Friday, February 24, 2006

NISL Courseware not available

Hi Everyone,

Just to let you know that here in Cape Town we are having huge problems with powercuts and this has eventually caused a fatality on our planet courseware server so most of the links do not currently work. Hopefuly we will be up in a short while.



Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Ecology and Informatics Logo

About our Logo

The Ecology and Informatics Lab Logo reflects the mutual relationship between Plants and Animals. For many animals plants represent food and shelter, whereas many plants use animals for pollination and seed dispersal. Over this symbology are binary digits representing the information age that we live in and that much of our research revolves around providing modelling of ecological systems, spatial analysis and the development of data bases and decision support systems. The colours are green to reflect chlorophyll and the process of producing carbon life forms in plants, and the ox-blood red represents the animal part of this relationship which metabolizes such compounds.

You might ask why a fly?

At the time I was reading
Nobel Prize-winning author William Golding's book Lord of the Flies which depicts the regression into anarchy of school-children stranded on an unihabitated island (proverbial Garden of Eden) following a plane crash. Substituting an ecological metaphor for William Golding's sociological metaphor we allude to human society and its regression through non-sustainable use of natural resources. The leaf is in fact from a "Plane Tree" which although an alien species has remarkable abilities to survive highly polluted environments and there thereby represents ecological resilience and has a global presence (also there are lots of these trees in our car park and it scanned particularly nicely). Finally we have added our URL – which is the main information portal and a web-site that is seriously needing a complete overhauled. The word "Planet" originally used a superscripted “e” so as to read either ePlant or Planet and reflects our ancestry of when we were originally a Botany Department, and one of the first in South Africa to develop world-wide web resources and that our research and outreach operate at a landscape level.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The origin and growth of the concept "Biodiversity"

The term "Biodiversity" is a new concept coined by Prof E.O. Wilson.
Originally born "BioDiversity" is was the theme of a "National Forum on
BioDiversity", held in Washington, D.C., on September 21-24, 1986, The
proceedings of the forum, published in 1988 under the title BioDiversity
has usually been cited as Biodiversity and the latest printing indeed
uses this title and published by National Academy Press and is freely
available in PDF format to South African citizens at the following web
address The forum coincided with
an increase in interest, among scientists and the public alike, in
matters of global species and ecosystems conservation.. This was mostly
due to sufficient data on deforestation, species extinction, and
tropical biology becoming available. The establishment of the Society
for Conservation Biology in 1986 was also a catalyst for the founding of
this new discipline. Simultaneously with these events was forging of
relationships between biodiversity conservation and economic
development. From the late 1960's the developed countries of the world
were seeing polarization between development and environmental concerns,
whereas in the developing countries unchecked development was happening
at the expense of the natural environment and essentially boom and bust
economies. Further the biodiversity of the developing countries, who
were mostly in the tropical regions tropical, was not recognized as
value for new foods, pharmaceuticals, fibers, and petroleum

By 1992 the concept of Biodiversity was firmly established, and was
the key topic of the Rio environmental summit. This summit shifted
biodiversity from the scientific communities to become a world-wide
political issue that has largely overshadowed other issues of
organism-level biology. To illustrated this as of the end of 2005 a
search in Google on the word "Biodiversity" produces almost 40 million
hits, where as the terms "Zoology" and "Botany" are approaching 18
million. The term "natural selection", "systematics"and "cladistics"
the constructs that are mostly responsible for explaining, managing and
analyzing biodiversity have >8 million, >4 million and 325 thousand hits
respectively. Essentially this reflects that Biodiversity has become
"Mainstreamed" in societies around the world.

Dr Richard Knight
Co-ordinator: National Information Society Learnerships - Ecological
Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology
University of the Western Cape
Private Bag X17
Bellville 7535

Phone 27 + 21 + 959 3940
Fax 27 + 21 + 959 1237



Monday, December 05, 2005

Lions and elephants on the Great Plains?

Scientists suggest relocating African species to North America
Thursday, August 18, 2005; Posted: 12:00 p.m. EDT (16:00 GMT)

DENVER, Colorado (AP) -- If a group of prominent ecologists have their way, lions and elephants could someday be roaming the Great Plains of North America.

The idea of transplanting African wildlife to this continent is being greeted with gasps and groans from other scientists and conservationists who recall previous efforts to relocate foreign species halfway around the world, often with disastrous results.

But the proposal's supporters say it could help save some species from extinction in Africa, where protection is spotty and habitats are vanishing. They say the relocated animals could also restore the biodiversity in North America to a condition closer to what it was before humans overran the landscape more than 10,000 years ago.

Most modern African species never lived on the American prairie, the scientists acknowledge. But some of their biological cousins like mastodons, camels and saber-toothed cats, roamed for more than 1 million years alongside antelope and herds of bison until Ice Age glaciers retreated and humans started arriving.

