Posted by: Victoria Wright | April 18, 2011

Seminar: April 18th John Jungck: “Evolutionary Bioinformatics Education”

Today we had the pleasure of being joined by John R. Jungck in our seminar series. John is the Mead Chair of the Sciences and Professor of Biology at Beloit College in Wisconsin, USA and is the founder of the BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium. John also works on the BEDROCK (Bioinformatics Education Dissemination: Reaching Out, Connecting, and Knitting-together) project.

In the presentation John spoke about some of the key strategies used to lead faculty development workshops in bioinformatics and to develop curricular materials that enable learners to explore contemporary, relevant, research-rich problems.

Key questions addressed include:

  • How do we get more biology educators and trainers to have their learners investigate bioinformatics problems in courses?
  • What is the difference between a bioinformatics curriculum development workshop designed to help trainers adopt, adapt, and develop materials for their courses and a tutorial in Bioinformatics?
  • Why is evolutionary analysis so important to bioinformatics education?
  • What is “tree thinking” and what are the challenges?
  • How do we help participants understand the nature of the problem that they are investigating and how does that affect the choice of tools that they might use?
  • How do we internationalise our efforts to help one another, better share resources and strategies, and avoid duplication of effort?
  • Is open science possible without open science education and what are the ramifications of this challenge?

The BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium is a twenty-five year old initiative that has embraced cyberlearning to transform American undergraduate biology education. They emphasise using bioinformatics education within the context of meeting two challenges within general biology education: preparing students to deal with the contemporary deluge of data by developing much more mathematics applied to problems and the importance of evolutionary analysis as a problem solving tool. The BioQUEST site have lab activities for bioinformatics too.

The BEDROCK project involves bioinformatics workshops that they started giving in 1996 in Thailand. Since then over a hundred workshops have been offered to engage university faculty in adopting, adapting, implementing, and developing bioinformatics activities for their students. Apparently the name BEDROCK was inspired by Ewan Birney’s publication where he stated that “Homology is the ‘BEDROCK’ of bioinformatics”.

John spoke about the importance of making students problem solvers and enabling them to go from passive learners to taking ownership of the task by involving reflective learning. John also emphasised students need to become good collaborators, peer reviewing work.

The 3Ps were introduced to us:

  • problem posing (allowing the students to define research questions themselves)
  • problem solving (iterative and reflective)
  • peer review, publications, presentations (indeed John quoted “you have not made a discovery until it is in the community in some way”)

John stressed the importance of maths in biology and believes we should be including maths education in beginning biology courses at the undergraduate level, to avoid the view that bioinformatics is for engineers, maths graduates, computer experts where no biology is needed! A discussion ensued on whether we should aim to target educating 12 year olds as this is when you choose to opt for biology ‘if you are not good at maths’.

To find out more read John’s presentation (to be uploaded soon).

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