NSF Grant Will Allow Dramatic Expansion of Digital Bioscience Libraries
With new money from the National Science Foundation, a collaborative project spearheaded by AAAS will be able to greatly expand the production of high-quality digital libraries for use by high school and college biology educators.
The BiosciEdNet (BEN) Collaborative, which includes AAAS and a dozen professional organizations, was founded in 1999. It already has produced six digital libraries consisting of some 3,700 carefully selected scientific papers, illustrations, images, lab exercises and other teaching materials deemed particularly helpful for teachers in the biological sciences.
The new funding$2.8 million over four yearswill allow BEN collaborators to expand the number of available items to more than 27,000 and build seven more digital collections for various purposes. In addition, the number of collaborators in the project will increase from 13 to 22, according to Yolanda George, deputy director of Education and Human Resources at AAAS.
By the end of the funding period, 45 college and university faculty members from across the nation will be trained to help about 2,700 prospective contributors to the digital collections by offering them technical assistance and workshops.
The aim, George said, is to get more biological sciences educators to both contribute high-quality materials to the digital libraries and use them in their own work. While university scientists receive recognitionand credit toward tenurefor publishing articles in scientific journals, George said, it also is important for them to receive tenure and promotion recognition for peer-reviewed online resources that improve science education and literacy.
The BEN Collaborative's work has become more important as the number of students taking high school biology has increased in recent years, along with a rapid expansion in the number of advanced placement (AP) biology courses. Teachers of introductory and AP biology courses need better access to resources that meet state science standards and that also foster inquiry-based learning rather than memorization of facts and "cookbook" lab experiments.
"The whole purpose," George said, "is to have one-stop shopping where they can get high-quality materials for use in their lectures and laboratory classes."
The collections already available include a library of resources from Science magazine's Signal Transduction Knowledge Environment (STKE), a specialized site that contains a wealth of information on how cells control their own and each others' behaviors through chemical signals. The American Society for Microbiology has built a collection called MicrobeLibrary with resources, including many images of microorganisms, intended for use in introductory and advanced courses in microbiology. A survey two years ago found that the most popular resources in the collection were the visual images (43 percent of requests), followed by articles (34 percent) and curriculum resources (10 percent).
Amy Chang, director of education for the microbiology society, said the field of biological and life sciences is very fragmented, with more than 100 professional societies. She said the BEN Collaborative has been important in bringing together resources from diverse disciplines. The collaborative has developed standardized protocols, allowing searchers to use its web portal to scan for resources in multiple digital libraries at once.
"The teaching materials are peer-reviewed," said Linda Akli, a AAAS senior program associate. "That's one reason people come to us."
"We have found the collaboration with AAAS and the other involved societies to be one of the best collaborations we have ever done," said Marsha Lakes Matyas, director of education programs for the American Physiological Society. The society has a digital library of about 500 items that can be harvested by users of the BEN Collaborative's online search site. Matyas said the collaboration has helped her society focus not only on dissemination of existing materials but also on the development of new materials that incorporate digital images and multimedia approaches.
BEN's peer-review requirement makes the system much more useful to educators than a broad Google-type search on a topic, Matyas said. A search on "heart" and "exercise" turns up nearly 38 million "hits" on Google; in BEN, it gives 38 items, including lab exercises, audio-visual clips, journal articles and computer simulations of heart function.
The BiosciEdNet Collaborative is part of a larger effort by the National Science Foundation to create a digitial library network for science educators called the National Science Digital Library. According to Yolanda George, the BEN network will use the new NSF grant money to expand its role as the pathway for high-quality biology resources for educators at the high school and higher education levels, including community colleges.
Kaye Howe, director of the central office for the National Science Digital Library, said NSF has been developing the library "by selecting respected organizations to serve as stewards of an intellectual community's interests." For biology, Howe said, the BEN Collaborative brings not only digital collections and services, but also "a network of university and college faculty whose involvement will be critical" to the success of the project.
A survey of BEN users last year found that they included not only college facultythe primary target audiencebut also a sizeable group of researchers and K-12 teachers. The users viewed materials on all of the BEN partner sites almost equally, suggesting that the goal of a truly interdisciplinary resource is being realized. According to the survey, the users downloaded materials for use in teaching and incorporated new ideas into their lectures. They also sought materials for student assignments.
Akli said some of the BEN Collaborative organizations that will be building digital libraries as part of the new grant include the BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium, based at Beloit College in Wisconsin, and the DNA Learning Center at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y.
14 October 2005