The 4DEE framework’s four dimensions (core ecological concepts, CEC; ecology practices, EP; human-environment interactions, HEI; cross-cutting themes, CCT) are meant to be integrated to produce multidimensional learning experiences for students. The framework can be used to design or revise teaching materials for a variety of audiences. Here, I describe a 4DEE-aligned, standalone ecology lab that is situated within a first-semester general biology course offered for a mixed audience of science majors and non-science majors (nonmajors). For many nonmajors, the general biology course is one of only two science courses that they will take in college. This 6-hour ecology lab introduces students to the scientific method, including basic concepts of experimental design such as variables and hypothesis testing. The scientific method components of the lab provide a foundation for subsequent labs throughout the semester; for science majors, these components also are foundational for the greater research-based science curriculum. I will show how a series of revisions since 2012 have changed this foundational ecology lab to emphasize different dimensions of the 4DEE framework while maintaining its multidimensional integration.
Originally, the lab introduced students to the scientific method as they compared grasshopper mark-recapture data they collected in mowed and unmowed sections of a campus meadow. However, there were challenges with this approach. A major revision of the lab merged its existing scientific method components with an edited version of the curriculum materials from the Ecological Research as Education Network “Distribution of Earthworms” (EREN Worm) project. Now students use the EREN Worm methods to compare earthworm density and biomass between shaded and full sun areas of campus. The new focus on earthworms has facilitated exploration of certain elements of the 4DEE framework’s HEI dimension, such as invasion ecology, while the lab continues to teach some elements of the CEC dimension. Recently, the lab was further improved to teach additional computer skills, an element under the EP dimension that is widely useful across many fields of study. Thus, in its current form the lab is three-dimensional, incorporating elements of the CEC, EP, and HEI dimensions. This lab is an example of how the 4DEE framework can be used in a mixed majors/nonmajors course to guide intentional and thoughtful design or revision of multidimensional learning experiences.