On a mild and sunny day in the fall of 2018 environmental science professor, Mari Butler, explores the salt marsh on Endicott College’s campus while her students hold out their cell phones.
Yes, their cell phones. That’s because Butler’s Environmental Biology & Field Studies (ENV 140-01) course utilizes the app iNaturalist, an online social network of naturalists that aims to map and share observations of biodiversity worldwide. Students log and track organisms in the app, learn about different species, and engage with other naturalists.
“What’d you find?” Butler asks her students.
The answers vary: mollusks, osprey, praying mantis, great black back gulls, snails.
Mummichog was the most popular answer, a small killifish commonly found along the Atlantic coast. “Fundulus heteroclitus is their scientific name,” Butler explains.
This is what the environmental biology and field study course as part of Endicott’s environmental science program looks like. The course encourages its students to get out and observe biodiversity and affords them the opportunity to enter into a greater research conversation. Butler’s Oceanography (ENV 215-01) course also shares this same sentiment.
Transcending the classroom & going digital
When we think environmental science, our smart phone is not likely the first thing to come to mind. The iNaturalist technology offers a social network where everyone can share, record, and photograph living things, record an organism, and share with a global community of naturalists who can help identify it. Each entry then becomes an observation. Contrary to what we believe about apps, iNaturalist actually encourages people to get out and observe biodiversity in nature.
“The heterogeneity of our landscape makes Endicott such a unique place to be doing this kind of work.”
Butler, whose research involves monitoring the salt marsh and trying to understand how it is changing, explains, “In a world where things are changing so fast, it is nice to have something to look back on to see how things were in 2018.”
“Once you download the app, you can take a picture of an organism and then the naturalist community will either confirm your ID or ID organisms for you.” Butler explains, “You can also start projects like the Endicott College Project within the app that I started.”
Over the course of the semester, students in the class logged the following as part of that project.
148 different species
“The goal of this project was to census organisms on campus and in the process learn about the different ecosystems that we are fortunate enough to have located right here on campus,” Butler says.
Why Endicott for environmental science?
“The heterogeneity of our landscape makes Endicott such a unique place to be doing this kind of work.” says Butler, “In a single class time, we could walk through a wooded area, across a ‘park-like’ area, through a salt marsh, and to a rocky sea shore and sandy beach! How many campuses have that kind of diversity of ecosystems?”
Julia Battistoni ’22, is an environmental science major who took Butler’s class. Battistoni shares, “Endicott is such a unique place to follow through with research like this, because of our beautiful campus and biodiversity. We contain so many ecosystems, like the ocean, forest, and grassland. I think it is important to incorporate these digital tools, because it widens our possibilities for networking, learning, and using technology as a whole.”
For more about environmental science at Endicott visit endicott.edu.