It’s one thing to learn
about vertebrates by reading about them; it’s another thing to study the
animals living in our backyard.
Students who took the
Biology of Vertebrates course (Biology 2210) last fall with Dr. Erin Fraser and
Sandra Ball used remote trail cameras to video animals in the wooded areas near
Grenfell Campus. The work was part of a term-long Course-based Undergraduate Research
Experience (CURE), which involved students working in pairs to design and
complete original research projects. CUREs are an increasingly common tool in
university science courses and involve students developing their own research
questions and methods, before collecting, analyzing and presenting their data.
CUREs frequently span weeks or months and are an alternative to more typical
laboratory experiments that have a known outcome and may last just one or two sessions.
“CUREs are beneficial,” said
Dr. Fraser , “as they provide students with practical research experience.
Because each project is novel and has an unknown outcome, there is a level of
uncertainty and an element of discovery that is typical of the real-life
One argument for CUREs is
that they allow students in larger, entry-level courses to engage with the
scientific process in ways that might otherwise not be possible until they are completing
a fourth-year project or an internship. Funds to purchase the trail camera
system were awarded from the Grenfell Campus Teaching and Learning fund to Dr.
Fraser, Dara Walsh, laboratory instructor and Dr. Ian Warkentin.
A challenge with running
the trail camera project for the first time was that it was difficult to
predict which animals would be recorded and how often. To prepare, Ms. Walsh
and Megan Clarke, environmental science student spent much of the summer setting
trail cameras in the wooded areas around campus and observing the results.
Camera stations were baited with oatmeal and sunflower seeds and cameras were
triggered by animal activity during both the day and night. Videos included footage
of squirrels, songbirds, hares, foxes, moose and the occasional housecat. You
can watch a sample of the footage collected from one of the trail cameras here.
During autumn, students in
the Biology of Vertebrates course were responsible for setting up and
maintaining the cameras, as well as watching all of the videos so that they
could collect the necessary data. During the fall data collection period, the
trail cameras made thousands of recordings.
Dr. Fraser was very
pleased with the diversity and quality of the final projects. Many student
pairs watched and analyzed hundreds of short videos to complete their projects.
The majority of the videos featured red squirrels and students presented projects
on multiple aspects of red squirrel behavior, including seasonal changes in feeding
activity, the use of forest corridors by squirrels, and the impacts of forest
composition and temperature on squirrel activity. There were also several
presentations on songbird and snowshoe hare behaviour.
One student, Celeste
Flaskay, said that her interest in vertebrate biology was piqued through this
“The course was a lot of fun, one of the best parts about it was
the fact that it was so interactive,” said Ms. Flaskay. “Our labs correlated
perfectly with what we were being taught so we could see and experience what
was being taught to us in real life. Dr. Fraser is an excellent professor for
this class. Not only did she teach us the material, she was always enthusiastic
and prepared extra material to help us understand the topics better. I
definitely feel that I learnt a lot in the course.”
Funds to purchase the
trail camera system were awarded from the Grenfell Campus Teaching and Learning
fund to Dr. Fraser, Ms. Walsh and Dr. Ian Warkentin.
Creative Classrooms is a showcase of excellence in teaching that demonstrated
innovation in teaching techniques and projects. Over the next several months,
we will feature the stories of these professors and their efforts to motivate,
inspire and educate their students.