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SEED projects 2020 – Designing for learning

Evolution in 3D: students use 3D-printed moa bones to learn measurement and phylogenetic mapping of evolutionary characters

Dr Nicholas Matzke

Dr Nicholas Matzke

Dr Nicholas Matzke, Caroline Aspden, Dr Amanda Harper, Dr Anna Santure, Dr Shane Lavery and Dr Matt Rayner (Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science)

The project members are working on a redesign of the evolution module in the core stage 1 course BIOSCI 109 Ecology and Evolution. The redesign involves creating an authentic, experiential practical activity that aligns with the overall course design and feeds forward into the wider Biological Sciences curriculum. It is the redesign of the evolution module that the SEED grant will support. A new introductory practical exercise in evolutionary biology will be developed using 3D-scanning and 3D-printing technology to print classroom sets of moa bones for students to measure and study.

Evolution is the central organising principle of biology. It is a difficult concept for students to understand as the processes operate over very long timeframes, and often challenge the students’ underlying assumptions and beliefs about the world. Currently, the evolution practical is a computer-based activity reading and interpreting phylogenetic trees. The exercise was rather abstract and was highlighted by students as challenging in the 2019 evaluations. Designing authentic, experiential practical activities for teaching evolution is challenging because of the complexity of concepts, diversity of methods used for evolutionary research, and the logistical requirements of supporting such an activity for large student numbers. A particular challenge is that physical specimens (such as fossils of extinct species) on which to base an experiential investigation are rare and delicate, and difficult to source in an affordable, sustainable and ethical way. 3-D printing provides a solution to the challenge of sourcing specimens on which to base a practical activity, and allows students to examine replicas of artefacts of which originals are otherwise inaccessible or fragile. We have chosen to 3-D print moa bones for this course. Moa are a famous example of evolution and have a significant place in the ecological history and cultural heritage of New Zealand. We have access to 3-D scans of moa skeletons through the Auckland Museum and have agreement from the University of Auckland Maker Space to support our development of the 3D-printed bone sets.

This SEED grant funds the experimentation associated with creating a prototype set of 3-D bones that will form the basis of a student study, as well as funding the follow-up focus group interviews as part of the evaluation of the effectiveness of the initiative. These resources support the course and broader curriculum learning objectives and the overarching design of both. It will provide an opportunity to employ a delivery format that has previously been unavailable to this subject field.

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Evolution in 3D: students use 3D-printed moa bones to learn measurement and phylogenetic mapping of evolutionary characters (6MB)