family, going running, and trying new breweries that are always popping up in the area.
Kim Parfitt describes two activities (now merged into the activity “Scientific Inquiry and Data Analysis Using WildCam Gorongosa”) associated with the WildCam Gorongosa project. She also discusses a short film on lion populations in Gorongosa that she uses to introduce the topic.
Interested in expanding how you use authentic data with your students?
Case studies are powerful tools for teaching. In this blog post, hear from higher ed instructor Phil Gibson about how he uses case studies with his students to foster community within his classroom.