Teaching ethnobiology online at a Canadian distance learning university

Leslie Main Johnson, Janelle Marie Baker

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Our undergraduate ethnobiology course has been offered continuously for 10 years now. When I (Johnson) first conceived of teaching this material at a distance, challenges included how to share visual information, how to draw on people's knowledge of local environments given the dispersed nature of the course participants, and how to give experience when sharing hands-on teaching and learning in a single locale is not possible. The course we offer at Athabasca University is given at the fourth-year undergraduate level in our Anthropology program, and is also taught at the graduate level in an interdisciplinary master's program. The graduate course has more emphasis on group interaction through online discussion forums. We cover four main areas: the nature of traditional knowledge and classification; ethnobotany; ethnozoology; ethnoecology; and contemporary issues. The reading file is diverse, chosen for accessibility as well as to include local people's own words and topical issues. These materials are knitted together through an extensive study guide, which features synthetic commentaries that are a surrogate for lectures, and necessary to contextualize and link the disparate readings. Film also helps to create a more rounded experience, and we engage the students through journaling, a key activity in the course. We strive to integrate local, cultural, and biological understandings of human interactions with the biological world in a multifaceted way despite the challenges of teaching at a distance.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInnovative Strategies for Teaching in the Plant Sciences
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781493904228
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan. 2014


  • Asynchronous
  • Connectionist
  • Constructivist
  • Distance learning
  • Engagement
  • Ethnobiology
  • Ethnobotany
  • Internet
  • Pedagogy
  • Web


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