Water Quality and Digital Data Sharing: An Interdisciplinary Project-Based Research Course

Lisa G Adams1, Julia Aguirre2, Maitri S Patel2, Grace Fatoyinbo2, Courtney Johnson2, Riley Spruiell3, Wade Kaiser4 and Francis D Littig4, (1)Kennesaw State University, Atlanta, GA, United States, (2)Kennesaw State University, Biology, Kennesaw, GA, United States, (3)Kennesaw State University, Environmental Science, Kennesaw, GA, United States, (4)Kennesaw State University, Computer Science, Kennesaw, GA, United States
Undergraduate research offers students high impact learning experiences that draw upon traditional classroom knowledge in a meaningful and authentic way that nurtures critical and innovative thinking. Ensuring that all students gain access to these opportunities is a real challenge at large universities. At Kennesaw State University, Adams piloted an interdisciplinary project-based research course for honors students that investigated the condition of a local reservoir. Students representing three majors (Biology, Environmental Science, and Computer Science) enrolled in a variable credit-hour course, ranging from 1 to 3 units. The Biology and Environmental Science students monitored the water quality of the lake and the Computer Science students tackled challenges associated with sharing and visualizing the data. The objective of the course was to digitally disseminate the water quality assessment of the reservoir, including an algae survey. As our global temperature increases, shallow bodies of nutrient-rich water are experiencing more frequent algal blooms, some of which may pose a threat to public health and wildlife. The students joined the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s Phytoplankton Monitoring Network and were virtually trained in their sampling protocol. As a team, the science students collected and identified algae, and measured chemical and physical parameters of the lake. Trends such as how temperature, pH, and rainfall affect algae abundance were investigated. Calibration of probes and sensors, field techniques, as well as microscopic and taxonomic identification skills were acquired by the science students. Students majoring in Computer Science focused on improving data entry features on the SPLASSH (https://www.splassh.org) crowdsourcing platform, which involved learning a new web-application framework and troubleshooting software issues. The rich interdisciplinary aspect of the course was experienced by all of the students and highlighted the need for the three disciplines to work in a collaborative environment in order to achieve the final goal of digitally disseminating their scientific findings.