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species identification, active learning, assessment


When dealing with physical remains, morphological assessment for species is a traditional approach to entomological specimen identification. A dichotomous key guides the user through taxa determination for a specimen by providing a series of dual-choice nodes that center around morphological differences. Each nodal choice leads to either a new set of dichotomous choices or a taxa decision. We evaluated student’s ability to utilize a dichotomous key down to species for a limited set of taxa, by reviewing their nodal decisions along with their confidence level using a Likert scale (1-5).

Along with individual decision recording, students conducted a post-decision group comparison, following a think-pair-share active learning model. If student answers were not the same, they re-evaluated their specimen until a mutual evidence-based decision was reached. We analysed student identification success as well as the correlation between confidence and accuracy. Students displayed high decision confidence but low accuracy. We observed a higher initial accuracy from students enrolled in STEAM majors when compared to non-STEAM majors and saw gender-based differences in accuracy improvement after a think-pair-share event. From these data we aim to improve student training in the use of dichotomous keys for species identification, with a continued approach that can be then used to provide guidelines for how forensic scientists should approach dichotomous key training.