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Experimental Design and Field Methods

Course Code: BIOL 3204
Faculty: Science & Technology
Department: Biology
Credits: 5.0
Semester: 15
Learning Format: Lecture, Lab
Typically Offered: TBD. Contact Department Chair for more info.
course overview

This course will introduce students to experimental design in ecosystem science as well as commonly-used field and laboratory methods. Students will receive instruction in effective note taking, data entry and manipulation, randomization procedures, and the use of good field and laboratory techniques to ensure consistency and reliability of experimental data and analyses. Students will design and implement an experiment to address a specific ecological question.

Course Content

1. Research design – Emphasis on the choice and application of sampling designs and sampling techniques as a logical sequence to the techniques mastered in the prerequisite courses (Introduction to Statistics and Ecology).

a) Formulation of objectives and hypotheses

i) Objectives vs. questions vs. hypotheses vs. predictions

ii) Null and alternate hypotheses

iii) Experimental manipulation vs. natural variation

iv) Field vs. lab setups

v) Effective observation and note-taking

b) Replication and sampling

i) Sample size and statistical power

ii) Replication and pseudoreplication

c) Experimental design

i) Controls

ii) Factors

iii) Randomization

iv) Blocking and covariates

v) Within vs. between subject designs

d) Ecological field and laboratory methods – their applications, uses and restrictions

i) Topics may include, but are not limited to: quadrat and transect sampling, mark-recapture, soil sampling, water sampling and ecological modeling (simulation vs. analytical)

e) Measurement

i) Accuracy and reliability

ii) Variability inherent in data collection – tools, within observers and between observers

iii) Sensitivity, specificity and calibration of tools

f) Data analysis – specifically, the value of considering statistical methods a priori

i) Univariate methods

ii) Multivariate methods

iii) Modeling

iv) Sources of uncontrolled variability (covariates)

2. Research proposal – Students will work in small groups (3-4 students) and with instructor(s) to develop a research proposal.  The proposal will clearly define a problem relevant to the field of environmental science, develop hypotheses, justified methods and sampling techniques, and propose statistical data analyses and a time schedule to address this problem.  The proposed research will be restricted by available materials, tools, laboratory space and the time available within a single semester.

3. Research implementation – Student groups will carry out their proposed research. This will include the application of research methods, logistical organisation, solving problems in the laboratory or field, and data collection. Instructors will back-up, advise, and monitor research progress.

4. Data analysis and interpretation – Students will analyse and interpret the data gathered in their research projects, using appropriate (univariate and/or multivariate) statistical methods and software such as SPSS, R, or Excel.

5. Dissemination of research findings – Students will present a written report and an oral report or poster during an end-of-year session.  Reports and oral presentations/posters will be evaluated with an emphasis on the choice and application of field methods and statistical techniques for hypothesis testing, and on the quality of the presentation of the research findings.

Methods of Instruction


Laboratory activities

Group research projects

Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be carried out in accordance with Douglas College policy. The instructor will present a written course outline with specific evaluation criteria at the beginning of the semester. Evaluation will be based on the following:

Evaluation Marks
Midterm examination  10-25
Assignments: critical evaluaton of published research    10-25
Project proposal 5-15
Final examination 10-25
Final project including poster presentation 20-30


At least three assignments based on the critical evaluation of published research will be set throughout the semester.  The number and nature of those assignments will be at the instructor’s discretion.

Project, including proposal, final report and presentation:  Project development and implementation will be performed in groups of 3-4 students (to maximize data collection).  Evaluation of the proposal will be based on the quality of experimental design.  The final project grade comprises a written report and an oral or poster presentation.  The final written report and/or presentation may be individual or group submissions at the instructor’s discretion.

Weekly labs: The initial labs will consist of instructor-led demonstrations of a variety of field and laboratory methods.  Subsequent labs will be devoted to development of hypotheses and methods, collection of data and data analysis.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course the successful student will be able to:  

  1. Formulate testable hypotheses based on observations in the field.
  2. Evaluate the extent of variation, replication and sampling in experiments and discuss methods to adjust for the vagaries of field data.
  3. Critically evaluate experimental methods and data in the primary literature.
  4. Design field or lab experiments for testing a specific hypothesis.
  5. Develop a research proposal in the format of a grant application.
  6. Assess potential measurement options to test a specific hypothesis.
  7. Observe and collect simple field or lab data, and record the data on appropriate maps, diagrams and/or graphs.
  8. Choose, apply and interpret the appropriate statistics for a specific hypothesis and data set.
  9. Summarize the experimental findings and their implications in the field of environmental science in written and oral presentations.
  10. Develop teamwork skills through project collaborations with student peers.

course prerequisites

BIOL 3305 and MATH 1160.



curriculum guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester/year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

course schedule and availability
course transferability

Below shows how this course and its credits transfer within the BC transfer system. 

A course is considered university-transferable (UT) if it transfers to at least one of the five research universities in British Columbia: University of British Columbia; University of British Columbia-Okanagan; Simon Fraser University; University of Victoria; and the University of Northern British Columbia.

For more information on transfer visit the BC Transfer Guide and BCCAT websites.


If your course prerequisites indicate that you need an assessment, please see our Assessment page for more information.