BIOL 320 Ornithology - Mundahl

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About This Article

This article describes how mobile computing, specifically tablets, was piloted in Prof. Neal Mundahl's BIOL 320 Ornithology to transform teaching and learning.

Intended Audience

WSU instructors interested in past faculty experience with tablet devices in the classroom.

Spring 2013 iPad Pilot

Students in this course had access to an iPad tablet to use throughout the spring semester along with several apps selected by Dr. Mundahl for use in class and in the field.

How the iPads are Used in BIOL 320

In past ornithology classes, students took paper field guides into the outdoors to identify birds. Professor Mundahl recommended a specific guide book for the class but would allow students to use an alternate guide if they so chose.

iPad Minis were used in this pilot. Each student was supplied a Mini and a copy of the iBird Pro application for bird identification in the field and in the classroom. The iPad replaced the paper field guide.

There were several advantages to the iPad and iBird Pro, including more complete information on each bird, audios of the birds' songs, quick look-up based on many bird characteristics or taxonomy, and journaling of birds seen. Additionally, since the Mini was roughly the same size as the recommended field guide, it did not impact the backpack negatively. In fact, it fit nicely in coat pockets and backpacks. The iPads functioned well in good weather but were a bit more challenging when glove-weather arrived. The camera was handy for photographing birds and skins for future study sessions.

Professor Mundahl's objectives included:

  • Simplify the process of becoming familiar with local birds by sight and song. While the field guide served its purpose well, it was difficult to identify birds by characteristics like their song. There was also a need to quickly group birds by taxonomy.
  • Find a more flexible and informative substitute for the paper field guide. Searches, audios, videos, and web links are all things that would assist a student in bird identification. These were not possible with a paper field book.


Changes in the classroom

  • Students excelled in bird look-up. Because of the flexible, powerful look-up features of iBird Pro, students were faster and more successful in identifying birds. Students picked up the application quickly, especially if they were smart-phone savvy.
  • Scores were higher in first skin-identification test. Professor Mundahl reports immediate improvements in the bird skin identification tests. The pilot class with the iPads scored six percent higher on the first exam than the three prior classes that used the paper field guide.


  • Rewrite parts of the class to more fully utilize the iPad and iBird Pro. There are many assets introduced by the digital guide that could be incorporated into the curriculum. Taking advantage of these assets makes learning more interactive and supplies more easily-understood examples and explanations.
  • Make the iBird Pro application mandatory. The iBird Pro app is a superior tool in ornithology and the use of the paper field book should be discontinued.

iPad Applications Employed in BIOL 320

Professor Mundahl used the following applications in his BIOL 320 iPad pilot:

  • iBird Pro Guide to Birds

Descriptions, pricing, and links to iTunes for each of these applications is available on the iPad Pilot Applications page.

More Information

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