Using Online Natural History Databases to Support Innovation in Undergraduate Education


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  • EOL is available at
  • The Encyclopedia of Life is a collaborative effort among scientist and the general public to bring information together about all 1.9 million named and known species, in a common format, freely available on the internet.
  • In the early 2000’s people were starting to talk about and envision an online species database. Some web projects start, but mostly human led projects. By 2003, EOL Wilson had written an article in Ecology and Evolution, at the same time that technology was advancing at a rapid pace,
  • EOL brings together information from sources you may already use, such as the IUCN, Amphibia Web, the Smithsonian and countless others. All content on EOL is fully attributed and licensed under Creative Commons Copyright License or Public Domain.
  • Information for each species on EOL is aggregated from hundreds of content partners into a common template called a Taxon Page. Each tab on the taxon page contains different content.
  • Using Online Natural History Databases to Support Innovation in Undergraduate Education

    1. 1. Using Online Natural History Databases toSupport Innovation in Undergraduate Education Tracy Barbaro, EOL, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology
    2. 2. • Introduction to EOL• How Can I Use EOL in My Classroom?• Hands On – Collections – Scientific Writing/Student Contributions – Ecosystem Explorer – Species Interactions
    3. 3.
    4. 4. What is the Encyclopedia of Life?EOL in Summary: • Global, on-line resource—plants, animals, microorganisms • Web pages for 1.9 million known species • Plus millions more yet to be described • Serves authoritative information as well as contributions from the general public.Guiding Principles: • Common format • Freely available • Open Source, Open Access • Collaboratively built • Customizable by user • Never completed
    5. 5. BackgroundEarly 2000s Dan Janzen (U.Pa) and Chris Thompson(SI)envision online species pages, around the world severalweb projects start. 2003 2007
    6. 6. SupportEOL is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation andthe Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the following institutions:Atlas of Living AustraliaBiodiversity Heritage LibraryChinese Academy of SciencesLa Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (CONABIO)Field Museum of Natural HistoryHarvard UniversityEl Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio)Marine Biological LaboratoryMissouri Botanical GardenNCB Naturalis - the Netherlands Centre for BiodiversityNew Library of AlexandriaSmithsonian InstitutionSouth African National Biodiversity Institution (SANBI)
    7. 7. Content PartnersEOL serves species information from authoritative content partners, individuals scientists,citizen scientists, students and the general public. Below are some of our content partners: ..and many more
    8. 8. How Can I Use EOL in My Classroom?
    9. 9. Taxon Pages As Resources for Students Information for each species on EOL is aggregated from hundreds of content partners into a common template called a Taxon Page. Each tab on the taxon page contains different content.
    10. 10. Detailed Information, Media, Maps, Names, Multiple Classifications, Literature
    11. 11. LiteratureTaxon pages are a great place for finding literature/references: aggregated references forthe entire taxon page and resources from the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
    12. 12. Searching on EOLYou can search for taxa by common name or scientific name. You can also search for EOLCollections and Communities. You can filter your search results by content type. Filter your search by content type
    13. 13. Trusted and Un-reviewed ContentEOL serves both trusted and un-reviewed content. You can filter your results to showonly the types of content you are looking for.
    14. 14. Tools and Activities• Collections• Students Writing Brief Summaries for EOL• Ecosystem Explorer
    15. 15. CollectionsYou can “collect” taxon pages, media, maps, etc. on EOL. The items you collect arelinks back to the taxon page (or image, video, sound, map, etc.).Essentially a collection is a grouping of links to taxa of interest. You can annotate andshare this collection with others on EOL.Using Collections IdeasCreate a collection of…. • Taxon pages for each of your lab specimens (1) • Specimens you normally would not have access to in the lab (1) • taxa based on habitat or associations/interactions • taxa found on a sampling field trip • images or video that exemplify species behavior1. Source: Encyclopedia of Life Collections: Biodiversity Resources for Biology Teachers. Michael Windelspecht, Ricochet Science. Accessed at on 2/22/13Example Lab Collection:
    16. 16. Student Contributions: EOL Content Priorities• You may come across a taxon page with no information. This is because we do not have a content provider for this taxa yet. EOL has determined that many of these pages are of high priority.• Undergraduate and Graduate students can research and synthesize information about taxa on EOL’s high priority taxa list and then summarize this information in an brief summary suitable for the general public as part of their coursework.
    17. 17. Student Contributions to EOLUndergraduate and graduate students can help build EOL byresearching and writing: • Brief species summaries • Comprehensive descriptions • Topics such as ecology, habitat or conservation • More complete taxon pagesStudent work is vetted and reviewed by their professors. Over thepast 5 years, students have contributed to hundreds of pages onEOL! Instructors serve as curators/review and vet student work.See examples on EOL:
    18. 18. Student Contributions Workflow1. Work with EOL to develop a taxa list for your students2. Introduce EOL project and to your students3. Students research taxa (species, genus, etc.)4. Students write a brief summary or other topic(s)5. Peer Review6. Instructor review (TA’s are helpful here)7. Students enter summaries into the class’s Education LifeDesk for publishing to EOL taxon pages
    19. 19. Publishing to EOL: Education LifeDesk
    20. 20. Student Contributions on EOL Example of student contributed brief summary, references and attribution. Student contributions appear as unreviewed until reviewed by a curator
    21. 21. Education LifeDesk login:username: guestpass: eolguest123Go to:
    22. 22. Ecosystem ExplorerThe EOL Ecosystem Explorer provides a easy way to create engaging graphs of species interactionswithin an ecosystem. While still in development, you can view and interact with some exampleecosystems.
    23. 23. Ecosystem ExplorerExample Ecosystem:• Under “Selected Species” Click on “Edit” • Edit selected taxon• Click on “Add new” • Add a new predator - prey interaction
    24. 24. More InformationEncyclopedia of Lifewww.eol.orgEOL Learning + Education education(at)