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Introduction Principal investigators of natural science research projects are accustomed to designing fresh approaches to research problems, but most face a formidable challenge when attempting to integrate education into their research. Many find that they are not sufficiently cognizant of modern educational methods to appropriately inform either the general student population or the general public about their science. Likewise, many educators strive to communicate the excitement and importance of science to students and the public, but do not always have access to information on the latest research advances. THE WORKSHOP The National Science Foundation (NSF) proposed a National Research Council workshop as a way to help researchers to incorporate effective educational components into their research proposals. The goals were to help principal investigators to design educational endeavors that would broaden the impact of science and to foster collaboration and communication among researchers and educators. The invitees were in three categories: members of teams that had already received large grants for biocomplexity research projects, those who had received “incubation grants” that would enable them to develop full research proposals in the future, and science educators invited to help lead discussions. In designing the workshop, the planning group wanted to emphasize
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the dynamics of combining education and research: helping students to acquire scientific habits of mind, translating discoveries into instructional resources, brokering collaborations, and attracting larger numbers and more diverse populations of students to continue studying the sciences. Thus, the group’s intentions when designing the workshop were to provide the attendees with an initial community-building atmosphere and to provide material for a summary that could serve as a useful guide for both educators and scientists in any field. The planning group set out to inform the workshop participants about the many methods that can be used to meet educational goals and about how to design education projects compatible with their research and expertise. The workshop included case-study discussions in small groups and larger group activities accompanied by discussion. The format was chosen as a way to demonstrate and model effective ways to communicate information and trigger learning. For example, at the beginning of the workshop Lou Gross encouraged participants to interact in small groups by leading them in an activity called the “polya-urn experiment,” which he used as an example of a simple manipulative experiment that can generate complex, nonintuitive results. Dr. Gross has used this experiment in groups from elementary school to graduate school, with learning objectives differing with level of experience. (See box.) Diane Ebert-May later engaged the audience in a survey that used small Post-it notes to build bar graphs of participant responses to questions. Throughout the workshop audience members were encouraged to gather in small groups to discuss their reactions to presentations. All of these approaches served to model a variety of educational activities available beyond the formal lecture. The scientific theme of the workshop was biocomplexity. NSF defines biocomplexity as referring to “the dynamic web of often surprising interrelationships that arise when components of the global ecosystem—biological, physical, chemical, and the human dimension—interact. Investigations of Biocomplexity in the Environment are intended to provide a more complete understanding of natural processes, of human behaviors and decisions in the natural world, and of ways to use new technology effectively to observe the environment and sustain the diversity of life on Earth” (http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2001/nsf0134/nsf0134.htm). Rita Colwell, director of NSF, further explained, “Biocomplexity is understanding how the components of a global system interact with the biological, physical, chemical, and human dimension, all taken together to gain an understanding of the
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Polya-Urn Experiment The participants were broken into groups of three to four individuals, and each group carried out experiments by drawing beads of two different colors from an urn. Starting with two beads in each urn, one person of each group drew a bead at random (without looking) and replaced it, another person noted which color bead was drawn, while yet another member of the group then added another bead of the same color as the one drawn to the urn. The urn was shaken and the process repeated many times. One can think of each urn as an island with one individual of each of two species, each of which is equally likely to reproduce (asexually) in one time period. At the end of the game each group counted the number of beads of each color in the urn and compared the results of the experiments done by the other groups. As a group continues to play the game the fraction of beads of one color in any one urn approaches a limit, but the fractions will not be the same in each urn. It can be proven that the fraction approached within an urn has a limit distribution that is uniformly distributed between 0 and 1. (For more on this subject, see Cohen, Joel E. 1976. Irreproducible Results and the Breeding of Pigs (or Nondegenerate Limit Random Variables in Biology). BioScience 26:391-394. complexity of the system and to be able to derive fundamental principles from it. I personally think we’ll be able to have a scientific understanding of sustainability even perhaps a series of formulae or equations, developed by mathematicians to explain and define sustainability. We’ll be able to develop a predictive capacity for actions taken with respect to the environment to predict specific outcomes. We can’t do this yet well, we can predict, but it’s not precise and quantitative. After investing in biocomplexity research, we’ll be able to make predictions concerning environmental phenomena as a consequence of human actions taken.”1 1 An Interview with Rita Colwell, Scientist 14(19):0, Oct. 2, 2000 (http://www.the-scientist.com/yr2000/oct/emmett_p0_001002.html)
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The speakers and other participants share an interest in studying connections within the global ecosystem. They do not all interpret biocomplexity in the same way, but they generally agree that the study of biocomplexity can enhance our understanding of our world. Research findings in biocomplexity are appropriate for conveying science to students and the general public because they often involve issues in the public sphere. The topic was chosen as a model for the workshop in the hope that it will be helpful to researchers in other fields striving toward the goals suggested in Criterion 2. PRODUCTS OF THE WORKSHOP The products of the workshop are this summary and a Web site (http://dlesecommunity.carleton.edu/biocomplexity/) that contains links to currently funded biocomplexity projects, to Web resources that support biocomplexity research, and to tips on partnering, assessment, and dissemination. The site also has spaces for discussion groups and for posting available resources. This summary is written for both principal investigators (who are commonly also educators) and educators (who many times do research) to give them a sense of important issues to consider in designing scientific education and outreach projects. The workshop addressed, and this summary presents, a wide array of ideas for investigators and educators who are considering how to respond to the challenges of Criterion 2. The ideas presented here are certainly not exhaustive of all possibilities for integrating research and education, but they should provide readers with a foundation for approaching the design and implementation of education components of research projects. Many attendees at the Workshop on Integrating Education in Biocomplexity Research supported the idea of collaborating with others who have complementary expertise to create and run education and outreach projects. The idea behind such partnerships is that education would benefit in the same way that interdisciplinary scientific studies benefit from research collaboration. The goal of the partnerships would be a combination of the talents of principal investigators and educators to communicate the results of research more effectively to varied audiences (schoolchildren, museum visitors, science journalists [and their readers], policy-makers, and so on).
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