Using Natural History Interpretation as an Authentic Assessment Tool: Natural History Interpretation Is an Exemplary Authentic Assessment Tool for the Interdisciplinary College Science Classroom, Requiring Real-World Application of Observation, Presentation, and Collaboration Skills

By Wittmer, Carrie; Johnson, Brian | Journal of College Science Teaching, September-October 2008 | Go to article overview

Using Natural History Interpretation as an Authentic Assessment Tool: Natural History Interpretation Is an Exemplary Authentic Assessment Tool for the Interdisciplinary College Science Classroom, Requiring Real-World Application of Observation, Presentation, and Collaboration Skills


Wittmer, Carrie, Johnson, Brian, Journal of College Science Teaching


On a desert trail heading to a palm oasis in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California, four environmental studies college students begin a presentation about hummingbirds--their behavior, habits, and connections to the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. The students describe niches the hummingbirds occupy and how the hummingbirds are a metaphor for greater ecological connections. The audience members, a professor and 16 other students, are led down the trail as the interpretive walk continues. Curious hikers pause and listen, wondering who these people are and why they know so much about the desert.

The 45-minute hummingbird presentation was the end-of-semester evaluation for a field course on the natural history and ecology of the Sonoran Desert offered by the Audubon Expedition Institute (AEI) at Lesley University. The 20 students in the class were environmental studies freshmen and sophomores with one previous semester of ecology coursework. Although this example took place in an interdisciplinary, outdoor field program, natural his tory interpretation can be used as an authentic assessment tool for a variety of environmental studies, biology laboratory, natural history, and environmental science courses. The interdisciplinary nature of the activity evaluates course learning and challenges students to apply their learning using presentation, collaboration, and observation skills.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

What is natural history interpretation?

Beck and Cable (1998) define interpretation as "an informational and inspirational process designed to enhance understanding, appreciation, and protection of our cultural and natural legacy ... Personal interpretation refers to programs in the form of talks, demonstrations ..., living history, storytelling, nature walks, and tours." The fundamental quality of natural history interpretation is that it is more than the transmission of information; rather, it is the translation of a landscape or ecosystem. Interpreters assume that their audience is unfamiliar with the language of the landscape, and their job is to be a translator for that audience. For the purpose of using interpretation as an authentic assessment tool in college science courses, natural history interpretation is a walk or presentation that takes place outside, and its subject matter is related to the immediate environment. Additionally, in the spirit of interpretation, the presenters must not only provide information about the landscape or ecosystem, but also use that landscape to inspire and educate the audience toward deeper "meanings and relationships" (Tilden 1957).

In the case of this semester-long course on the natural history and ecology of the Sonoran Desert, the natural history presentations effectively illustrated student advancement. The interpretive-walk assignment required students to address course topics such as characteristics of the Sonoran Desert climate (rainfall, latitude, altitudinal zonation); behavioral and morphological adaptations in plants and animals to the desert environment; and the importance of riparian areas to the desert ecosystem. In addition to assessing student knowledge and ability to apply these concepts to an actual ecosystem, the instructor evaluated students' observation, presentation, and collaboration skills. The presentations were worth 30% of each student's final grade and served as an all-encompassing "final exam."

Natural history interpretation and authentic assessment

Natural history interpretation offers college science instructors an educationally challenging alternative or complement to traditional evaluation methods, such as multiple-choice testing. Because it asks students to draw connections among varied concepts and apply them to a real-life setting, natural history interpretation shows students that course content has relevance outside of the college classroom. These are some of the qualities that make natural history interpretation an example of authentic assessment, a trend being increasingly promoted at all levels of educational institutions. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Using Natural History Interpretation as an Authentic Assessment Tool: Natural History Interpretation Is an Exemplary Authentic Assessment Tool for the Interdisciplinary College Science Classroom, Requiring Real-World Application of Observation, Presentation, and Collaboration Skills
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.