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Helpful apps and websites for lectures

April 8, 2019

Ah lectures. Prepping, delivering, tweaking, delivering again. This idea that you can just make a series of lectures and use them for years isn't exactly true. Lectures and labs do require a lot of maintenance as you improve, update and tailor to suit the class/topic/cohort.

 

I'm only halfway through my first year at Assistant Prof level, but I have already come across some neat apps and resources. Below is a list, in no particular order:

 

Peergrade

Free and kind of like being the Eye of Sauron.

 

This is an online platform that allows you to set up assignments and have your class anonymously submit and peer-review each others work while you see everything. 

 

For one of my classes I have students prepare a mini-proposal. The idea was that the submissions would be paired up with another student who would perform a peer-review. The student conducting the review would be graded initially. The student who wrote the proposal would then have the opportunity to make changes before resubmitting and receiving an overall grade. The Peergrade platform made it easy to access, anonymize, grade and control the whole process.

 

Teammates

Similar to Peergrade. Online platform, free for instructors, not for profit.

 

This system gives you the ability to set up assignments and control who does the grading - you, individuals in your class, or teams of students in your class. You can make things anonymous (from the student perspective) or not. The great thing about this one is the ability for students working in teams to provide assessment and feedback on their team members. This definitely alleviates some of the panic associated with group work for some students. 

 

ZipGrade

A free app that turns your phone into a scantron! (And you can do quizzes).

 

This has been around for a while. It may be completely unnecessary for some people - many institutions have scantron marking machines for multiple choice sheets. But, not every place does. Sometimes it is at the other end of campus... and sometimes it is extremely busy. This handy app allows you to use the phone camera to scan your scantron sheets and quickly mark them. It even gives you data related to the average performance, difficulty of each question etc.

 

LeafByte

This was a useful app for a lab on herbivory. We basically tested the 'enemy release hypothesis' to see if native species were more/less affected by herbivory than an introduced species. The class did have to do the measurements by hand first - the old graph paper transparency and counts the number of cells to obtain leaf area. Then the class used the app. It picked up herbivory (i.e. actual bites of leaf) very well but was unable to assess damage from things like leaf miners. The app does require that you PRINT the scale sheets from their website first - this was not that clear from the instructions initially.

 

LeafSnap & Seek & iNaturalist

Some of the increasing number of apps that are out there to help you and your students identify species on the fly. So handy!

 

Biodiversity of the Central Coast

An app as well as an online interactive resource for species identification. It's targeted toward biodiversity within the Pacific coast area (e.g. California to Alaska).

 

E-Flora BC

E-Flora is obviously very British Columbia focused, but many other regions have similar tools. This is designed to provide information on the species as well as some known locations based on previous herbarium records. The info is, in many instances, quite dated and incomplete, but it can be better than starting from absolutely scratch.

 

Canadensys 

Another online tool providing scientific names, information and some geographic locality information. Again, it is quite dated and incomplete (i.e. not every herbarium enters info), but it can be useful for teaching and field purposes. I liked making students play with it to get an idea of what these tools are like, how they work and how valuable they can be.

 

GBIF - Global Biodiversity Information Facility

The global, and more updated, version of E-Flora and Canadensys!! This is a definite must for people looking to show students just how important it is to collect good metadata for their sites etc. The applications that can stem from GBIF data are numerous - plus, it's just fun to look through!

 

BioRender

A great online tool for making high-quality scientific illustrations quickly and easily. For those that can't get access to something fancy like Illustrator, or don't want to spend hours with GIMP or INKSCAPE, this may be the place for you and your students. I have played with this myself and can testify that it is easy to use. My criticism is that the free version doesn't allow you to export as PDF! For many people, especially students, this will not be a problem.  

 

PhyloPic

Wonderful, wonderful place filled with silhouettes for you to use that is absolutely free!!

 

 

 

 

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