Interdepartmental collaboration plays an important role in expanding scientific discourse in the STEM fields. ZOL 890 is a graduate-level course designed to give computer science and engineering graduate students a working understanding of biological evolution with an eye toward fostering future productive collaboration with evolutionary biologists. Students in the course are members of the multi-institutional Biocomputational Evolution in Action CONsortium (BEACON) Center, where computer scientists, engineers, and biologists work together to both understand and harness the power of evolution for practical applications.
The course is structured into three four-week modules, assessing beyond students’ individual scientific skills to explore scientific application, collaborative scientific skills, writing and peer-review, and their ability to communicate in ways that are clearly understood by the general public. The course is co-registered with the University of Idaho, with classrooms connected via Google Hangout for group discussions, group presentations, and in-class lab experiences.
The stand out innovation in this technology-enhanced course is the career experience provided to students via blogging. The process begins in much the same way as usual, with students composing blog posts as class assignments, submitting them to Desire2Learn, and then peer reviewing the posts submitted by three of their classmates. However, in ZOL 890, the stakes were higher and the goal was to produce quality work as the final products appeared on the BEACON Blog, and shared to the Facebook pages of the BEACON and NSF Science and Technology Centers.
These high-profile forums provided students the opportunity to experience scientific scrutiny from the scientific community and the public for the purpose of preparing them for public dissemination of their scientific work. At the completion of their graduate program, students in ZOL 890 will be expected to publish and disseminate their work (including their theses). This exercise was designed to help them understand the peer review process, establish a digital identity, and help them learn to write about the complex scientific phenomena encompassed in the field of evolutionary biology in a style the general public finds interesting and understandable.
You might be asking: How do student blog posts compete with other posters in these forums when it comes to the number of readers and Facebook shares? Here’s the answer: their posts are as popular (read and shared as often), if not more so, than posts by scientists discussing their own work.
Technologies included in this course:
- Desire2Learn (d2l.msu.edu)
- EvoBeaker online laboratories (http://simbio.com/products-college/EvoBeaker)
- BEACON Center blog, WordPress (http://beacon-center.org/)
- Google Hangout (http://www.google.com/hangouts)
- Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/BEACONCenterEvolution)
OTHER TEAM MEMBERS:
Emily Weigel, Graduate Student, Co-Instructor
Caroline Turner, Graduate Student, Co-Instructor