The rapid extinction of dozens of large mammal species in North America -- perhaps due to a combination of climate change and overhunting -- triggered a landslide of changes to the environmental landscape. Relocating large animals to vast ecological parks and private reserves would begin to repair the damage, proponents say, while offering new ecotourism opportunities to a withering region.

The scientists' plan appears in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature. It is attracting interest from some influential circles, including CNN founder Ted Turner, America's largest private landowner. He owns huge ranches in several states to support his commercial bison operation and personal conservation initiatives.

But the plan is also generating criticism on both sides of the conservation debate.

"It is not restoration to introduce animals that were never here," said University of Washington anthropologist Donald K. Grayson. "Why introduce Old World camels and lions when there are North American species that could benefit from the same kind of effort?"

Others wonder whether people would support African lions making a home on the range, given the opposition to the reintroduction of native wolves in the rural West.

"Just when you think the world has gotten as weird as it can get, something like this comes along," said Steve Pilcher, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

"I wonder how many calves or lambs it would take to feed a family of lions for a month?" Pilcher mused. "We sort of know what it takes for wolves, but something tells me we would be in a whole new ball game."

Some wildlife conservationists said the idea would further damage the prospects of both threatened species and Africa's hopes for sustainable economic development.

"Such relocations would affect future tourism opportunities for Africa," said Elizabeth Wamba, the East Africa spokeswoman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Nairobi, Kenya. "The welfare of the animals would have been reduced by transporting and exposing them to different eco-climatic conditions."

Critics also point to calamitous relocations of foreign species in Australia. Rabbits brought from Europe swarmed across parts of the Outback, and noxious cane toads brought from South America to control bugs in sugar cane fields killed native wildlife.

The authors of the new plan say they are not discouraged.

"We are not saying this is going to be easy," said Cornell University ecologist Josh Donlan, the lead author of the proposal. "There are huge and substantial risks and obstacles."

The plan grew from a retreat at Turner's New Mexico ranch -- a 155,000-acre property in the foothills of the Gila Mountains that contains a mix of ecosystems ranging from desert grasslands to pine forests.

Ecologists are using the ranch to experiment with reintroducing the Bolson tortoise to the region. These 100-pound burrowers were once found across the Southwest, but now survive only in a corner of northern Mexico's Chihuahuan Desert.

The scientists' discussion expanded to consider long-extinct Pleistocene species that have modern counterparts elsewhere in the world.

For example, a larger American cheetah once stalked pronghorn on these lands, with both species evolving special features that enabled them to accelerate to 60 mph. Today, pronghorns rarely are chased, except by the occasional pickup truck.

In Africa, modern cheetahs are being exterminated as vermin, with fewer than 2,000 remaining in some countries. Relocation could help both species retain important traits, the plan's proponents say.

Other living species that are counterparts to Pleistocene-era animals in North America include wild horses and asses, Bactrian camels, elephants and lions.

Donlan concedes that lions would be a tough sell to Americans.

"Lions eat people," he said. "There has to be a pretty serious attitude shift on how you view predators."


Sunday, December 04, 2005

What is behind the Logo?

The logo has been developed to reflect the holoprint which is a
demonstration of the holistic system that every thing is interconnected
and integrated. This fractal design can be produced when any viscous
substance is compacted between two sheets and then separated. The
rainbow colours used in the design reflects the diversity of life,
culture and resources that the African continent is blessed with. The
design of the holoprint reflects the range of systems that operate from
the landscape level (left) to the cellular level (right) represented by
interconnected neurons.

Dr Richard Knight
Co-ordinator: National Information Society Learnerships - Ecological
Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology
University of the Western Cape
Private Bag X17
Bellville 7535

Phone 27 + 21 + 959 3940
Fax 27 + 21 + 959 1237



Definitions of OBE and Skills


Outcome-based education is a method of teaching that focuses on what students can actually do after they are taught. All curriculum and teaching decisions are made based on how best to facilitate the desired outcome. There must be a "clarity of focus" so that planners and teachers have a clear focus on what they want the students to be able to do successfully. Further, the curriculum must be constructed "design down" with the desired exit outcomes being planned first and all instructional plans built from there (Spady and Marshall, 1994).


“Outcomes are clear, observable demonstrations of student learning that occur after a significant set of learning experiences. They are not values, attitudes, feelings, beliefs, activities, assignments, goals, scores, grades, or averages, as many people believe” (William Spady and Kit Marshall 1994)

“Outcomes as future oriented, publicly defined, learner-centered, focused on life skills and contexts” (Boschee and Baron, 1994).

Some problems with OBE

OBE needs facilitated and careful planning toward achievement of the outcome, and this is characterized by its appropriateness to each learner's development level.

Towers (1996) described the FOUR requirements for an Outcome-based Education

1) What the student is expected to learn must be clearly identified.
2) The student's progress is based on demonstrated achievement.
3) Multiple instructional and assessment strategies need to be developed.
4) Adequate time and assistance need to be provided so that each student can reach the maximum potential.

