Artifacts of learning in marine science and conservation

We recently released a novel website focused on the evolution of science and management of spinner dolphins in Hawaii – the Norris to Now Timeline. The website takes the form of an interactive chronicle of some (clearly not all!) of the scientific, managerial and cultural events that have shaped our understanding of spinner dolphins in this location. The timeline is also set up so that others can contribute to the timeline, opening up the potential for greater community involvement.

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I’m especially excited about the timeline as it represents what educators often refer to as an “artifact of learning.” So often in higher education, students complete a course or program with nothing tangible to show for it. That is not to say that they did not learn some amazing things during their course of study, but rather that these gains may exist only in their individual minds, to be expressed later when they use newly gained knowledge for greater things. In an active learning context, however, it is often desirable to leave behind some evidence of what students have accomplished, and it provides and opportunity to let students tap into their more creative sides.

The Norris to Now timeline is actually an artifact of learning that combines student creativity from two learning events. The first, and by far the most important, is the integrative process that Heather Heenehan conducted as part of her Masters in Coastal Environmental Management program in my lab here at Duke. Her Master’s Project (available online here) was an assessment of what we know and don’t know about spinner dolphins in Hawaii since Norris and his colleagues closed shop in the mid-1990s (hence the ‘Norris to Now’ moniker). It’s remarkable how we’ve lost sight of the population biology and status of this species, when they are seen and interacted with everyday in many places throughout the main Hawaiian Islands. As part of her project, Heather developed a timeline of events that have occurred over time in reference to these animals and this represents the core idea, and content, behind the interactive web-based timeline.

[photo size=’small’ align=’right’][/photo]The second event was my recent Marine Mammal Biology, Ecology and Conservation class from Summer Session II (2012) here at the lab. This is a field and laboratory-intensive course designed to provide first-hand experience with research techniques such as photo-identification and mark-recapture analysis, line transect surveys and distance sampling, sampling prey distribution and abundance, behavioral sampling techniques, acoustic recording and analysis, and necropsy techniques. It covers all the main concepts in marine mammal biology and ecology, and often within an applied context. This year, as part of the class, enrolled students were tasked with choosing two events (one scientific, one cultural, managerial and historical) that have shaped the social and scientific construction of spinner dolphins in Hawaii with the primary intent of publishing a web-based educational tool on the web for people to make use of, and hopefully contribute to. The awesome students that contributed to the timeline during Summer Session II are:

[list type=’3′ color=’blue’]
  • Sam Arnold
  • Hilary Frandsen
  • Nora Kandler
  • Kyle Karnuta
  • Evelyna Kliassov
  • Georgia Langdon
  • Alexis Levengood
  • Felix Nani
  • Cecilia Passadore Real
  • Sara Schombert
  • Molly Solomon
  • James Wolf
  • Salwa Zahalka
  • Mikolaj Zybala

The system is based on a simple WordPress installation using Molitor’s excellent “Curator” theme, which was designed primarily for art displays – although it is clearly useful for any project that has a strong historical component.

So, if you are interested in the history of spinners in Hawaii, head over to the Norris to Now Timeline, and if you have anything to contribute to the timeline, register at the site and post your event!