Analysis of high-frequency and long-term data in undergraduate ecology classes improves quantitative literacy


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Ecological Society of America


Ecologists are increasingly analyzing long-term and high-frequency sensor datasets as part of their research. As ecology becomes a more data-rich scientific discipline, the next generation of ecologists needs to develop the quantitative literacy required to effectively analyze,visualize, and interpret large datasets. We developed and assessed three modules to teach undergraduate freshwater ecology students both scientific concepts and quantitative skills needed to work with large datasets. These modules covered key ecological topics of phenology, physical mixing, and the balance between primary production and respiration, using lakes as model systems with high-frequency or long-term data. Our assessment demonstrated that participating in these modules significantly increased student comfort using spreadsheet software and their self-reported competence in performing a variety of quantitative tasks. Interestingly, students with the lowest pre-module comfort and skills achieved the biggest gains. Furthermore, students reported that participating in the modules helped them better understand the concepts presented and that they appreciated practicing quantitative skills. Our approach demonstrates that working with large datasets in ecology classrooms helps undergraduate students develop the skills and knowledge needed to help solve complex ecological problems and be more prepared for a data-intensive future.



freshwater ecology, Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network, ice phenology, lake metabolism, lake stratification, Project Environmental Data-Driven Inquiry and Exploration, quantitative skills, teaching modules.