Bioinformatics Education Dissemination: Reaching Out, Connecting and Knitting-together

Introduction to Problem Spaces

The following materials provide a brief conceptual introduction to our idea of a problem space and how we think this approach to curriculum development can be used to promote innovative undergraduate teaching and learning. This work is part of the BEDROCK Bioinformatics Education Project's efforts to support a national community of faculty who are interested in bringing bioinformatics tools and data resources into their biology courses.

One of the most exciting things about bringing bioinformatics into the undergraduate biology curriculum is the opportunity to engage students in rich and realistic research experiences. The availability of a networked computational environment played an important role in the rapid emergence and broad impact of bioinformatics on biological research. Additionally, the research community has placed a great deal of emphasis on publicly accessible databases and freely shared analysis tools. While this cooperative environment has clearly benefited the research community it can also play an influential role in undergraduate biology education.

The data and tools for students to engage in research-like learning experiences are out there and can generally be accessed by anyone with a modern personal computer and an internet connection. However, lowering the technical barriers to accessing information and software is not the same as dealing with the conceptual barriers to understanding the use of these resources in a biologically informed way. We have chosen to think about teaching and learning biology in the context of problem spaces to reflect some of the exciting possibilities and serious challenges that the flood of molecular data present for biology education.

The basis for this vision of how teachers and students might interact with web based curricular resources involves emphasizing the use of molecular data to address biological research questions. In contrast to a more traditional lab approach where the students may be asked to follow a highly structured series of procedures to confirm an experimental result, our view of biology education emphasizes the development and exploration of students' questions as they come to understand biological principles, analytical procedures, and the ways that inferences are made from the collection and analysis of data. This approach does not dismiss the importance of learning foundational biological knowledge and skills. In fact, background knowledge and skills are viewed as essential stepping stones to applying one's knowledge to address new problems. So often, in our experience, it is in the application of factual and procedural knowledge to research questions that we come to understand more deeply both that background knowledge and how scientific claims are developed and justified.

Goals for Problem Spaces:

Characteristics of problem spaces:

Elements of problem spaces:

Like the problem spaces themselves, we hope that our characterization of problem spaces will evolve over time and respond to the needs and interests of biologists (both professionals and students) who use them. Please feel free to send comments/suggestions/ideas/etc. to Sam Donovan <donovans@beloit.edu>.

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