This visual learning approach to identifying the order an insect belongs to was developed as a collaboration between Ethel Stanley, Douglas Whitman (Biological Sciences), and Dent Rhodes (Curriculum and Instruction) at Illinois State University.
Individuals learning to identify insects in the field are often presented with detailed black and white drawings that are labeled with specific field marks. This is an excellent way to learn the visual "language" that biologists use when communicating with each other about insects, but visual literacy comes with the application of this language in new situations. The focus of this tutorial is the practice of this visual language.
The color images presented here are more complex than line drawings. The background is detailed, multiple subjects are presented, and perspectives are well considered for identification purposes. They may seem to be realistic, but it is important to reflect on the nature of images found in any tutorial. The learner is "seeing" through the eyes of the photographer and the lens of the camera. Both have limitations! Further, the author of the tutorial may select images based on criteria we are not informed about.
Looking at an image of a specific insect in a tutorial may be quite different from seeing that insect in the field. Features that are clearly presented in the tutorial may contrast sharply with the infinite variation of the features encountered firsthand. A significant feature may become obscure when the insect is flying. In a tutorial, orders such as Coleoptera and Homoptera may be featured with the same frequency. In the field, encounters with members of the Coleoptera will usually far exceed those with the Homoptera. Most tutorials use a comparative approach to identifying orders. The insects used in the tutorial may not be representative of the insects found locally.
The tutorial, Investigating Insect Orders, has three major components. Sample screens for each are featured below:
I. An Introduction to Insect Features
II. Learn to Identify Insect Orders
III. Assess Your Identification Skill
Please note: Visual learning tutorials are not intended as alternatives to field experiences, but as opportunities for extending visual practice to help individuals prepare for field observation.
Version 1.0 (1991)
The program "Investigating Insects" was first designed as part of a Special Topics project for Entomology in 1991 to help students identify an unknown insect as a member of a specific order. The first interactive program was written in PC Pilot and used images from the BioSci Videodiscovery I laser disc. The program was developed in the instructional technology lab directed by Dr. Rhodes. The text was written collaboratively with Dr. Whitman over a two month period.
Introduced to the Fall 1992 Entomology class, students used the program in the Library Media Center with separate monitors for the laser disc images and text in order to optimize image resolution and size of text. A separate quiz sheet was provided for students as they worked through the self-assessment.
Version 2.0 (1992)
The tutorial was rewritten as a ToolBook program in 1992 using the new BioSci Videodiscovery laser disc. Both the 1993 and 1994 classes used this revision which featured an insect animation as well as improved user interface features.
Version 3.0 (1994)
In 1994, a PhotoCD containing 98 insect images from 35mm color slides in Dr. Whitman's private collection. This enabled access to the specific teaching images used in Dr. Whitman's courses. The richer interactivity between insects was a valuable addition to the tutorial images. (See screen image below:)
A new version of the tutorial was written using Asymmetrix MultiMedia ToolBook 3.0. The 1995 Entomology class used this program in the Library Media Center with images and text combined on a single high resolution monitor.
Version 3.1 (1996)
The current version resides on a server in the Biological Sciences Department with images imported from the PhotoCD. Access time of the images at even higher resolution is improved. Not only the 1996 Entomology class can access this program, but also any individual with an interest in practicing visual identification of insect orders.