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BEN Scholars Learn to Use Digital Libraries, Share Lessons Back at Own Institutions
BEN Scholars developed outreach materials to promote digital libraries during a 11 July meeting organized by AAAS.
Biological sciences educators are feeling a strain. As biology content rapidly changes, courses surge with diverse students, and teaching methods lean more toward inquiry-based, less lecture-style instruction, educators need more than a textbook. In an initiative coordinated by AAAS, professional societies and coalitions are providing digital libraries with peer-reviewed teaching materials and professional development activities for biological sciences professors to meet the growing need for additional biology education content and resources.
The BioSciEdNet (BEN) portal contains links to more than 11,000 peer-reviewed resources in digital libraries of 24 collaborators, including figures for PowerPoint slides and overheads, scientific articles, lesson plans and strategies and animations. The BEN portal and digital libraries funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation can be searched by keywords, age group of the students and resource type. The portal spans at least 77 biology topics, such as microbiology, genetics, ecology, physiology, and botany.
The BEN collaboration addresses "the pressing need for scientifically accurate biology science education digital library sources and related services," said Yolanda George, deputy director of Education and Human Resources at AAAS. To foster use of the digital library, a two-year faculty professional development program called the BEN Scholars began in 2006. The second class of 20 biological sciences educators met in Washington, DC 9 -12 July to learn how to use and contribute resources to digital libraries
BEN scholars are encouraged to share what they learn with their colleagues at their home colleges and universities. "Their primary promotion is to encourage higher education faculty to use BEN and encourage them to submit biological sciences education resources to digital libraries," George said.
The grassroots approach to promoting digital libraries comes when many undergraduate professors tend to rely on tried-and-true lecture formats in their classes. In addition to supplying professors with teaching resources, the BEN collaboration teaches and encourages professors to make learning more student-centered by providing resources and activities to keep students engaged and active in the learning process.
The library is aimed to non-science majors as well. "Faculty are looking for teaching resources that help prepare non-science majors for public issues related to biological sciences," said George, citing stem cells, cloning, gene therapy, and environmental issues as examples.
The BEN collaboration intends to treat "teachers as facilitators of learning rather than dispensers of knowledge," said Marsha Lakes Matyas, director of education programs at the American Physiological Society, one of 24 organizations that are part of the BEN collaboration.
Teaching materials available through the BEN portal—90% of which are free—help students think about what they're learning and encourage independent learning. There's too much to know these days, Matyas said, and teachers can't teach it all and students can't simply memorize it all. Instead, students need to learn how to select information that fits their needs, how to weigh evidence and identify what other information they need.
"We want to create a lifelong learner," Matyas said. "That person will be a better informed voter, a great citizen and a healthy person."
To be selected as a BEN Scholar, faculty members must be in the life sciences and demonstrate their leadership abilities in improving biology education at the college level, including how they've improved teaching and learning in their own classrooms. The 9-12 July visit to Washington, DC is the only time the scholars will meet, as they are expected to participate in online professional development, and conduct their outreach efforts on their own college campuses. By the time they complete the program in spring 2010, the scholars will be expected to contribute their own teaching resources to BEN and engage their own college communities as users of and contributors to digital libraries.
2008 BEN Scholars:
Christine Bezotte, Elmira College
Betty Lynne Black, North Carolina State University
Romi Burks, Southwestern University
Chris Chabot, Plymouth State University
Lyn Le Countryman, Northern Iowa University
Nora Egan Demers, Florida Gulf Coast University
Nidhi Gadura, Queensborough Community College
Caron Inouye, California State University
Mary Jaeger-Scott, Labette Community College
Sarah Prescott Kenick, University of New Hampshire
Christopher Korey, College of Charleston
Fred Ledley, Bentley College
Melanie Lenahan, Raritan Valley Community College
Sarah Miller, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Chris Picone, Fitchburg State College
Rongsun Pu, Kean University
Joyce Shaw, Endicott College
Janie Sigmon, York Technical College
Tara Sirvent, Vanguard University
Gene Wong, Quinnipiac University
30 July 2008