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Peer Review

Introduction to Evolutionary and Ecological Biology



Overall Numeric Rating:

3.5 stars
Content Quality: 3 stars
Effectiveness: 4 stars
Ease of Use: 4.5 stars
Reviewed: Oct 27, 2013 by Biology Editorial Board
Overview: This online course offered by Saylor, instructs students to learn about biological changes that happen on a very large scale, across entire populations of organisms and over the course of millions of years, in the form of evolution and ecology. In addition students in this course will learn about evolution and theories that stem from evolution. The course also has a unit on ecology, the study of the interactions between different types of organisms and their surroundings. It is composed of materials gathered from available online sources.
Type of Material: Online course, with text and video.
Recommended Uses: As a stand alone course for students or faculty; material from the course might be of use to instructors or to students.
Technical Requirements: Web browser. The ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt,.xls) and some plug-ins (e.g. Flash).
Identify Major Learning Goals: Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to: Use their understanding of Mendelian genetics and patterns of inheritance to predict genotypes and phenotypes of offspring or work backwards to identify the genotypes and phenotypes of a parental generation. Distinguish between inheritance patterns that involve autosomal vs. sex-linked traits and identify the respective consequences of each type of inheritance. Identify what distinguishes Darwin’s theory of evolution from other arguments that attempt to explain diversity across species and/or many generations. Identify which of many types of natural selection is acting on a particular population/species. Identify which of many types of sexual selection is acting on a particular population/species. Identify the factors that alter the frequencies of alleles in populations over time and describe the effects of these factors on populations. Recognize, read, and create phylogenies and cladograms, using them to explain evolutionary relationships. Determine the ecological interactions affecting a particular community and identify the effects of specific relationships (e.g. symbiosis, competition) on species within that community. Distinguish between world biomes in terms of their climate, nutrient cycles, energy flow, and inhabitants. Use their knowledge of nutrient cycles and energy flow to estimate the effect that changes in physical or biological factors would have on a particular ecosystem.
Target Student Population: Undergraduate, lower division science majors.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: It appears that cell and molecular biology is recommended if not an absolute prerequisite.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 3 stars
  • The information in this course is an organized set of free online resources.
  • The lectures are delivered by faculty at major universities and the written resources are well cited.
  • The material presents accurate and up to date information on the topic.
  • The material presented is well referenced and accepted by the field of biology.
  • There is an abundance of information on each unit in this online course.
  • There are some tests available for participants to check their mastery
  • Some of the material is of very low quality (e.g. the IUPUI website on endosymbiosis, which is highly inaccurate, and is in part borrowed from a Georgia community college student's project, completed in 1996)
  • Many of the units of the course have no material (they are empty); much material for these topics is available on the internet
  • There are some language issues (typos, grammatical errors) in the course material (e.g. "comprised of..." is an incorrect usage)

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4 stars
  • This course presents resources relevant to a full range of evolutionary biology and ecology topics and could be an effective course for some students
  • Users can view the course by units, or by lectures, activities, videos, etc.
  • The course is well organized
  • The course provides practice problems for students to utilize with the readings.
  • There are assessments and study guides to evaluate the students learning.
  • Many topics have a single resource, and this source may not be comprehensible to all users--multiple resources would be more effective
  • Some topics listed in the course outline are not covered in the course
  • The separate resources for each topic are diverse, but no unifying narrative thread is present in the course

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 4.5 stars
  • The course is well organized and organization is consistent
  • All links and downloads worked
  • The course material can be sorted in different ways
  • There are resources to help students with problems and discussion boards with frequently asked questions to aid students
  • All materials are annotated with Time Advisories, allowing users to gauge their commitment
  • Some activities were linked as readings and not listed in the activities section of the course

Other Issues and Comments: This course is missing a some material, which could be easily included. Some inaccurate sites are used and more resources for the existing topics are also warranted.

Creative Commons:
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States