An Undergraduate Research Experience: Using technology to Monitor Japanese Beetles Related to Changing Climate Conditions, Across New York State

SUNY , State University of New York , IITG , Innovative Instructional Technology Grants , Assessment, Understanding, Monitoring Student Progress , Instructional Design , Beetle Project , SUNY Citizen Science Conference
In 2010, this project team received a Higher Education Grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a hands-on learning module that uses the collaborative and experiential aspects of a citizen science project to get students involved and interested in science and sustainability. The learning module includes curriculum guidelines, protocols for taking data, a mapping tool built on a GIS platform, and a user platform including a social networking tool built on a Drupal platform, along with instructions and instructional videos. While participating in this learning module, students will gather scientific data from backyards and contribute to the development of a visual, virtual map of the life stages and population density of Japanese beetles across the state of New York. Students will make observations and record data regarding the insect life cycle as well as site specific vegetation characteristics, soil properties and types, and atmospheric conditions. They will use GIS to overlay beetle data with their various environmental factors to discern spatial and temporal patterns of beetle life stages across New York. This information, gathered over time, will allow students to examine phenological correlations of beetle development and observe climate trends. Accompanying curriculum will urge students to explore different hypothetical scenarios to study their own theories about the ways climate change alters local ecosystems, and the impacts on biodiversity and non-native species. This project has the potential to support the Power of SUNY initiative of Open SUNY. The learning module is built on a GIS platform using existing open source software to support online mapping integrated with climate and phenological observations. The user platform is based on the Drupal open-source content management system with extensions to integrate the management of geographically-referenced research data and using scientific workflow tools to support student data. The learning module is currently available to SUNY/ Empire State faculty and students. With assistance from this grant, the project team will be able to disseminate and support this learning module across SUNY. The grant will be used to make the necessary enhancements to the data taking protocol and instructions so that students without electronic data taking tools can get the same data as those will the tools. The GIS platform will be enhanced to be able to accept this data as well. The grant will also allow the college technology team the resources necessary to provide technical support and access to outside users. Everyone using this learning module will have the ability to upload data onto the same map and use the accompanying guidelines for scientific exploration. The social networking capabilities of the learning module will create a learning community across the state to enhance SUNY “systemness”. Because the module is built on an open platform, interested users can be given the code to download the learning module and manipulate the tool to explore flora and fauna other than the Japanese beetle and create maps and learning communities that suit the needs of their learners. This learning module also supports the goal of developing an innovative use of instructional technology to improve student engagement and learning across disciplines. The learning module is designed to pique interest in science by using a hands-on approach and exploring local ecosystems. This project is relevant to multiple disciplines within STEM studies and beyond as it teaches the basic principles behind the following themes and subject areas: soil science, climatology, horticulture, entomology, ecology, experimental design, advanced data analysis and modeling activities, agricultural economics and risk management, GPS & GIS and the community science aspect of this project can be incorporated into K-12 curriculum and be used for students learning to be teachers. Students in science and non-science courses alike will be instructed on the importance of following the scientific method as they create an experimental design for field research and participate in data collection. The curriculum guidelines will assist educators in incorporating the learning module into interdisciplinary studies. Dissemination of the learning module will be done through a newly developed SUNY Citizen Science Conference, hosted by SUNY Empire State College. At this conference representatives from all SUNY schools will have the opportunity to present and share their citizen science projects that can be worked into curriculum in all areas of study. Citizen science projects typically involve innovative technologies due to their collaborative nature and distance between participants. This conference will be a way to share the ways in which SUNY schools have stretched into communities and strengthened both our offerings of science and town/gown relationships through innovative technology and curriculum. Funds from this grant will be used to organize the conference and pay for printing of marketing materials as well as educational materials about the Beetle Project for attendees.