On January 13, 1998, Michigan State University (MSU) inaugurated its first Zoo & Aquarium Science course since the 1930s. Since then, the past 18 years have seen the development of a curriculum in Zoo & Aquarium Science (i.e., the Bachelor of Science in Zoology with a Concentration in Zoo & Aquarium Science), which integrates many disciplines, including: genetics, nutrition, conservation, ecology, organism biology, evolution, and animal behavior. After developing a strong background in zoological concepts, students embark on semester-long internships at zoos or aquariums throughout the United States.
The anchor for all students selecting this curriculum is the course ZOL 369: Introduction to Zoo & Aquarium Science. A formal course introducing topics utilized by the zoo animal industry was not entirely new, but our course focused on science-related subjects. Nearby zoos were quick to provide experts and materials for the course. The students have enjoyed presentations by zoo professionals because they were "real life" examples from on the job. Potter Park Zoo and Binder Park Zoo have even brought live animals to demonstrate how to use ambassador animals in education programs. Naturally there have been limitations to subjects that can be covered in one semester. The students continue with several seminars led by Dr. Richard Snider, the founder and Coordinator of MSU's Zoo & Aquarium Science Program.
MSU's Zoo & Aquarium Science Program has grown in popularity for training tomorrow's zoo and aquarium professionals. Its success is largely due to Dr. Snider's supportive ideas to help students become sought-after job candidates. He initiated conversations with Jon Prange, director of San Diego Zoo Global Academy, in 2015 to brainstorm what the Academy and MSU could accomplish together for the zoo and aquarium industry. They concluded that a spectacular starting point was to integrate the Academy e-learning modules into the undergraduate classroom, beginning with ZOL 369 in spring of 2016. The Academy offers 10 e-learning modules that fit nicely within ZOL 369's syllabus, augmenting the lecture topics and assigned readings. Viewing these modules and completing the corresponding tests have replaced the standard Q&A written assignments in the students' final grade calculation.
In partnership with Academy partner CypherWorx Inc., a MSU-branded, custom-learning platform was developed for the course. Academy modules are preloaded one by one to the site's Course Catalog (following the lecture topic sequence) and subsequently assigned to students. Once a module deadline passes, students may review module content, but the test becomes unavailable. Within deadline constraints, students may retake the module test multiple times until they have passed the test with a score of 90% or higher. Individual scores are recorded and accessed by MSU's Academy Coordinator, Katie Licht, for grading purposes. Upon completion of the course, successful students will be granted a certificate authorized by San Diego Zoo Global Academy and MSU.MSU's Zoo & Aquarium Science students are excited about this new résumé-building opportunity. According to ZOL 369 student Mariah Faszczewski, "The modules have greatly expanded my awareness about critical knowledge required to (sic) taking care of captive animals. They are interactive, keep me engaged, and I enjoy learning the material. The real-life case studies help connect everything that I have been learning. Now I feel more confident about subjects that are necessary for me to succeed in my future career as a zookeeper. The modules correspond well with our in-class lectures and they help with my information retention." If all goes well, Academy modules will also be incorporated into MSU Zoo & Aquarium Science topical seminar courses in the future.