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Biology students conduct off-campus experiments

April 8, 1997

Kevin Johnson / The Baylor Lariat

Matt Hunnicut, a Kerrville junior, and Caroline Bourland, a Leawood, Kan., sophomore, prepare to fish at Eastland Lakes for an experiment in their Biology 1401 class.

By Alison Kuehn

Lariat Reporter

Instead of staying in the confines of the classroom, biology laboratory students are participating in experimental research away from campus.

Students enrolled in Biology 1105 travel three miles, twice weekly to Eastland Lake, which is located off University Parks Drive. There, they set up work areas, canoe across the lake to collect samples and monitor the progress of their established experiments.

Christine Holmes, a freshman from Springfield, Mo., said the laid-back and natural atmosphere at the lake is a relaxing way to escape from campus for a while.

'You can go out there in scrubby clothes and get really dirty, and nobody minds,' she said.

The laboratory is specifically geared toward non-biology majors. Dr. Dawn Adams, assistant professor of biology, said. 'Almost all students enrolled in the lab are non-science majors.'

'In this laboratory, each group does independent field work,' teaching assistant Phil Senter said. 'The real point of the course is for students to prove to themselves they can accomplish something with these biological projects.'

Adams said, 'For the most part, the focus is hands-on learning and accessing information about scientific issues in order to better understand them and use the information to make informed decisions.'

Adams said the experimental curriculum allows students the chance to learn how to write hypotheses and use the library to access information useful toward their research. 'They also get to splash around in the lake and collect fish,' she said.

Students are required to spend two hours per week in the 'natural' laboratory. Students also have the freedom to decide what to study, Adams said.

Some of the semester-long independent research projects include researching and collecting data on the growth rates of different flowers and plants and monitoring the behaviors of squirrels, turtles, beavers, fish and fire ants.

'The tasks students seem to enjoy most are learning how to canoe, getting their hands dirty and catching fish in traps,' Senter said. 'They often start out with no expectations, but they get really excited about what they're doing when they get out in the middle of the lake.'

Adams said the responsive essays she reads prove to her that the students are paying more attention to biological and ecological issues because of their experiences in carrying out their own projects.

'We do not have tests in this lab, but I am learning to apply biological concepts to life circumstances,' Kelly Lummus, a Frankston freshman, said.

Alex Tamacas, an El Salvador freshman, said, 'No matter how hot it is outside, the wind is always cool on the lake, and even though we are working, the situation never gets stressful. 'The laboratory format has been influenced by the National Science Grant Program,' Adams said. 'Although the name of the course is Modern Concepts of Biology, it is a bio-literacy course.'

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