INTERACTION BETWEEN STUDENTS, MICROPROCESSORS, AND MAMMALS IN A NEW APPROACH TO A FIELD COURSE IN BIOLOGY

K. Gobetz, B. Cage

James Madison University (UNITED STATES)
A one-semester course on the study of Mammals has been re-designed as a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) to give undergraduate Biology majors a multi-disciplinary and meaningful field project using an innovative approach to animal study. Our students are the first to use a device we have developed consisting of a 3d-printed mammal baiting station that records the weight of a mammal and takes a photograph each time a mammal enters. The baiting station stores this data via a Raspberry Pi computer, and the user can be notified via iPad or mobile when a mammal has entered the station. Undergraduates learn about the design and printing of these devices and are trained in their use. They are then divided into teams, each responsible for their own station, while a Masters student, also taking the course, serves as supervisor to the project. The teams research how to attract specific species, then deploy their devices in the field to see results. This approach requires no handling of live animals, so it is a great improvement to traditional classroom field activities in terms of safety, efficiency, and convenience. By collecting data remotely, the students learn many aspects and nuances of investigative science, and simply observing animals. One of the ways we teach the students to use microprocessor technology is to have them “train” their datasets to recognize a particular species, once they have collected enough photographs as a group. On the other hand, we learn from the students: Both the undergraduate teams and the Masters student supervisor contribute to this burgeoning project by offering their ideas based on their experience with the apparatus in the field. Class time is set aside for group sessions where students report progress and brainstorm with other teams about how to correct issues that arise and improve device efficiency. Throughout the project, students upload their data into a resource-sharing database called EMammal, which transforms the lab portion of this Mammalogy course into a partly blended-learning experience. Using EMammal is also a way for students to connect globally with other citizens, students, and professionals working on mammal camera-trapping projects. This new project benefits greatly from the involvement of students as it gives them a hands-on, unique method to field-test a new technology and observe wild mammals. At the same time, it provides us with ideas for improving this approach to field research. We will report the results, setbacks, and future developments of this classroom/field learning experience.