Eugene Law (Soil & Crop Sciences) and Mia Howard (Plant Biology) have collaborated with 22 other Cornell students to create an active learning evolutionary biology course module, recently published by CourseSource. To help undergraduate students learn about speciation, the Cornell team designed a student-centered lesson that uses active-learning techniques (e.g., clicker questions, small group work, and whole class discussion) and compares multiple species concepts (morphological, biological, and phylogenetic). Giraffes were selected as the lesson focus, but students are given the opportunity to apply their knowledge to speciation scenarios across the tree of life. Law and Howard were involved in developing plant-related scenarios including a case study on different cultivars of Brassica oleracea and whether they should be considered a single species.
The lesson is designed to be taught over two 75-minute class periods and includes out-of-class pre and post-tests, but it could also be taught over three 50-minute class periods. The module is suitable for use in an an introductory class taken by biology majors or non-majors, and was tested in a course for non-majors offered by Cornell’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
Inclusive active-learning strategies are integrated into the lesson plan. These include incorporation of students’ own heritage and stories, emphasis on contributions of scientists from diverse backgrounds, and minimization of costs for participation through reliance on in-class learning materials.
What is Speciation, How Does It Occur, and Why Is It Important for Conservation? authored by the team of Cornell student developers was recently published by CourseSource, an online journal aimed at distribution of evidence-based teaching resources for undergraduate biology education. CourseSource receives funding from multiple scientific societies including ASM, ASPB, and BSA. Corresponding author on the paper is Lauren Genova, formerly a doctoral candidate in Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and now an Assistant Professor at the University of Delaware.