Rethinking Teaching in the Sciences: April 7-27, 2008

Week two: scientific research with technology

Week two: scientific research with technology

by Gina Bennett -
Number of replies: 5
While exploring the great collection of links from last week (each link led to many more!) my mind wandered from the teaching of science to the actual practice of science. I don't think this is really 'off-topic': certainly we need to be aware of how science is practised in the 21st century so that we can prepare our students accordingly.

Two areas that are have made interesting (to me) use of the internet are data gathering and results publication.

When you stop & think about it, an awful lot of data acquisition obtained during scientific inquiry is mediated by technology. While googling around I came across a number of examples of remote science conducted using telescopes, microscopes, etc. but what fascinated me most was the rather understated use of the lowly webcam for data gathering & collaboration. These UBC Pharmacy students, for example, were able to access some sophisticated special equipment at Western Washington University to conduct experiments; webcams provided interaction with the technicians at WWU. Grade 7 students at Branksome School used a webcam to gather round-the-clock data about some fish they were studying. And webcams are routinely used for telemedicine & to gather data in severe environments.

Has anyone out there in SCoPE used a webcam for a scientific activity of any kind? or do you know of anyone who has?

This post is already too long --I'll leave the topic of technology-mediated results publication to a later post.

In reply to Gina Bennett

Re: Week two: scientific research with technology

by Paul Stacey -
Gina:

One example I can think of that seems to fit with your interest in use of the Internet for data gathering and results publication is the VENUS project http://www.venus.uvic.ca/

VENUS is a fibre optic cabled ocean observatory designed as an undersea laboratory for ocean researchers. On their website, you can examine their research and see live ocean data. The project makes use of a camera http://venus.uvic.ca/facility/instruments/cmap.php to take still and video images of activity on the ocean floor. OK its a bit more sophisticated than a basic webcam but the concept is the same.

Paul
In reply to Paul Stacey

Re: Week two: scientific research with technology

by Gina Bennett -
Wow, there is an incredible amount of data here, Paul! I can see that the VENUS website could provide plenty of information for a student project at the undergrad level (or maybe even Grade 12). I think it's a great example of the variety & richness of data collection possible, as well as an example of how science can be made more 'open'.
In reply to Gina Bennett

Re: Week two: scientific research with technology

by Gina Bennett -
I suggested earlier this week that the publication of scientific results was an area in which the internet is changing things. Every science student learns early that research is the foundation of science; & that in order for research to have any value, it must be shared. The traditional way of sharing is through publication in exclusive, expensive, small-circulation scientific journals.

Research in the field of medicine -- a specialized field of science -- is affected in the same way. The online journal Open Medicine, points out some serious implications of this approach:
...subscription-based health journals tend to neglect the problems of the developing world. One recent study found that a mere 3% of articles in the New England Journal of Medicine address the health problems of the developing world,problems that constitute 90% of the world's disease burden. This neglect is no surprise, given the business model of subscription-based journals: in order to remain profitable, they must publish materials that will appeal to readers in the rich world who can purchase the content (typically US$30 for a single article or several hundred US dollars for an annual subscription).

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) takes advantage of the unique affordances of the internet and Creative Commons licencing (which Paul has referred to in the discussion about science learning objects and copyright issues). It enables scientists to share their research more quickly, at less expense, and to a much wider, more international audience than ever before.

Do you think that the open sharing of research is an ethic that our science students should be learning? (my view on this topic is obvious!)
In reply to Gina Bennett

Re: Week two: scientific research with technology

by Paul Stacey -
Gina:

I absolutely thing that open sharing of science research is something students should be learning. Not sure if you're aware of it but I've been impressed by the work of John Willinsky at UBC and his Public Knowledge Project for the way it support open research. http://pkp.sfu.ca/

Paul
In reply to Paul Stacey

Re: Week two: scientific research with technology

by Gina Bennett -
Hi Paul, thanks for the link. I had never heard of the Public Knowledge Project & I was amazed to find out that over 1400 journals (not just in scientific fields) are using their Open Journal Systems. Clearly, a LOT of academics agree that scholarly publishing should be open! A good indicator of the vitality of an online community is how frequently & how recently people post to the forums & it's obvious that PKP is active indeed.

Harvard University is taking this one step further by making open access publication a REQUIREMENT. While surfing around I stumbled upon this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Here are some snippets:

Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences adopted a policy this evening that requires faculty members to allow the university to make their scholarly articles available free online.

... the new policy makes Harvard the first university in the United States to mandate open access to its faculty members’ research publications.

...The new policy will allow faculty members to request a waiver, but otherwise they must provide an electronic form of each article to the provost’s office, which will place it in an online repository.

The policy will allow Harvard authors to publish in any journal that permits posting online after publication.

For anybody with an interest in the repercussions of open publishing, it's especially interesting to read the comments which follow the article!