Utilizing the Paleobiology Database to Provide Hands-On Research Opportunities for Undergraduates

Thursday 4:30pm-5:30pm Red Gym
Poster Session


Christian George, High Point University
Callan Bentley, Piedmont Virginia Community College
Pete Berquist, Virginia Peninsula Community College
Rowan Lockwood, College of William and Mary
Laura Lukes, University of British Columbia
Katherine Ryker, University of South Carolina-Columbia
Mark Uhen, George Mason University
Numerous studies indicate that student participation in undergraduate research experiences can result in increased recruitment and retention of science majors. Many undergraduate students' only exposure to science comes through an introductory science class where research experience is limited or absent. One barrier to research in those classes is access to materials; another is having effective lessons that convey the scientific method. Most two and four-year colleges do not have extensive fossil collections of their own, yet all have access to the Internet and to "big data" science initiatives, such as the Paleobiology Database (PBDB). We are in the first phase of an NSF grant to investigate how students' attitudes towards scientific research change after engaging in inquiry experiences using the PBDB. The PBDB provides access to a wealth of scientific data on fossils entered by experts from around the world, and will be enhanced by a new educational interface we are developing.

As we examine how a large database like PBDB can be leveraged to provide research experiences to undergraduates, we are also developing a set of data-focused lessons that can be incorporated into introductory and advanced undergraduate classes. The lessons will be modular so that they can be utilized as in class assignments, laboratory exercise, field investigations, or as homework, and feature essential skills for scientifically literate citizens, including critical thinking and data analysis. Here we highlight specific lessons that take advantage of the strengths of the PBDB. For example, we present a lesson focused on understanding biogeography through plate tectonics using Mesosaurus and other fossils that provided the first evidence for Pangaea. This project will help guide other large scientific databases in crafting research experiences for undergraduate students, and provide the means for other earth science programs, including distance education programs, to engage their undergraduates in scientific research.
Poster (Acrobat (PDF) 6MB Mar14 18)