Seminar Guidelines (2007/8)

Seminar assignment

Terrestrial ecosystem ecology is a rapidly developing science that is generating novel and interesting questions relating to fundamental and applied issues in biology, as well as environmental science, earth science and global change. Here, you are asked to prepare and deliver a seminar on some aspect of terrestrial ecosystem ecology that is of particular interest to you. As you will soon discover, there is a vast amount of readily accessible information currently available on many topics in terrestrial ecosystem ecology. This exercise is aimed at familiarising you with how to access, synthesise and present both general and primary scientific information on an issue in terrestrial ecosystem ecology of your choice.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Consult the general literature and synthesize the current status of an issue in terrestrial ecosystem ecology.
  2. Search the primary scientific literature for a significant example or 'case study' of research on that terrestrial ecosystem ecology issue.
  3. Identify the hypothesis that was actually tested in a primary scientific paper.
  4. Critically assess that research (positive and negative aspects).
  5. Evaluate the contribution of that research to our understanding of the terrestrial ecosystem ecology issue.
  6. Develop oral presentation skills.

Seminar Exercise:

Identify an issue in terrestrial ecosystem ecology that is of particular interest to you. Consult the general literature and synthesise the current status of that issue. Formulate that issue into a question that you can use your literature research and seminar to make some progress toward answering. Search the primary literature (i.e. sources that present original research data) for a relevant article that you will use as an example or case study.

Make an oral presentation (up to 20 minutes), aimed at stimulating ideas and debate for subsequent discussion. The presentation should be suitable for an interested public audience, and may include the following headings:

  1. The terrestrial ecosystem ecology issue: Introduction covering the scientific concepts underlying the issue, its spatial extent, and its historical context.
  2. Research paper introduction: Introduce the primary research study that you are using as an example. Refer to lecture material where appropriate. Describe the study's focus by identifying and articulating the specific hypotheses that you think were actually tested by the data reported in the paper.
  3. Research paper results: Outline the experimental approach briefly, and present a summary of the study's main results (e.g. perhaps 1-3 of the core graphs or tables).
  4. Research paper assessment: Critical assessment of the study's main results and conclusions. This component should contain both positive and negative aspects, and should identify and evaluate any assumptions underlying the study.
  5. Research paper context: Evaluation of the study's contribution to the terrestrial ecosystem ecology issue.
  6. The future: Finish your seminar by offering conclusions on the future importance and development of the terrestrial ecosystem ecology issue.

Seminar convenor:

Note that the main objective of this exercise is the process of synthesising information on an issue, and critically evaluating a primary research source from the scientific literature. You are not expected to understand (or present) the fine detail of the results and data analyses from your chosen primary research paper. Concentrate on the main points and big issues. Use the paper as a spring-board to highlight your chosen issue. You should allocate about a third of your presentation to introducing the issue, half to presenting your chosen research paper, and the remainder to putting the research into context.

Seminars will be graded according to the following criteria: a) basic content; b) presentation clarity; c) identification of the hypotheses that were actually tested in the research paper; d) evidence of independent thinking; and e) audience engagement and discussion leadership.

Seminar participants:

The success of this course as a learning instrument will largely depend on the quality of the discussions in each seminar. The main objective is to encourage the thinking processes of identifying and assessing some of the major cutting edge issues in terrestrial ecosystem ecology. Initiation and participation in the discussions following each seminar is a very important part of the learning process in this course. Please read the research paper circulated prior to each seminar, and come prepared with a typed list of three relevant discussion ideas or questions relating to the terrestrial ecosystem ecology issue in general or to the chosen research paper. These questions will be graded by the convenor and the course instructor on the basis of their quality (i.e. their perceptiveness and relevance).

The library staff are available to assist you with electronic searches if necessary. In order to ensure that each student selects a different seminar topic and research paper, please contact me for approval (groganp"at" as soon as you have made your choice of topic.

Send me 2-3 primary research papers that you are considering (as PDFs) in time so that I can assess them before meeting with each one of you to agree on the final choice. Please ensure that all this is done in enough time so that the PDF can be circulated to the rest of the group at least one week before your seminar.

If you are having difficulties with any of the assignments, please contact me.

Also note that there are substantial resources here at Queen's to help you prepare an effective seminar. See the Learning Strategies Development web site for details

Learning Strategies Workshops:

Drop-in one on one advisory consultations: The Learning Commons, Stauffer Library, every week day from 1.30-4.30.

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