A group of ethnobiology instructors and educational professionals joined their ideas about ways to best support the educational endeavors of their discipline. The result was a proposal which was submitted to the National Science Foundation. This is the text of that proposal.
Open Science: an education network in Ethnobiology to coordinate the development of a new culture in the undergraduate science classroom
NSF Program: Research Coordination Networks – Undergraduate Biology Education (RCN-UBE)
This project forms an interdisciplinary network to approach undergraduate biology education through the use of emergent web-based technologies and to facilitate continual exchange of educational techniques, materials, and experiences across institutional and international borders. The broader impact of this project will be the development of a network of ethnobiological collaborators with the primary objective of developing a new system of housing these ‘multiple expert voices’ (Liszka, et al., 2003) in the form of web-based portals. These portals will be available for use in traditional undergraduate classrooms as well as by nontraditional students via open technologies. The curriculum developed and the lessons learned will be distributed widely via networks of members’ professional affiliations.
The focus of this project will be a network to develop curriculum models that engage educators and students in scientific inquiry through ethnobiology. This network will develop a broad range of technological tools to teach about science and scientific methods through an open-access system.
An Open-philosophy concept, based on the model of web tools such as Wikipedia, promotes the development of undergraduate curriculum through a team effort between connected universities, research institutions, educators and students themselves. The network is intended to serve not just as a repository of information or data, but instead as a developing system intended to house the collective knowledge of both scientific experts and of the users (educators and students) inasmuch as those users contribute projects of merit. The network, built to reflect the needs of the participants and the audiences served, will be flexible enough in its technological capabilities to evolve or change as the knowledge or needs change.
The Intellectual merits of the project center on the development of five “open-philosophy” approaches to the teaching of science. These include using Open-source materials that are freely shared; developing an Open networkfor the organizational model; promoting an Open-culture approach for the development, use and evaluation of curriculum materials; exploiting Open classrooms and the many opportunities to teach science in the field, home and community; and creatively exploring Open-technology based on the adaptation and use of the latest technology commonly used by students outside the classroom. Teaching students to use and think within open systems will help them to develop their lives within an increasingly globally interconnected and future open society and within a global context.
The major planned network activities will be two summit meetings each year, one in conjunction with the annual meeting of the largest professional society, the Society for Economic Botany, and the other via video conference technology. Quarterly meetings will be held by each participant team.
Ethnobiology is the scientific study of dynamic relationships among peoples, biota, and environments (Salick, et al. 2003). Among biologists, there has been an emerging consensus on the aims and objectives of ethnobotany, ethnobiology, economic botany, and ethnopharmacology. The shared perspective among core participants in this group is that all of these emerging fields represent a holistic approach to studying the use and understandings of resources and environments by humankind. Most research, course content, and curriculum thus far has been developed in the area of ethnobotany, but ultimately the field will be defined under the broader rubric of ethnobiology. For the sake of this project, the field of study will be known as ethnobiology with an understanding that ethnobotany is currently the strongest curriculum component of this work.
According to the Kaua`i Declaration, the outcome of an NSF-funded international summit to consider the global environmental crisis, ethnobotany is the “science of survival” (Prance, et al. 2007). This emerging field of study is crucial to preserving plant diversity and to the understanding of how people use our primary life-sustaining resource: plants creatively, effectively and sustainably throughout the world (Prance, et al. 2007). Despite being a new discipline, a rich core of diverse knowledge from mixed methodologies has been gathered by ethnobiologists living and working within a wide variety of cultures and ecological zones. Ethnobiologists are particularly adept at sharing research findings with students and their peers for their specific research areas and have been creative in developing curriculum using their research to teach fundamental aspects of science (SEB Presentations 2008). However, because of the diverse nature of their work, a network is required to produce a well-rounded set of experiences for students. A network will overcome problems faced in the development of curriculum resources that center around (1) breadth of individual researcher/instructor experience; (2) lack of peer-review with revisions of content; (3) prioritization of content development; and (4) time for production of content.
Based on the popularity of ethnobiology courses at the university level, interest and enthusiasm continues to grow among college students for relevant research that is problem-centered (Prance, et al. 2007). With a growing demand for applied research projects, educators need resources that effectively engage a new generation of technologically sophisticated students in authentic learning about their world. Therefore, the challenge in the field of ethnobiology education is supplying the demand for high quality curricula that engage young minds in scientific inquiry to further develop these critical fields of science. The “transmission of knowledge across space and time” (Schmoldt and Rauscher, 1994) and its manipulation by non-experts are now possible and perhaps commonplace. The network, with its cross cultural context and inclusion of open technologies, will provide a global context for science that directly benefits students.
