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Development of new course: Evolutionary Ecology of Australia and New Zealand to change the title use the 'Full Editing Tools' option on the right

Mark McKone, Biology, Carleton College
This information was derived from your initial application. The goals and assessment sections should be updated as you move through the project.
Biology 307
Number of Students in Class: 24

Project Description

I am developing a new course, Biology 307, to be taught in Winter term 2013 in coordination with Biology 308 (Ecology and Conservation in Australia and New Zealand; Dan Hernández) and Biology 309 (Comparative Reproduction of Australian Vertebrates; Matt Rand). Together these three courses will offer a unique opportunity for Carleton students to integrate distinct disciplines as they learn about the remarkable biology of Australia and New Zealand.

The course description for Biology 307 follows:
BIOL 307: Evolutionary Ecology of Australia and New Zealand (6 credits). The evolutionary histories of Australia and New Zealand are unique because of their relative isolation from other continental land masses. This course will explore the biogeography of these areas, with emphasis on the evolutionary diversification of endemic lineages of organisms including mammals (such as marsupials), birds (such as moas), plants, and insects. Class research projects on site will examine how ecological interactions have evolved among these unique species, and how these interactions are being affected by the large number of introduced species now present.

This course will be distinct from the offerings in evolution and ecology currently available in the Carleton curriculum. In particular, the on-site immersion in the organisms and communities being investigated will greatly strengthen student involvement in achieving learning goals.

To be an effective teacher of such an investigation-based course, I will need to be well-prepared to find productive systems for field projects and independent study. It also will be essential for the teachers of these three coordinated course to by fully integrated in our approach. In particular, since our overall goal is for students to achieve set of skills in field research through the term, we must plan carefully so that student skill sets build progressively through the term.

This set of courses will fit within the modeling theme of the HHMI grant, since we intend to thoroughly integrate statistical analysis and research design into our course activities and goals (see below). In addition, the complexity theme will be addressed by our multidisciplinary approach to the many theoretical and practical problems we will encounter on the program. For example, the conservation of Australian animals and plants (Biology 308) can only be achieved by understanding their evolutionary history (Biology 307), as well as their distinct behavioral ecology and reproductive biology (Biology 309).


Students are taking three courses as part of an OCS program. The goals of the program are that students build on their skills in experimental design, presentation of data, and critical reading of the primary literature. Students will learn skills in these areas early in the program, practice these skills throughout the term, and be expected to demonstrate their skills in these areas through multiple research projects in the middle and end of the term. (paragraph from registration page)

In addition to an overview of the major concepts of the disciplines covered in the three courses (Biology 307, 308, 309), we have two primary goals for the program.

Goal 1: learn to ask research questions in a field setting, design experiments that addresses the question, gather and analyze relevant data, and present the outcome of the experiment in oral and written form. Goal 1 will be achieved by the following activities:
- Faculty-lead field problems. These are small projects that last a single day, and all class
members participate in data collection. For each problem, a small number of students
will be designated as collaborators with the instructor. Faculty provide the idea for the
field problem, but designated students and instructors together make all decisions
together about procedures and analysis. Each student participates in two faculty-lead
field problems.
- Independent group projects. Each student will participate in two independent group
projects that are carried out over a week or more. Student groups work together to
choose a project and carry out all aspects of the research.
- Each student makes one long-term research proposal (hypothetical, not to be carried
out) to address a question that requires a more sustained research program.

Goal 2: learn to critically read and evaluate primary literature in the various disciplines covered in the three courses. Goal 2 will be achieved by activities similar to a seminar-style primary literature courses in Biology. Faculty will assign primary literature on topics of interest. Students submit discussion questions in response. Two students present each paper to the class, followed by class discussion.


The following activities and assignments will be used to assess student progress toward our two goals.

Goal 1:
- Class presentation of results from faculty-lead field problems.
- Group oral presentation of outcome of group projects.
- Formal writeup of group projects (~10 pages), written independently by each group
- Long term research proposal (2-3 pages).

Goal 2:
- Presentation of primary literature paper to class.
- Student preparation and participation in group discussion
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