June 8, 2021

Caught the bug? So did Zoology 435 students!

Online course takes hands-on approach to researching biodiversity
Photo of Dr. Mindi Summers
Mindi Summers is lead instructor for Zoology 435, an experiential learning course on insects.

With the warmer weather comes blooming flowers, young wildlife and — you guessed it — bugs. We may not be so keen on the return of creepy crawlers, but students in Zoology 435, an entomology course in the Department of Biological Sciences, are eagerly welcoming the insects as they work to grow the Western Canada bug collection. 

This entomology course incorporates experiential learning and research, asking students to develop an answer to the question: “Why do we care about insects in Alberta?”

The Zoology 435 team, led by Dr. Mindi Summers, PhD, encourages students to document local insect biodiversity and create informational pieces to highlight the importance of insects in our society with relation to human and domestic animal health, food production and other human activities. Aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development goals for Sustainable Cities and Communities and Life on Land, the project saw 90 students learn to collect and photograph insects, record and manage metadata, and identify insects by family.

The course was part of the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning course-based research pilot program. In collaboration with The City of Calgary through the University of Calgary Urban Alliance, students collected bugs from Calgary’s parks, natural spaces and neighbourhoods. For students based outside of Calgary, their insect collections focused on local finds from northern Alberta and central British Columbia. Students produced digital observations and donated almost 3,500 physical specimens to the department to assist future students with their research.

Along the way, they even discovered four endangered species, as classified by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Communication is key

The course provides the public and other stakeholders access to information by sharing findings and data with The City and iNaturalist. The iNaturalist platform relies on user-shared information, serving as an online community that encourages naturalists, citizen scientists and biologists to map and share biodiversity around the globe.

The experience propelled students to enhance their science communication skills for stakeholder engagement via workshops and communication projects. They shared infographics, podcasts, videos and artwork exploring themes of sustainability with the public, including activities for scout troops.

Team-building activities

This year, the course was hosted online. Its learning outcomes still allow for hands-on education and engagement with the community. Students interacted with experts from various industries, including guest speakers in science communication, social media experts and citizen-science organizers. The range of careers and perspectives related to sustainability and biodiversity allowed students to gain insight within the industry as potential career paths for the third- and fourth-year students.

Two awards, two important initiatives

This class earned the 2021 Sustainability Experiential Learning Award for its immersive and engaging take on applied sustainability research. “Receiving this recognition is another form of support when undertaking innovative teaching courses,” says Summers, who credits her Zoology 435 team for their contributions to making the course a success.

Summers is also among the recipients of the 2021 Sustainability Staff Award. The Digital Bee Collection Team and the Zoology 435 Team have been instrumental to the achievements of both projects, programs that have been under development for years. Thanks to Summers, her efforts in digitizing insects have helped UCalgary become a sustainability leader in both innovation and research.

The University of Calgary’s Institutional Sustainability Strategy provides a roadmap for continuous improvement in our pursuit of excellence and leadership in sustainability. We aim to be a Canadian post-secondary education leader in sustainability in our academic and engagement programs, administrative and operational practices and through supporting community and industry in their aims for leadership in sustainability. Learn more about UCalgary’s leadership in sustainability.