Focus of Network
The focus of the Open Science Network will be to develop curriculum modules that empower educators and students to learn about the science of ethnobiology either within ethnobiology or ethnobotany courses or through modules about ethnobiology designed for implementation in other science courses. The network will more effectively engage students in science through the creative use of common technological tools that promote scientific inquiry.
The Open Science Network brings together an array of courses and curricula already being used to teach about ethnobiology. In addition, the lessons learned from several NSF-funded curriculum development and research projects conducted by the participants will be added to the content. This content will be made available through a unified portal/database system with an open network structure. From this initial foundation, the network will form a set of smaller working groups (development teams) that will function as teams to accomplish specific project tasks. The overall objective of the combined efforts of the teams will be to produce a perpetual motion network that generates science curriculum (initially within the discipline of ethnobiology) using an open-group evaluation model and philosophy similar to that employed for production of open-source software. As with open-source software, the products evolve without control by any one person or unit, continuing to develop as they are used and shared through the network. Within this network, efforts will be made to use innovative and open-science thinking to continually keep the curriculum fresh, interesting and engaging to each generation of students. For example, the initial focus will be a parallel concept of teaching students to use their vast array of technological “toys”, such as cell phones, digital cameras and media players, as tools for scientific inquiry into the biological world around them. Once mastered, this skill will reach far beyond science, enabling individuals to think differently about the devices in their world, seeing them as objects that can be used for exploration and not merely entertainment.
Developing an Open Network
The Open Science project centers on the development of five “open” approaches to the teaching of science.
1. Open-source materials are those that are freely shared. This is not only efficient, but it creates a culture of peer review of educational materials.
2. Open-network is an organizational model that encourages the participation of new members who are able to find ways to effectively engage in the development of scientific curriculum materials, as well as to participate in the use and evaluation of these materials. This model encourages participation of individuals regardless of their level of experience, geographic location, or academic stature.
3. Open-culture approaches the development and use of curriculum materials in ways that honor the cultural knowledge of all participants. In particular, this approach recognizes the special concerns of minority faculty and students who often see science as something alien to their heritage.
4. Open-classroom exploits the many opportunities to teach science in the home and community, rather than confining it to a formal classroom. This includes the use of homework exercise and self-guided field trips. It also extends to the formation of social networks and collaborative projects.
5. Open-technology is based on the adaptation and use of the latest technology that is typically found in the hands of students well before it becomes a formal part of the classroom. Many students are already experimenting with their devices, such as cell phones, digital cameras, digital video cameras, GPS navigation and tracking systems, mini game devices, PDAs, etc., changing them from their intended functions. Increasingly, cameras and cell phones are being developed with an open architecture that facilitates creative manipulation of the device so that it can be made to do new tasks.
Combining these “open” elements into a coherent program that stimulates both the students and faculty is a major challenge. We approach this with the following activities and mechanisms.
a. Creation of a network of active participants who are involved in the teaching of ethnobiological topics and who are comfortable with the use of technology.
b. Interview the Core Network participants as a means of defining the needs of the system
c. Discuss these findings with Core Network Participant including liaising with technological developers. Implement the findings.
d. Discussion among the network participants to clarify the five “open” elements and to establish working group teams that will focus on high-priority tasks as part of an initial network meeting.
e. Dissemination of existing materials that have been created using the “open” philosophy in order to jump-start the project.
f. Establishment of major objectives and time-lines so that the completion of high-priority tasks is coordinated through smaller teams that take responsibility for completing objectives.
Improving learning through the use of emerging technologies in biology curriculum
Initially five types of technologies will be employed within this project to creatively develop new curriculum for dissemination of basic scientific knowledge, particularly as it pertains to the sub-discipline of Ethnobotany/Ethnobiology:
1. An open courseware management system,
2. Integration with the Atrium Biodiversity Information System as a repository for taxonomic data, collection data and ethnobiological knowledge,
3. The TROPICOS botanical database,
4. A “collage” of video technologies, and
5. Socially prominent technologies owned and used by students that can be diverted for research.
As new technologies emerge participants will take full advantage and draft them for use in science education.
