Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) in the United Kingdom has been helping students for over twenty years gain practical experience before entering the workforce. Dr. Huw Lloyd, Senior Lecturer in Wildlife Ecology at MMU, conducts a 6-day field course, including one at the Caer Llan Field Centre in Monmouthshire, South Wales, for first year undergraduates (~19-21 years of age) on designing and conducting a field research project, which now includes bioacoustics. “Students get to work in small groups, learning new field skills and data analysis,” Dr. Lloyd explains. He continues, “In recent years, we have specialized in teaching key ecology employability skills to our first-year undergraduate students in not only species identification, traditional ecological field skills, and in the use of analytical software such as R, but also in the use of remote sensing techniques – particularly with the use of camera traps. Fortunately, in the last two years, we have been able to widen this approach and include bioacoustic monitoring.”
Originally, Dr. Lloyd and staff at MMU taught approximately fifty students at the Center, but now MMU runs two concurrent field courses for 150 student. Dr. Lloyd explains, “Students are faced with a number of challenges – scientific sampling design, data analyses, species identification, and the use of scientific literature. They are asked to conduct a field research project comparing the flora or fauna in two different woodland areas. Within the habitats, one being a protected area, students focus on one of several key taxa that they find interesting: birds, small terrestrial mammals, terrestrial woodland invertebrates, bats, etc.” He continues, “Students love working in a field environment, experiencing wildlife ‘close-up’ while using the latest remote sensing equipment. They work in small research groups with expert staff and get to know and bond with other students. For projects on bats, the SM4BAT FS and Kaleidoscope Pro enable them to learn and experience bats in a brand-new way.” The response from students has been positive. Dr. Lloyd reports “Student satisfaction with the field course and its other unit activities is currently high (>90%). Students who work on the bat project using the [SM4BAT FS] and Kaleidoscope software have produced excellent research project reports and verbal feedback has been extremely positive.”
The Role of Song Meters and Kaleidoscope Pro
Dr. Lloyd’s uses the SM4BAT FS and Kaleidoscope Pro software to teach bioacoustics; specifically monitoring woodland bat species. He recounts “During our field course in 2018, we managed to record 11 species of bats in just three nights of recording, including some species we have never recorded before (or did not realize were in the area), such [species] as Bechsteins, Greater Horseshoe and Barbastelle. The students loved these ‘discoveries’!” When asked about the challenge’s students face Dr. Lloyd explains, “Perhaps one of the greatest practical difficulties for students is learning about bat ecology and acoustic analyses in such a short space of time, but the utility of [Kaleidoscope] makes this possible.” He continues “This adds a new and significant student employability dimension to our field course (and other teaching activities). Combined with ground-based potential roost feature surveys, these technologies also offer us an opportunity to teach bat identification and ecology in a way that was not previously possible and help students develop skills relevant for ecological consultancy or academic research at a very early stage of their degree program.”
Advice for those interested in teaching bat acoustics in a field course
Dr. Lloyd has outlined how using Song Meters and Kaleidoscope software has made his class successful.
Learning to use real world equipment. Dr. Lloyd finds that students are enthusiastic about using Wildlife Acoustics equipment. They are excited when “…as researchers and lecturers we are able to show trust in them to use and service the recorders, manage the recordings and analyze the sound data”. However, students are not just handed recorders. Dr. Lloyd engages students in a small number of practice sessions in setting up the equipment and using the software. He finds “The Wildlife Acoustics tutorial videos (from the Wildlife Acoustics website) on Kaleidoscope are extremely beneficial in helping to teach sound analyses.”
A “non-traditional” approach to bat acoustics. Dr. Lloyd uses Kaleidoscope software to slow the recordings to a 1/8 speed. He speculates that this is “making the sounds a little more ‘tangible’ for our first-year students. So, we use, what I call an ‘ornithological approach’ to bat acoustics.”
Low Cost. Wildlife Acoustics offers free 15-day trials on Kaleidoscope Pro software. Dr. Lloyd recounts, “2018 was the first year we used Kaleidoscope Pro on our Caer Llan Field Course, and we only trialed the free 15-day version…this proved a great success amongst the students and now we have purchased annual licenses to continue using Kaleidoscope Pro for future years.”
MMU is now expanding the program to provide opportunities to train additional students in bioacoustic monitoring at other field centers using the SM4BAT FS.
Dr. Lloyd reports “We are currently expanding our first-year field course, as part of our new undergraduate Biology program. So we will be running an additional field course to Preston Montford, Shropshire, UK alongside our Caer Llan field course, for the foreseeable future. MMU has just purchased the first two annual [Kaleidoscope Pro] licenses and we will be using these and new SM4BAT FS recorders on some of our combined undergraduate/post-graduate field courses, such as the Tropical Ecology Field Course, at the Timburi Cocha Field Station, in the Amazonian basin in Ecuador.”