Traditional ichthyology courses often focus on objectives related to fish evolution and skills required for museum work. Students in natural resource disciplines often perceive these objectives and skills as having little relevance to their future careers. In some ichthyology courses, memorization of fish taxonomy and phylogeny may outweigh emphasis on the development of critical thinking skills. Guided by objectives to develop critical thinking and information gathering skills, we have developed two instructional methods that incorporate the practical needs of students in natural resource disciplines without sacrificing important subjects in the ichthyology course offered at Michigan State University. The first method consists of a requirement to write two brief papers (500 words or less) that address a specific question of interest to the student. The objectives for this assignment are to develop professional skills involving information retrieval and interpretation and to write a concise, but thorough product. Students are given specific requirements for format and information quality, and are provided assistance in focusing the question so that it is answerable in a brief format. First drafts go through a peer review process to check on aspects of clarity, conciseness, and completeness and students may incorporate the comments and revisions in the final draft. In the second exercise, Buckets of Fish, students are presented with specimens from the Great Lakes fauna (100 species) and are assigned to learn to identify these species with identification keys provided by the instructor. They have four laboratory periods to study specimens and then four examination periods to demonstrate their proficiency in identifying a collection of fish specimens in a jar of unknowns. This exercise is meant to simulate the experience of bringing a sample of fish back from the field and then identifying the fish in the sample. Student proficiency in identification increases through the examination series. In both of the instructional methods, the relevance and focus of the assignment generated greater student interest in learning information basic to an ichthyology course, and developed critical thinking and technical skills needed for students directed towards research or natural resource management career paths.
Coon, Thomas G. and Newcomb, Tammy J.
"Fish briefs and buckets of fish: Conforming ichthyology to needs of students with natural resource career paths,"
Natural Resources and Environmental Issues:
Vol. 7, Article 6.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/nrei/vol7/iss1/6