1. The Open Science Network Portal.
The Network members will each use the software that they happen to own to create their educational content but will be encouraged to post the results in open-source, raw or very common final product formats. Organization of content will initially be done using open source software including EFront and Moodle (each used to manage course and curriculum content and to serve as means for delivery of content), Gnuschool (a testing rubric/content evaluation system), Bioclipse, Shogun and ImageJ (experiment visualization and increasing the power of student's toys), and Gretl (econometrics software for teaching about variation and change over time and space). There are hundreds of other software products that we expect participants to use alone or in “mashups” as part of curriculum content, to evaluate content, and to disseminate content. The Network web site will be developed using a combination of open-source and commercial software. Similar web sites with a mixture of MySQL database content coded pages that are remotely accessible (via either SSH file transfer or active web interface) for users have already been prepared and are being used by the University of Hawaii participants who will transfer this technology to the project. (http://www.botany.hawaii.edu/ethnobotany/)
2. The ATRIUM® Biodiversity Information System.
A central technological resource in development of this project will be the open-source, open-access biodiversity information system developed at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) called Atrium®. BRIT will incorporate new features into Atrium which will facilitate the integration of Atrium data and resources into the Open Science Network Portal. The database will provide access to information and facilitate identification of plant specimens for ethnobotanical research. We are excited to take this emerging research tool and use it for advanced educational purposes. Atrium, an innovative online biodiversity information system, was originally developed by BRIT to publish, share, and manage biodiversity data from this project (http://atrium.andesamazon.org).
Compatibility and Standards in Atrium. Atrium is fully compatible with modern technology and data standards. Data that came from various formats and various sources and other organizations has been uploaded and we were able to import the data because Atrium shares a standard data format. An elementary level of compatibility is exemplified by the dynamic links from Atrium to a growing list of databases, such as TROPICOS of MO., Google, Wikipedia, IPNI, GBIF, and others. All core components of Atrium infrastructure are open-source, which provide a stable, peer-reviewed, industry-standard foundation for our application.
3. TROPICOS. The Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) is the largest botanical research garden in North America and hosts the largest research database in the world: TROPICOS (www.tropicos.org). TROPICOS was originally created for internal research but has since been made available to the world’s scientific community. All of the nomenclatural, bibliographic, and specimen data accumulated in MBG’s electronic databases during the past 25 years are publicly available through TROPICOS. The system has over one million scientific names, 3.4 million specimen records, 111,000 bibliographic citations, and more than 70,000 images of living plants and specimens. Through the TROPICOS database researchers can also directly access the world’s largest digital database of full-text botanical literature that includes thousands of ancient rare books and manuscripts that have been digitally scanned from the MBG archive and elsewhere. TROPICOS will be used as a key source of information for development of curriculum and as a site for students to explore the biological world by proxy. Integration of the vast information of TROPICOS through the data manipulation capabilities of Atrium will form the basis of many modules to be developed.
4. Video. While video is not a new medium, this project will be using a mix of media to produce modules including High Definition professional video for longer videos (10-25 minutes final) and a variety of lowend cameras and video cameras commonly owned and used by students for production of short pod-casts (3-8 minutes). Students working in our programs in Hawai`i, Maryland, and South Carolina have used video to document their research activities and as tools for basic scientific inquiry itself. Students become very excited about video, both as a means for passively learning information (ex: you-tube) and for actively learning through production of short videos. Students who produce videos that demonstrate what they have learned accomplish two tasks. First, they reinforce in a deep way what they actually learned. Second, they produce potential curriculum modules for the next generation of students. In doing this, an interlocking web of learners and instructors is developed, with each seeking to improve the quality of the work done by prior instructor/learners. Through the process, students teach themselves and others. We expect the curriculum to grow and the network to include students.
