of the key notions that developed was inquiry-based learning. It is the idea that in a world that is rapidly changing, where there are vast amounts of information—conflicting and redundant information—it is often hard to find what is crucial. In this context, we need to have learning tools that are open ended, inquiry based, group and teamwork oriented, and relevant to new careers. This is something the National Science Foundation has been pushing, as have the Boyer Commission on Undergraduate Education and a wide variety of other groups. It contrasts with the textbook-oriented learning that many of us experienced.
One model for this starts with the idea that it is not just important for students to be able to solve problems. They need to learn how to ask good questions; to find problems as well as solve them. Second, they need to learn how to investigate complex domains of knowledge, not just to read the chapter and answer questions at the end, but to integrate multiple sources of information. Third, they need to learn to be active creators of meaning, to construct knowledge, not just to follow directions. Fourth, they need to learn how to work with others, to discuss and to understand different perspectives. Finally, they need to reflect on what they have learned and articulate those meanings for themselves and others.
We could spend a long time talking about inquiry-based education, but one way to convey that and to bring it back to the public-domain data and information is to take one concrete example in the area of bioinformatics. Dr. Potenzone talked about the vast amounts of information that are available now for doing molecular biology, for investigating gene sequences, diseases, and so on. 1 Bioinformatics is developing as a distinct science and, in fact, many people are arguing that biology itself is being transformed into an information-driven science. Biology Workbench is one of the tools that has been built to address this. It is a web-based interface to a set of tools and databases, which researchers can use to access information stored throughout the world. Investigations that might previously have taken two years in the lab can now be done in a day sitting at the computer. There are tools for sequence alignment of proteins and genes, visualization tools, a digital library of articles, and so on. New knowledge has come out of using the Workbench. People in pharmaceutical companies, universities, and other places have made discoveries that would certainly have taken much longer without a tool like this.
In addition to looking at sequences and sequence alignment, a user can use the Workbench to visualize the structure of molecules, for example, that of hemoglobin in both its normal and the sickled form that causes sickle cell anemia. This visualization shows a mutated region of the molecule, in which it is easy to understand how one sickled molecule can hook into other molecules and create the sickling phenomenon.
Researchers also use this tool to investigate relationships among species. So, for example, users can compare horses, chickens, cows, vultures, dogfish, tuna, and moles to examine their degree of relatedness. By looking at the similarity, researchers can build phylogenetic trees or cladistic diagrams. These show that the tuna and the dogfish are more closely related to each other than to the other organisms, such as the horse, cow, and mole. The mammals are all more closely related, and the horse and cow are more closely related than either is to the mole, and so on.
Using Biology Workbench, a user can become an active investigator of the kinds of studies reported regularly in The New York Times science section. For example, when some new discovery about relatedness of organisms comes out, a reader could verify or challenge those results using a home computer connected to the Web.
A tool like this creates great possibilities for education. It also poses challenges. Many educators feel uncomfortable with tools like this, or what my group has called open-world learning, in which there are open, dynamically changing data, computational tools, and community interactions.
Imagine an instructor who prepares a lesson, checks it out the night before, and goes in the next day to teach about it. By the time the class begins, the data have changed. When students look at the computer, they find a different answer, a different set of information, because these databases are being constantly changed. This scenario reflects the first characteristic of open-world learning, that the set of data is open and changing. The
1See Chapter 6 of these Proceedings, “Opportunities for Commercial Exploitation of Networked Science and Technology Public Domain Information Resources,” by Rudolph Potenzone.