Discovering Beetles Online

Dan Asaw is the BioLinks Project Officer for the South East and helped create the FSC's 'Discovering Beetle Online Course' along with Caroline Uff and the rest of the BioLinks Team. 

Last month marked the end of the first run of the FSC Discovering Beetles Online course, part of the lottery-funded BioLinks project, aiming to promote and inspire the study of often neglected invertebrate groups. 

So what is this 'Discovering Beetles' course?

Discovering Beetles is one of our first entomologically based online training courses, which emerged in response to being unable to host events across various venues in the UK. So with the help of Caroline Uff, the county beetle recorder for Shropshire, we decided to bring the joy of beetles online through the use of text, videos, interactive quizzes and live webinars- where I, as tutor, can directly address learners, give feedback and join in with discussions between learners all from the comfort of our own homes.

Who is this course aimed at?

Discovering Beetles is aimed at those who have an interest in beetles and don’t really know where to start, but also anyone who wants to look less at strict identification skills and more about what makes beetles ‘tick’, in some cases quite literally! The course is suited to beginners at the start of their beetle journey, those wanting some tips on collection methods or those wanting to learn more about beetles lifestyles and how integral they are to the ecosystems they inhabit.

So this isn’t a traditional identification course then?

Instead of the traditional approach of getting straight into ID resources, we look more at the basic biology of the group, their ecological roles and the behaviours they exhibit. We also have a whole topic on how to find, catch and handle live beetles. The focus is less on species identification and more on grouping beetles by the ecological roles they have, which allows for learners to have a better starting point of groups they may find in particular habitats. That being said, there are a few cheeky tips for beginners and the last week focuses on what information should be recorded to maximise the possibility of gaining an accurate identification. Beetle families are incredibly diverse and in some cases unfathomably large, sometimes it's much easier to look at where you are finding them or what they are doing to gain vital clues on what they actually are. This course is really the first stage before getting into traditional ID skills but gives learners the skills necessary guidance to instil good identification practice.

 Below: A Table showing the technical terms for various diet ranges in beetles and other invertebrates. Which is used in the Beetle Ecology section of the course.

Diet types of invertebrates

So how does the course work?

The course is run on our online learning platform, Moodle, and uses videos, workbooks and tailor-made diagrams to display content in an informative and entertaining way. Its been built to cater for all kinds of learning styles, so everyone can get something out of it! Discovering beetles is split into four weekly topics, each with its own content to work through, activities to complete and culminating in an interactive webinar. Each webinar is different and can be tailored to the needs of the learners, for example by focusing on a concept that learners have raised questions on. My favourite weeks are 2 and 4, which have a homework-style field assignment where learners are expected to get outdoors and look at what can be found in their garden or local area! Each section is marked and the assignments graded by the tutor, which allows for some really cool submissions, tailored feedback for users and face to face discussions with the tutor -something I’ve not seen in other online courses.

Heres an example of some video content from the course

So how long would this course take me to do?

As a rule, we estimate this course to take around 20 hours to complete (around 5 hours per week), some people like to spend a little longer though so it really depends on your learning style. Some weeks need to have some time factored in for outdoor assignments, although we try to let people know ahead of time and there is some degree of flexibility if required because we know how life can be!

So the ‘outdoor assignments’…?

We have two of these, week two is all about beetle ecology, so we get learners to get out into their local green spaces and really look at the resources available to a variety of beetle groups and the habitat niches they inhabit. It’s amazing how varied beetles lifestyles and dietary requirements are and learners are amazed at the list of potential beetle habitats and resources found in the average garden. I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the submissions and it's clear that everyone had fun. The great thing was it prepared them for the last weeks assignment where they actually have to go out and find an example of a beetle!

BTL Week 2 assignments

The last assignment was my favourite to mark and uses all the knowledge gained from the previous weeks content. This means learners can split beetles from similar groups with confidence, know key places where to look, and behaviours they may exhibit (which could hinder capture or observation). Learners are also shown the types of observations that can aid identification, sometimes even years after they are made!

Nicole Hawkins

The submissions were incredible, and we had some great discussions about them in our last webinar. Because of the quality of the observations we were able to collectively begin to identify some of them from simple diagrams and sketches, which was amazing to see. Some even had a go at handling live specimens to help with their observations, something I didn’t master until 2 years of studying beetles! The enthusiasm and engagement were incredible and they made me proud as their tutor!

So what's next?

We are already planning to build on these courses, to allow a natural progression into the diverse world of beetles and begin to foster identification skills, this is just the start and we are keen to work with others to make the study of beetles more accessible for those who show even a glimmer of interest! I’m hoping these will feed into some place-based courses in the upcoming months. We just want everyone to know how great beetles are and how important they are to our way of life and all the essential jobs they have keeping our ecosystems in equilibrium.

So let's see what the first cohort had to say about the course... 

Discovering Beetles Feedback 2021


Fancy joining in the fun? 

Bookings are open for our next run at a limited offer subsidised rate, spaces are limited so click here to book now to avoid disappointment

Published by A. Bhambra 10 June 2021