5. Student “Toys”. Students arrive in the classroom with a wide variety of technologies already in their possession. Almost all of these are suitable for scientific inquiry of some form or another if one is creative. While we will develop some specific demonstration projects and curriculum elements, the primary goal will be to instill within each student a sense of empowerment to use their “toys” to explore, question, seek out and evaluate information in their environments and to do so with the critical lens of a scientist. For example, we will develop learning modules for exploring scale of organisms and life processes/histories, questions about organismal anatomy, etc. using digital zoom cameras, led flashlights, cheap and common hand lenses, and reprogrammed cell phones as data loggers. One of the most important skills of modern science is the ability to promptly find information and evaluate its quality. Modules will be developed that teach students how to use peer-reviewed resources such as Atrium and TROPICOS in order to evaluate information gleaned from Internet sources of their own selection. Furthermore, students will be taught how to use triangulation of experiments and other simple methods to check results that they gather themselves. These basic methods for evaluation of information go far beyond science and become useful skills for evaluating many kinds of information encountered within a lifetime.
Because this is an “open network” anyone may contribute and participate following the same model as Wikipedia. However, because of the specialized nature of the content, and as part of an effort to reduce vandalism, content will be accumulated and distributed with two levels, primary content and secondary content. The primary level will be available specifically for viewing and downloading of content that is considered to be evaluated and well organized. The secondary level will be for content that is considered as “work in progress” and for uploading of new materials. Members of the core group of participants will actively work to move content from the secondary to the primary level and to expand the number of participants who have access to make this same decision. Anyone accessing the Internet will be able to view materials on both the primary and secondary sites, but those who are users rather than developers will be strongly encouraged to focus on content in the primary rather than secondary area. The secondary site will have a set of limited access buffer/filters with passwords to prohibit downloads from it so that it cannot become a distribution site for unwanted content.
Division of Labor
Eight development teams will be responsible for one aspect of the network function, but most team members will take part in the evaluation of curricula. Curriculum modules provide a standard for submission of lesson plans, references, visuals, integration of technology for data gathering, and assessment. Module evaluations will employ rubrics and other assessment tools to evaluate the effectiveness of the network system. Teams will include:
More than half of the project teams will be devoted to assessment activities. In many ways assessment will be more important than production because the initial Network brings to the project the content, of two degree programs and dozens of courses that are already being taught. Sorting through all of the content and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of various teaching methods, scientific content, technologies being employed will be our greatest challenge. In order to address this challenge, most of the initial participants will be asked to assist in the assessment (evaluation) teams and in fact it is reasonable to expect that over time the “beta” testers and other evaluators will dominate the actual flow of information and development.
The four parts of the assessment are intentional and not merely pairings with production elements. Evaluators of the Primary Information Distribution system will initially explore other systems to develop criteria for evaluation of the system being developed with the Open Science Network Portal environment. Once the Network is established, the team will “challenge” the system and examine it from the perspective of different kinds of users. The Curriculum Module Evaluation team has several distinct tasks and may be divided into sub-teams: actual testing of course/curriculum modules; pedagogical evaluation; science technology truthing; and overall curriculum evaluation of Ethnobotany/Ethnobiology. The third team is intended to evaluate the evaluation rubrics produced to ensure that they are actually measuring what they intend and reflect the knowledge levels, structure, and realistic expectations from the science curriculum modules that are being developed. The Secondary Information Evaluation team will evaluate the process being used for collection and redistribution of information about the courses/curriculum particularly from users who are new or just commenting on the Network. The team will need to make sure that the process is fair, easy to use, and actually serving a valuable function.
The most important part of evaluation is the evaluation that is used with the students. One of the three production teams will be producing evaluation rubrics for each of the learning modules. While it is normal for these to be produced by the same people who produce the learning materials, the learning materials need to have such clear objectives that anyone should be able to produce the rubric. By separating these tasks we hope to provide an additional check for ambiguity that sometimes only the students detect.
Continuing assessment of the network in terms of committed, contributing participants will be evaluated by the PI and the core participant group annually in conjunction with the spring meeting. A plan for tracking participation will be a part of the original team planning.
The Core Participants will utilize a lightweight version of one of the key tools of ethnobotany (ethnography) to assess what participants and users of the network will need in terms of the networks’ structure. The use of ethnography or interviewing participants/users is used in scientific business enterprises (Liszka, 2003) and others and will result in defining a rich, diverse set of needs from multiple perspectives. This can then be utilized to build a system that serves the primary purpose of facilitating exchange of educational techniques, but that also contains the” contextual aspects of knowledge” not often found in “journals and other scientific forums” (Liszka, 2003). In this way, our expert community of ethnobiologists will provide the data (stories) for us to see the patterns of communication across this discipline, analyze these patterns in light of the needs of an online network and develop web-based emergent technologies to reflect the subtle viewpoints and strategies the discipline employs to teach science.