By it's very nature, outcome-based education eliminates traditional assessment tools such as tests or grades. A student can either demonstrate the desired outcome or not demonstrate it. The problem is in translating this assessment into a form that the community and state legislators can understand (Furman, 1994). Webster (1994) required her students to master material before they could move on to higher material. This often meant the students were forced to repeat tests or quizzes several times until a required exit point is achieved. Students were consequently forced to work hard and 50% cannot be deemed as a sign of having mastered “competency”. Applying Webster’s methods in our NISL course our quizzes have an 80% mastery and in the words of Webster (1994) this should “reduced the failure rate and at the same time increased student learning and retention”


Boschee, F. and Baron, M.A. (1994). OBE: Some answers for the uninitiated. Clearing House, 67 (March/April), 193-96.

Spady, W. and Marshall, K. (1994). Light, not heat, on OBE. The American School Board Journal, 181 (November), 29-33.

Towers, J.M. (1996). An elementary school principal's experience with implementing an outcome- based curriculum. Catalyst for Change, 25 (Winter), 19-23.

Webster, M. (1994). Try, try again. Vocational Education Journal, 60 (November/December), 30- 32.


Skills are usually acquired or learned, as opposed to abilities, which are often thought of as innate.


The American Heritage Dictionary

“Proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience”

Consequently it is a developed talent or ability: hence “writing skills”

Derivation: From the Middle English word skill, which in turn is derived from Old Norse meaning “discernment”


Using a GIS program is a “Technique” but to analyse a spatial problem using a GIS might be considered a “skill” since there are elements of “proficiency, facility or dexterity”. Computer programming and undertaking Research can (and usually are…) considered to be a skill, whereas preparing a solution of a known concentration is a technique. Routine work and most lab-based tasks are considered to be techniques.


Need to define "Biodiversity” and “Conservation Biology”

The BCB “homepage” introduces Biodiversity as “a good indicator of the health of our environment. With a loss of species, environmental problems appear, e.g. the use of insecticides also kills pollinators of our fruit crops, e.g. bees which are species, which if they become locally extinct can cause a cascade of other extinctions – these are "Keystone Species”. Similarly it introduces Conservation Biology as “providing solutions to many of the world’s environmental problems, and correcting past mistakes through applying restoration projects”.

Steps for Designing Curriculum

Collate all module names

Identify links between modules

Define a core “area” for each module to operate in

Define your OUTCOME for each course (link outcomes to student/society needs)

Develop an assessment flow for each module (the demonstrated outcome)

List the “Skills” for your module and compare skills to identify those that reinforce each other the most. (Remember a collection techniques used with discernment could becomes a “skill”)

Finally identify “topics” required to undertake the assignments.

Dr Richard Knight
Co-ordinator: National Information Society Learnerships - Ecological Informatics
Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology
University of the Western Cape
Private Bag X17
Bellville 7535

Phone 27 + 21 + 959 3940
Fax 27 + 21 + 959 1237



from mkroush

Hi, Richard

this is my test messege to the Blogger

Mohamed A. Kroush

To OBE or not to OBE?

After just grading some fourth year projects here at UWC (that’s in Cape Town South Africa) - I realized that as lecturers we really are missing the proverbial boat. We still think like Noah (who thought it took only two to tango and speciate) and put as much content such as names and classifications of the plant and animal kingdoms (yea I know there are as many kingdom classifications as there are biologists) to make students suffer the way we did as undergrads with memorization fatigue. This give the students the opportunity to shed all this superfluous information during the summer vac or for the unfortunate few who were poor guessers to have to re-learn during the vac and do the special exams in the New Year. I discussed the issue of undergrad education with my post-grads and they told me that it goes something like this - only about 10% of undergrad content is considered useful and of that only 10% is retained a year or two on.

Outcomes Based Education

No wonder educationist's are promoting Outcomes Based Education. By adopting OBE we have at least changed the end point by defining what we hope the students might be able to do at the end of their academic programmes. This is better than at present where a student's failure to advance to the next year because they were unable to guess half as much as half the knowledge that the examiner expected them to know -I sound like Bilbo Baggins at his farewell speech to the folk of Hobbiton.

But how do you assess OUTCOMES based education?

In the strict sense you get the student to keep doing the work until you are really sure that they are competent and then you go to the next task, otherwise there is no real marking/assessment. So at the end of the year the students and/or parents and their bursary providers will get reports confirming that they achieved competencies for X, Y and Z subject areas. Possibly we can wrapped it up in a neat computer-generated certificate complete with scanned signatures of everyone important (or thinks they are important) on Campus and then politely send it attached to an automated email just before XMAS as a gesture of individual attention. I wonder how our government subsidies and University administrators would respond to a system like this? Each students will have to repeat each task several times over until they get the absolute competencies OBE requires. Roll on eLearning and Learning Management Systems- silicon chips are way better at repetitive tasks than assemblages of carbon-based molecules!