The following is a guest post written by my colleague, Rob Pennock.
Do you teach a biology lab that has been disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak? If so, you may want to consider using the Avida-ED experimental evolution platform as a virtual replacement.
To limit the spread of the coronavirus, many colleages and universities have suspended in-person classes, and instructors have had to scramble to replace them with on-line instruction. Biology faculty who teach laboratory-based courses find it especially difficult or impossible to do their planned lab exercises. Avida-ED may provide a valuable substitute for some classes.
Avida-ED is an award-winning educational application developed at Michigan State University for undergraduate biology courses. It is aimed at helping students learn about evolution and the scientific method by allowing them to design and perform actual experiments to test hypotheses about evolutionary mechanisms using evolving digital organisms. Funded by the NSF, Avida-ED is the educational version of a model system used by researchers to perform evolution experiments–including many that have been published in leading scientific journals (see some examples below). Avida-ED is not a simulation, but an instantiation of the evolutionary mechanisms and process that allows for real experiments. Avida-ED produces copious data that can be analyzed within the application or exported for statistical analysis. Avida-ED has been used in classrooms across the country and around the world for over a decade.
Here are more reasons that Avida-ED may provide a useful, quick replacement for your lab:
- Avida-ED is free.
- Avida-ED requires no special registration or configuration.
- Avida-ED is accessible on-line and runs locally in your web browser.
- The user-friendly interface requires little technical training to use.
- It includes ready-to-use exercises to teach a variety of evolutionary concepts.
- It can also be used for open-ended labs where students design and perform their own experiments.
- It can be used to teach principles of experimental design and scientific method.
See the Avida-ED web site for:
- Link to the Avida-ED application launch page.
- Model exercises (under the Curriculum link).
- The Avida-ED lab book.
- Quick start user manual.
- Background information about digital evolution.
- Articles about Avida-ED, including effectiveness studies.
The Avida-ED team is working to provide instructional videos for the core exercises from train-the-trainer workshops that we have offered in previous summers, where we teach faculty how to use the software in their own classes. We can also provide instructor support materials for some exercises offline for certified instructors. A mirror of the Avida-ED site is available in case the primary site goes down.
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Wilke, C. O., J. Wang, C. Ofria, R. E. Lenski, and C. Adami. 2001. Evolution of digital organisms at high mutation rates leads to survival of the flattest. Nature 412: 331-333.
Lenski, R. E., C. Ofria, R. T. Pennock, and C. Adami. 2003. The evolutionary origin of complex features. Nature 423: 139-144.
Ofria, C., and C. O. Wilke. 2004. Avida: A software platform for research in computational evolutionary biology. Artificial Life 10: 191-229.
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