A strong foundation for the network will be developed by inviting all members of the Society for Economic Botany (SEB), the International Society for Ethnobiology, the Botanical Society of America, and each of the related sister societies to attend and participate in a one-day Network establishment workshop to be held on the Saturday before the SEB annual meeting in 2009. This announcement will be sent out in January 2009. The workshop will consist of two half-days: (1) strategic analysis of the state of ethnobiology education and where it should be headed, and (2) breakout groups working on planning of the initial network goals and evaluation benchmarks for the next five years. Since the SEB meeting will follow for the next week, the breakout groups will naturally continue to meet and work together throughout the week.
In each of the subsequent four meetings of the Society for Economic Botany, one prominent early career ethnobiology educator will be prominently featured within the meetings, giving a presentation on the development of their curriculum. The Network will hold a workshop on a curriculum development topic that is determined to be most timely for that year. The presentation and the workshop will be recorded for distribution on the network for those unable to attend the meeting. The early career ethnobiologists will be selected from applications that are positively reviewed on-line with on-line voting within the Network. The fall virtual meeting will connect all sites that have video-conferencing technology. The focus for these meetings will be determined as part of the initial network establishment meeting. Likely, these meetings will last 2 hours and provide participants with an opportunity to discuss module development and ideas such as integrating technology “toys” into the curriculum for scientific inquiry. As the network develops, additional videoconferences can be scheduled for additional training.
The physical part of the network will initially consist of a blade server to be placed within the BRIT server network and backup core. The server will be established so that participants in the network can upload content to it for redistribution. However, redistribution will be on a one-day delay so that the system is not captured for other uses. Participants will be encouraged to monitor the site, checking for illegal content that has been uploaded for delivery and this will be easily offloaded into a buffer where it will not be accessible. The PI, Co-PI and core participants will initially have unique access to certain editing features, but this will be expanded to others as soon as possible to maximally distribute the work load. A web site established in the server will link to the Atrium and TROPICOS database using MySQL in order to draw upon rich botanical information for new curriculum development. The site will primarily serve as a distribution hub for content that is packaged as completed modules. The overall site will be structured into two layers, an upper layer intended for most users who want to learn and access information for developing their own teaching content, and a deeper layer that contains content that is less well developed and is in the process of development. Both layers will be accessible to anyone accessing the Network.
A plan for long-term maintenance will be in place at the end of the 5- year grant period. After five years of producing, evaluating and refining a network system and building a community of participants, the network will be sustained through the Education Committee of the Society for Economic Botany. This committee will continue to plan regular workshops at its annual meetings to inform and engage new participants, and pre-conference planning meetings for participating members. Additional funding should not be necessary except for system upgrades which should be supported by participating societies and institutions.
Network Expansion Plan
During the first year of the project, a web site will be established for distribution of information that will serve as the central hub of the Open Science Network. Once this is established, invitations to participate will be sent to the membership (1000+) of the Society for Economic Botany (SEB), which is the largest
international organization of ethnobotanists. In the second year, after the system has been evaluated and an initial debugging taken place, an additional set of sister scientific societies (Society of Ethnobiology, International Society of Ethnobiology, and Society of Ethnopharmacology) and the science faculty of U.S. Traditionally Black and Tribal Colleges will be invited to join. Current working relationships with the SEB will allow for exchange of e-mail lists to facilitate personal invitations. Mailing lists for the colleges will be updated from lists obtained from their affiliated organization. In the third year, after a complete cycle of curriculum development, evaluation and modification has occurred, the invitation will be extended further afield to relevant sections within larger societies (e.g., Traditional Ecological Knowledge section of the Ecological Society of American [http://www.esa.org/tek/] and the Social Science Working Group of the Society of Conservation Biology) and to the memberships of as many biological science societies as can be contacted, including the Botanical Society of America, American Institute of Biological Sciences, etc. At the same time an electronic poster announcing the network and its objectives will be developed and distributed to the department chairs of all of the Departments of Biology, Botany, Zoology, and other biological sciences at U.S. colleges and universities. A mailing list is available for this but it will be refreshed as part of this project. The poster will specifically draft student input and a cover
e-mail will encourage the department chairs to pass the poster on to students who might have interest.