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BIO8075 : Critical Thinking and Analysis for Evidence-Based Environmental Science

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Roy Sanderson
  • Lecturer: Mrs Julia Robinson, Dr Gavin Stewart
  • Owning School: Natural and Environmental Sciences
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


A wealth of research data is available both via peer-reviewed scientific literature and online from environmental, ecological and wildlife studies. However, making informed decisions based on these data can be challenging: different research studies may have different sample-sizes, aims, objectives, and the amount of information reported may be variable. Search strategies for published data must be done in a rigorous manner to ensure that the data used in subsequent analyses is not inadvertently biased. The module has three main aims. First, to introduce students to the techniques necessary to undertake systematic reviews of the scientific literature – whilst this approach is widely utilised in medicine, it is under-utilised in environmental science. Second, to demonstrate the use of meta-analysis to undertake quantitative assessments of published data, and ensure students understand how to interpret the results. Third, to show that systematic reviews when combined with meta-analysis provide a framework to ensure that decisions made for conservation or wildlife management are robust and objective.

Outline Of Syllabus

• Systematic reviews – why are they needed, approaches, strategies
• History of systematic review and meta-analysis: medicine and ecology/environmental science
• How to undertake a systematic review, use of key words and search terms
• Data management in systematic reviews – what data must be available and recorded in order for it to be useful in subsequent meta-analysis
• How to report systematic reviews – PRISMA diagrams, flowcharts and similar methods
• Basics of meta-analysis, using open-source statistical software
• Balanced and unbalanced data, mixed models
• Publication bias: why do these arise and how to detect them
• Using systematic reviews and meta-analyses to aid environmental decision-making

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion120:0020:00Meta analysis assignment (RAS)
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion120:0020:00Systematic Review (GBS)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical81:008:00Meta-analysis in R/RStudio (RAS )
Guided Independent StudySkills practice119:0019:00Shiny interactive website studies
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops41:004:00Systematic Review and critical appraisal (GBS)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery22:004:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1124:00124:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesModule talk11:001:00Module introduction and orientation
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The practical classes will be PC-based, and give students experience in first, systematic reviews, and second, meta-analysis. They will be given example exercises uses case studies that address topical environmental issues, so that they can develop their skills in undertaking systematic reviews, and then utilise software systems and/or add-on packages to undertake meta-analysis. They will also be taught how to interpret and present the results of meta-analysis software in a manner suitable for non-specialist readers.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written exercise1M60systematic review and meta-analysis on a topic. Approx. 2000 words
Written exercise1M40Meta-analysis of set of data using R/RStudio, and interpretative report.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

After students have received the theoretical background in lectures, and obtained practical experience using the software to undertake the systematic reviews and meta-analyses, the case study will provide them with the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to apply what they have learnt. Each student will be allocated a topic on which to undertake the systematic review. Separate marks will be allocated for the systematic review and meta-analysis.

Reading Lists