Natural History in the Digital Age

Developing Mobile Tools for Biodiversity Informatics and Natural History Education

Melissa R.L. Whitaker, Joey Jiron, and Bryan MaassDownload PDF | Volume 8, 2014

The increasing availability of mobile educational technologies provides new opportunities for biodiversity research, education, and public engagement with the natural world. However, these tools are often time-consuming and expensive to create. Here we describe the The Butterfly Guide: Butterflies of the Sacramento Valley, Delta, and San Francisco Bay Area, a mobile natural history application with which users can collect and share species observation data. The app is free, but perhaps more importantly, documentation and source code are available on request. We describe our aim for The Butterfly Guide to serve as a template for others interested in creating similar tools, and discuss the future of such digital technology for enhancing natural history observation and experience. [full article]

101 Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die

9. Georg Wilhelm Steller’s Journal of a Voyage with Bering, 1741-1742

Marcel RobischonDownload PDF | Volume 8, 2014

Dr. Steller was, for the most, not exactly a happy man, and in the last years of his short life he may at times have bitterly regretted having accepted Captain Bering’s offer to join his crew. The second Kamchatkan expedition of 1741 was the most expensive and most expansive scientific undertaking of the time, aiming at no less than connecting the Russian-controlled Siberian peninsula of Kamchatka with the American continent, and within this project Georg Wilhelm Steller was promised “every possible opportunity to achieve something worthwhile.” [full article]

An Invitation for Engagement: Assigning and Assessing Field Notes to Promote Deeper Levels of Observation

John S. Farnsworth, Lyn Baldwin, and Michelle BezansonDownload PDF | Volume 8, 2014

This paper explores current practices for teaching the discipline of keeping field notes within academic natural history courses. We investigate how journal projects can be structured to promote engagement with the natural world while emphasizing the importance of recording accurate and honest observations. Particular attention is paid herein to the assignment of field notes, and to the process of assessing the results of these assignments. Our discussion includes results from an informal survey of best practices among colleagues representing numerous natural history disciplines. [full article]

Editorial

Natural History in the Digital Age?

Jenny RockDownload PDF | Volume 8, 2014

I teethed on chalk. I think primary thoughts through pencil on yellow lined paper. But my professional life has been negotiated via keyboard. Half my life is pre-computer, half is post; at 43 I straddle the boundary between two worlds. Yet with the ever-increasing growth of digital technology, more and more of us live in an increasingly virtual world. Some will argue that this technology has great scope for facilitating engagement and learning on many levels. However, a clear negative effect can be seen by society’s growing disengagement with nature (Pyle 2003). … [full article]

Natural History of Spain: Teaching Students About Nature and Culture in a Foreign Country

Gorka Sancho & Deborah A. BidwellDownload PDF | Volume 8, 2014

An ideal liberal arts and sciences undergraduate education in the 21st century should expose students to the natural world as well as to different human cultures. Unique to the College of Charleston’s semester abroad program in Spain, our Natural History of Spain course is designed to provide students with both immersion in natural history, as well as simultaneous immersion in foreign language and culture. Lengthy field excursions focus on basic nature observation and field annotation skills, exposing students to the unique flora and fauna of Spain across multiple ecosystems. An integrative approach comparing and contrasting environmental, cultural, and rural land use issues in Spain and the United States promotes conservation and emphasizes critical thinking skills. During semester-long offerings, Spanish language coursework and cultural immersion through lodging with host families rounds out the interdisciplinary course of study. Our approach allows for an in-depth and truly internationalized perspective, resulting in an integrative immersion in Spanish nature and culture that is grounded in time and place. Students responses highlight the importance of field trips and extended time spent immersed in natural settings as essential to their learning and overall experience. One hundred percent of students rated their international experience positively. [full article]

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