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Students study biodiversity with iPod ravine walk

Students of introductory biology had an unusual lab, tramping through the ravine with earbuds in their ears.

Students of introductory biology had an unusual lab this week, tramping through the ravine with earbuds in their ears. They were getting a lesson in biodiversity courtesy of a recorded tour from Ivana Stehlik, lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences.

The students moved among displays that explained 11 main branches of the tree of life, set up where possible next to live examples. For instance, the fungi station was near a rotten log inhabited by mushrooms, the gymnosperm station near a White pine tree. All the time they were listening to a recorded lecture by Stehlik on iPods loaned to them for the purpose.

“We want to show students how awesome nature is, right at their doorstep,” says Stehlik.

The course makes use of the nearby ravine, which is a great resource for teaching about biodiversity, Stehlik says. She thinks it provides an enjoyable, exciting way for students to be introduced to biology.

Over the summer Stehlik researched and recorded her talks, scouted out locations in ravines, and made up the posters that mark each stop in the tour.

Nine hundred students enrolled in the BIOA01 course were divided up into groups and assigned a time to receive their iPods and take the two-hour tour. There were actually two separate routes illustrating the same branches of the tree of life, allowing more than one section to go out at a time.

Several stations were staffed by teaching assistants to show live animals – for example salamanders to illustrate the amphibians, and a white-footed mouse standing in for the mammals. Other sites explained about bacteria, fungi, ferns, angiosperms (flowering plants), cheliceratae (spiders, mites and ticks), insects, reptiles and birds.

Among other things, the lecture taught about the diversity of living organisms, detailing the number of species worldwide and in Ontario. For instance, of the 270,000 globally known species of angiosperms, 3,423 occur in Ontario, while 32% of these latter flowering plants are invasive.

Stehlik says that if the iPod lectures are successful she hopes to write a paper detailing how they worked, and encouraging other universities to offer similar programs.


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