This project expands the reach of a previous CCLI grant to establish a search engine, Quaardvark, for the Animal Diversity Web (ADW) structured database sponsored by the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. The Quaardvark query tool allows the database, which contains information and images for over 3,500 animal species, to be searched according to a number of properties of ecological, evolutionary, anatomical, and physiological interest. Researchers find it useful, as do teaching faculty and their students. Its flexibility has led to its being used for activities in courses at the University of Michigan and a number of additional colleges and universities in Michigan and Virginia. In this new award, the project has expanded to serve a network of faculty at 18 colleges and universities around the country. These partners include community colleges, liberal arts colleges, historically Black universities, comprehensive state universities, colleges and universities serving Hispanic or Native American populations, and major research universities. Teachers of organismal biology are assisted to integrate activities involving ADW materials into their curricula. Tools for assessment of student learning from these activities are under development, and Quaardvark is being modified to access data from other rich collections besides ADW. Because students can use the system on questions of their own design, even new students of biology are able to carry out research at progressively more intricate levels as they become more skilled and sophisticated in their understanding of biological concepts and searching strategies. Software supporting the project is freely available, so it can be adopted and adapted for students around the world and incorporated into other sites that promote the use of digital STEM resources.

This project is being jointly funded by the Directorate for Biological Sciences, Division of Biological Infrastructure and the Directorate for Education and Human Resources, Division of Undergraduate Education as part of their efforts toward Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education .

Project Report

Intellectual Merit: To partially solve the problem of providing legitimate research experiences to students of "organismal biology" classes, we developed and tested classroom inquiry activities based on the Animal Diversity Web (ADW) database and its query tool, Quaardvark. These have been integrated into the curricula of organismal biology college courses and incorporated into a substantial library of inquiry-based activities that is globally accessible online ( quaardvark/examples/). The query mechanism makes a wealth of zoological data accessible for student-directed learning in biology classrooms. We also worked with a number of data repositories to develop ways of incorporating their data into Quaardvark searches. While this led to a workshop and ongoing follow-up activities funded by the RCN-UBE program (DBI 1247821), much remains to be done before these kinds of across-database searches are possible and routine. Broader Impacts: Education works best when students are actively engaged in learning, and science is best taught by immersing students in using its methodology to ask and answer real questions in fields that interest them. But finding ways to engage students in courses such as ecology, evolutionary biology, conservation biology, and the many courses that focus on particular groups of organisms (e.g., ornithology, mammalogy, vertebrate natural history) is especially difficult, as their subjects are often not easily brought into the classroom or laboratory for study and detecting patterns through field research can take years of study by professional biologists. In this project, we developed a query tool for the Animal Diversity Web database (described below) that allows students to build and test hypotheses in these fields. We tested the approach with 56 faculty at over 50 institutions, and we created a library of vetted activities that is universally available online. This kind of resource is especially important to smaller institutions without access to teaching collections or field opportunities, but will be valuable at any institutional level. Our overarching goal in this project was to help teaching faculty in "organismal" fields create legitimate research experiences for students that can be carried out in their classes or as class assignments. Our solution is based on the Animal Diversity Web, a multimedia natural history database at the University of Michigan. It is one of the largest and most actively used sources of organismal information worldwide. It is a highly structured database of species biology with comprehensive geographic and taxonomic coverage. The ADW includes information on the distribution, physical attributes, ecology, reproduction, behavior, conservation information, and images for over 6200 animal species. Most ADW content was created and continues to grow through student and course contributions. The combination of database and a query tool, Quaardvark, developed under a previous grant (DUE 0633095), makes it possible to extract and tabulate data for use in hypothesis testing. With these resources, students can discover for themselves the common patterns and organizing principles that underlie organismal biology. Images are annotated (tagged) and can be incorporated in queries with text and data; combining images with related, quantitative or descriptive data can illustrate important morphological adaptations and make it possible for students, for example, to test hypotheses relating morphology to habitat, diet, social behavior, and other aspects of species biology. During the first two years of this project, we worked with 18 instructors at 15 institutions. Instructors were chosen to include faculty at large universities, 4-year colleges whose mission focuses on teaching, and 2-year colleges. Participating instructors came to the UM campus for a workshop where they became familiar with the ADW resources. There, they designed and discussed activities to employ in their classes. They also participated in webinars and consulted one-on-one with ADW staff. During the last two years (including an unfunded extension year) we provided support to additional participants, bringing the total number of instructors served during the project to 56 (almost 2000 students). Use of both online resources (ADW and Quardvaark) is high. Since the beginning of the project (August 1, 2009), ADW has hosted 18.3 million visitors. Quaardvark, including its reference library of tested classroom activities, has provided >135,000 pages to >13,500 visitors. Do the activities impact student learning? An external evaluator reported that "faculty felt that the activities supported the development of inquiry skills and allowed them to incorporate more active learning in their courses." They especially valued that students worked with "real data." Students generally agreed that the activities helped them learn to interpret and evaluate evidence and to develop a deeper understanding of patterns in biology. They reported, on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), that these activities taught them synthesize information from different sources (3.91), taught them how to test hypotheses in Biology (3.74), helped them understand the development of scientific theories (3.70), and helped them develop a deeper understanding of patterns in biology (3.99).

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Gregory Goins
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University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor
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