Case Study: Ecology Degree
A Case Study from the Inquiry-Based Learning Project. Ecology Degree, taught at University of Otago.
Ecology Programme Director: Gerry Closs, Department of Zoology
Academic Staff Developer and Ecology Lecturer: Tony Harland (Higher Education Development Centre)
Researchers: Rachel Spronken-Smith and Rebecca Walker, Higher Education Development Centre, University of Otago
Core paper co-ordinators:
- ECOL111 Janice Lord (Department of Botany)
- ECOL211 Kath Dickinson (Department of Botany) (2004-2006) and Colin Townsend (Department of Zoology) (2007-2008)
- ECOL212 Gerry Closs (Department of Zoology)
- ECOL311 Liz Slooten (Department of Zoology)
- ECOL313 Kath Dickinson (Department of Botany); Gerry Closs and Robert Poulin (Department of Zoology)
Snapshot of Case
The Ecology degree is an interdisciplinary programme, taught mainly by staff from Botany and Zoology. Following a review in 2001, the Programme was redesigned to take an explicit inquiry approach with the intention of providing more research activity for undergraduates. Consequently, the new Programme now progressively develops inquiry skills in four out of the five core papers. At Stage 1 and 2, most inquiry activities are built into the laboratory programme leading to an open inquiry course at Stage 3. This case explores how the teaching team managed to redesign the curriculum and then briefly describes the use of inquiry features throughout the degree. The key features which allowed this programme to develop were: the Programme review which signalled the need for change; a Director and group of academics committed to change; the holistic consideration of the degree programme; the facilitation of curriculum planning discussions by an academic staff developer; a shared vision of the inquiry approach; the space and time for extended conversations amongst the planning group; and ongoing reflections on papers to continually improve the learning experiences for students.
At the University of Otago, Ecology is a Programme, not a department. Thus the Programme is taught by an interdisciplinary team, with staff mainly from the departments of Botany and Zoology. Following a review in 2001, the Ecology Programme was redesigned to take an explicit inquiry approach. The review panel recognised that although the programme was producing very good graduates, some courses had become a bit stale and needed rejuvenation. Thus they recommended redesigning the core courses, with the exception of ECOL313 - the Field Studies Course, and in particular suggested that research activity should be more clearly embedded in the undergraduate papers.
This web case will describe how the teaching team embarked upon this radical and innovative overhaul of the Ecology degree, and then examine how inquiry activities have been embedded at every stage in order to progressively develop research skills and capabilities in Ecology students.