Remote teaching of arthropod species identification through interactive multimedia.
Subject: Armed Forces
Animal behavior
Distance education
Authors: Schultz, George W.
Robbins, Richard G.
Pub Date: 07/01/2009
Publication: Name: U.S. Army Medical Department Journal Publisher: U.S. Army Medical Department Center & School Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 U.S. Army Medical Department Center & School ISSN: 1524-0436
Issue: Date: July-Sept, 2009
Topic: Canadian Subject Form: Animal behaviour
Product: Product Code: E220200 Armed Forces; 8242000 Home Study Educatn Svcs NAICS Code: 611699 All Other Miscellaneous Schools and Instruction SIC Code: 8249 Vocational schools, not elsewhere classified
Accession Number: 242963588
Full Text: Introduction

Remote teaching is most appropriate when the subject matter does not change frequently and is of importance to a large audience, or where cost-effectiveness is a concern. The Armed Forces Pest Management Board has recently released 3 diskettes that teach the morphology of ticks, larval mosquitoes, and adult mosquitoes. The lessons emphasize anatomical structures that are most commonly used in arthropod identification keys. The goal is for students to be able to confidently identify unknown arthropod specimens using any arthropod identification key written for that group.


The 3 instructional diskettes are:

* Interactive Program for Teaching Tick Morphology

* Interactive Program for Teaching Larval Mosquito Morphology

* Interactive Program for Teaching Adult Mosquito Morphology

They are available free of charge by contacting the Armed Forces Pest Management Board ( and providing a mailing address and the titles of the requested disks. The tick program is distributed on a CD, the mosquito programs are distributed on DVDs.

Each program contains 4 major sections. The first is a tutorial that discusses each morphological characteristic and how its appearance can vary between species and genera (Figure 1). A clear instance and a clear non-instance of the characteristic are usually presented on the same page. In some cases, an unclear instance or an unclear non-instance will follow on the next page to let students know where mistakes commonly occur and how to avoid them.

Following the tutorial, students are able to practice what they have learned by identifying unknown arthropod specimens. It is important for them to use their new knowledge to solve problems within the same context that they will encounter later in their work. (1) A specimen is selected, along with an identification key that is commonly used for that geographic area, and the student begins working through the key's couplets (Figure 2). After reading the descriptions in each couplet and examining the image(s), the student selects an identification key path. If the choice is incorrect, an explanation is provided. A button with a plus symbol is included on some of the images (Figure 3). It presents a magnified image of the area within the box, similar to the action of the zoom feature on a microscope.

The third section of the program is the glossary, which serves as a quick reference. The terms and structures in the identification keys are concisely explained using words and images (Figure 4).





In the mosquito programs, the fourth section contains diagrams of hundreds of species (Figure 5). These diagrams are taken from the literature. The tick program has a unique feature: a collection of identification keys that can be searched by author, tick genus, or geographic area (Figure 6).


The creation of an interactive multimedia program usually follows 3 phases: planning, design, and development. (2) In the planning phase, the scope of the project is defined. The tutorial teaches the characteristics that are used in identification keys, as well as their variations. Next, the project style and standards are determined. The colors, fonts, size of text, and how the student navigates and interacts with the program are established to maintain consistency. (3)

The design phase involves the creation of flowcharts and storyboards that describe the path that the program follows and the lesson to be taught on each page. These programs were developed using Authorware (Adobe Systems Inc, San Jose, California), an icon-based authoring system. The program is designed around a page/chapter metaphor. During this stage, each page describes in words what the images will show and the audio narrative.

The development phase begins with photographing the specimens and then editing the images before placing them into the program. Next, the audio script is recorded, brought into a sound editor, and added to the program. Using audio rather than text to describe the images has the advantage of freeing the screen for larger images, resulting in higher resolution. It also permits more images to be placed on the screen simultaneously for comparison. Another advantage of audio rather than text is that information can be presented to the student at a calculated speed. (4) The timing of the program requires careful attention so that the information is presented at an optimal speed for the average user. The program is then tested by a variety of users, including subject matter experts, before it is released.




Traditional methods of achieving proficiency in arthropod identification, such as with ticks or mosquitoes, require students to attend classes, often at a university. Sometimes they spend a week at a museum, studying under a taxonomic expert. The disadvantages of these methods are numerous, including cost, course availability, and willingness of experts to provide training. Even if the students are able to attend courses and become proficient in a particular group, there are many other orders and families of medically important arthropods. Remote teaching is the ideal means for presenting an expanded knowledge base to large numbers of students over broad geo-graphic areas.

The major disadvantage of a technology-based learning program is the initial cost of development, which is high compared to preparing a traditional lecture or laboratory identification course. It is important to do a cost-benefit analysis before beginning such a project. (5) Quantifying benefits can be difficult. These programs may also be unsuitable for presenting information that changes frequently or regularly. Continuous changes in a program would be economically unfeasible.

The advantages of using a technology-based learning program to teach arthropod identification are numerous. Students can choose the time and location for training that is convenient for them. They can work at their own pace. Those unfamiliar with the subject can spend as much time as needed on the lessons. Even inexperienced students usually complete the instruction in less time than with traditional, instructor-led methods. All the specimens used in technology-based learning programs are of high quality and come from major museums. As a result, students receive a more comprehensive introduction to taxonomy than might otherwise be possible using locally available arthropod specimens.

Another major advantage of these programs is that their target audience is broad. The lessons described here, although primarily designed for entomologists, can be used by anyone in public health, preventive medicine, pest control, or other related fields. Also, in this particular application, teaching arthropod identification, the life cycle of the product is quite long because, from a human perspective, insect morphology is unchanging. And this teaching tool is inexpensive. At an estimated program production cost of $100,000, if only 2,000 students were to use the program (a very conservative figure), the cost per student would be just $50 over the life of the product.

Medical entomologists entering the military usually have broad knowledge of their subject, but few are experts in more than one or two areas, such as toxicology, ecology, behavior, systematics, or other specialties. Even those who are systematists usually specialize in no more than a few families within an order. After a year or two of training, these entomologists will be deployed, and they will need to make health-related decisions that could impact the success of their mission. Species identification is one of the most important skills that military medical entomologists can possess because recognition of disease vectors during field surveillance is an important component of overall troop protection. Remote teaching of arthropod morphology is a comprehensive, efficient, cost-effective tool that is well suited to the military environment.


Funding for these teaching programs was provided by the Armed Forces Pest Management Board and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. The authors thank Dr Richard C. Wilkerson and the staff of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research Biosystematics Unit for providing the specimens used to develop the larval and adult mosquito programs.


(1.) Fleming M, Bednar A. Concept-learning principles. In: Fleming M, Levie W, eds. Instructional Message Design: Principles from the Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology; 1993.

(2.) Alessi SM, Trollip SR. Multimedia for Learning: Methods and Development. Needham Heights, MA: Pearson Education Company; 2001.

(3.) Rieber LP. Computers, Graphics, & Learning. Madison, WI: Brown & Benchmark; 1994.

(4.) Winn W. Perception principles. In: Fleming M, Levie W, eds. Instructional Message Design: Principles from the Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology; 1993.

(5.) Reynolds A, Iwinski T. Multimedia Training: Developing Technology-Based Systems. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 1996.

CDR (Ret) Schultz is a senior consultant with Kadix Systems, Arlington, Virginia, and is based in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

Dr Robbins is an Entomologist with the Armed Forces Pest Management Board, located at the Fort Detrick-Forest Glen Annex, Silver Spring, Maryland.

CDR (Ret) George W. Schultz, MSC, USN Richard G. Robbins, PhD
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