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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Biology students learn at museum

By Ben Warrener, VTMNH intern

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 21 - February 19, 1998

For the past six years the Department of Biology and the Virginia Tech Museum of Natural History have worked together to provide a unique opportunity for students. Every year more than 2,300 undergraduates enrolled in biology labs visit the museum for a session on animal biodiversity and adaptation intended to develop observation and questioning skills. Over the course of two weeks starting February 23 a new group comes in every hour, morning to evening, to study current exhibits as well as expanded displays put together from the collections.
The purpose of the trip to the museum is to create a connection in the minds of the students between what they have learned about diversity and what is on display. The museum provides an extensive collection of species, some endangered, that students could not possibly be exposed to over the course of the semester. It is also gives both the graduate students teaching the course and the students a chance to get out of the classroom. Perhaps most significantly, students are able to gain an appreciation of the importance of collections in their current or future studies.
The students have had mostly favorable experiences over the years. The appeal seems to stem from experiencing visually based learning instead of merely reading a textbook. One student said, "This allowed me to see animals that I more than likely never would have seen before up close." For some it was their first encounter with the VTMNH and certainly a highlight of taking biology.
The only dilemma some of the students have is that, because of their large numbers, they are under time constraints. To simply be able to bring so many people through the museum does not allow for the casual observation of a normal visit. Their time is put to good use, however, by completing worksheets involving their knowledge and the displays.
The interest that students develop is important because it has carried over into use outside of their lab experience.