RYAN, W.L.; Kutztown University of Pennsylvania: Using AmphibiaWeb as a Model for Guided Inquiry
The recent discovery of declining amphibian populations and its correlation with various human activities is one of a number of environmentally sensitive issues to arise in the past decade. It can be difficult for students, particularly undergraduates, to investigate a problem of this scope involving diverse species, a wide range of environmental variables, and the potential for synergism. This exercise had three specific goals: 1) to guide students in an investigation of the decline in amphibian populations, 2) to expose students to the use of an online database, particularly to increase their awareness of the extent of data available (or not), and 3) to challenge students to make inferences and draw their own conclusions from a readily-available Internet data set. The exercise involved a written assignment, student assessment of the activity, and mandatory computer use, all of which reinforce basic skills. The exercise began with students investigating the global decline of amphibian populations using the AmphibiaWeb site. They prepared a summary of the topic, properly citing references from the links provided. The students then explored the database to investigate three different species. An optional list was provided for students in case they had difficulties selecting species for their comparison. In assessing the status of the three species, students dealt with various types of data, as well as differences in the quantity of available data. They also had to evaluate the conservation status of the species as determined by different agencies. The criticisms from student evaluations were largely technical, while positive comments were more abundant and included the novelty of the approach and outrage at the scope of the problem. With minimal references to specific content, this exercise is readily adaptable to other databases and issues.