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MERLOT II


    

Peer Review


Evolutionary Biology

 

Ratings

Overall Rating:

3.5 stars
Content Quality: 3.5 stars
Effectiveness: 3 stars
Ease of Use: 3.5 stars
Reviewed: Dec 17, 2012 by Biology Editorial Board
Overview: This site is intended as a course in basic evolutionary theory. The course begins by reviewing the evolutionary concepts of selection and speciation. It progresses to how to measure evolutionary change through comparisons with the Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium, to understand the process of change through Game Theory, and to interpret and classify changes by creating phylogenies. The course wraps up with a look at the history of life according to the fossil record and a discussion of the broad range of life forms as they are currently classified.
Learning Goals: Learning goals are clearly stated in the course. In addition, each of the six units has learning goals as well. Overall course student learning outcomes are:
  • Define evolution and describe different types of selection.
  • Provide examples of microevolutionary forces and describe how they impact the genetics of populations.
  • Describe the Hardy-Weinberg principle and solve problems related to Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium.
  • Provide examples of games used in evolutionary game theory.
  • Connect biological phenomena to game theory.
  • Develop simple phylogenies from molecular or morphological data.
  • Identify important evolutionary events that have occurred throughout geologic time.
  • Characterize and provide examples of major plant and animal phyla.
    Target Student Population: Upper division undergraduates.
    Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Basic knowledge of biology, math and biochemistry.
    Type of Material: Online course.
    Recommended Uses: Students, faculty or the general public could use this course to learn the subject material, and evaluate their own mastery at the end of the course. Instructors could use parts of this course as assignments or activities.
    Technical Requirements: Web browser with various plug-ins (e.g. Flash); Microsoft software (PowerPoint, Word, Excel). The genetics software MEGA (available for Mac, PC and Linux).

    Evaluation and Observation

    Content Quality

    Rating: 3.5 stars
    Strengths:
    • Most of the materials included in this course are very high quality
    • The units are well structured into manageable pieces
    • Time advisories allow participants to gauge their commitment of time
    • The assessments and assignments are useful for mastering the topic and assessing one's knowledge
    Concerns:
    • The included materials are of disparate levels, so that some materials are very advanced and others are appropriate for introductory level general biology
    • Most topics have a single resource linked to them and in some cases this resource does not provide a detailed and nuanced treatment of the topic.
    • Some resources are of questionable validity for a college course (e.g. about.com treatment of the "tangled bank hypothesis")
    • Some course topics use inappropriate terms (e.g. Unit 5 has classification in the title, but none of the materials address classification)
    • A few spelling errors and typos
    • The quality of the different links can be very uneven.
    • There is limited interactivity with the student; many of the links are text materials.
    • The course organizer has little actual control over the quality and accessibility of the materials since they are all links.

    Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

    Rating: 3 stars
    Strengths:
    • The course is well organized
    • Many of the materials linked to the course are interesting and lead to additional resources
    • The brief "notes" and assessments make the course effective for students
    • The material is well organized into units and sections within each unit
    • Each subunit contains a set of learning outcomes for that particular topic.
    • The large number of links under each topic give the instructor a lot of flexibility in assignments.
    Concerns:
    • The reliance on a single source for some topics, especially when that source gives only a very brief explanation of the topic would likely make some topics difficult for students to grasp without going outside the course and doing additional research
    • Not enough practice problems, examples, or hands on materials in the course likely reduce its effectiveness
    • Because the course is cobbled together from disparate sources, the relationships between topics are not emphasized as they would be in a standard course or textbook
    • The is no synthesis of topics provided by the course; students have disparate links without guidance as to how to connect the different ideas.
    • Student interactivity is low and not consistent. Some links use interactivity; many topics are text only.
    • There are no student assessment tools except for a final exam.
    • Students need to check there knowledge in small bits to make sure they are on the right track.

    Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

    Rating: 3.5 stars
    Strengths:
    • The course is easy to navigate and well organized. Each section is clearly setup into subtopics.
    • Did not find any broken links.
    • Clear learning outcomes given for each unit.
    • Links are clearly marked and described
    • Several levels of outline and overview make the course structure and one's progress through it easy to determine
    • A link to a discussion board for students appears to be easy to use and potentially useful
      Concerns:
      • Some dead links (which show up in red); these are in some cases findable on the internet in other places, but are not reachable by clicking the link in the course
      • Because the course is composed of a wide variety of materials, it is not possible to search the course
      • The various materials are not annotated or summarized, so it can be difficult to guess the actual topic of a few, beyond the general topic heading under which they are linked, without opening it and perusing it
      • There is a limited amount of animated and interactive material. There is a heavy reliance on text materials. Those materials are good quality but will not engage the student.

      Other Issues and Comments: As background material this course could be useful, but there are several issues with the course. The primary issue I found is that while the course is on a topic (in this case evolutionary biology), the materials are gathered from a variety of discrete, unrelated sources. While they are all relevant to the particular subtopic in which they are included, there is nothing to give the course a cohesive narrative thread or to integrate the various topics into a comprehensive understanding. Additional issues include a reliance on some potentially unreliable or dubious sources. I think some of the units could use more than a single resource (no matter how good it is). I think that a lot more assignments, activities, problem sets, and most importantly, experiential material would improve the course. Similarly, a more comprehensive annotation of the included sources would improve the course.