ASBMB Wikipedia Edit-a-thon


Outreach from home? It’s actually not an oxymoron. Done properly, science outreach using only a computer can be incredibly effective. A number of scientists have actually had great success using different social media platforms to share their research with the greater public. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia is particularly tailor-made for scientists. Open for editing by anyone, all you need is an internet connection (and hopefully some scientific knowledge) to make a substantial contribution to Wikipedia. The site is increasingly being used by researchers and students alike as a legitimate source of reference material. Which means that Wikipedia is always in need of more content.

Edit-a-thon image

ASBMB members tackle Wikipedia editing

To focus effort on generating this content, organizers have started hosting edit-a-thons that bring together beginner and expert Wikipedians for a set amount of time that is dedicated to a specific topic area. On April 4 at the San Diego Convention Center (during EB2016), the ASBMB hosted its own Wikipedia edit-a-thon, where students and faculty attending the meeting came together to work at improving the quality (and quantity) of Wikipedia articles focused on biochemistry and cell biology. Despite some severe competition from the concurrent ASBMB Game Night, the edit-a-thon had a respectable turn-out from meeting attendees.

As of April 25, the event had resulted in:

  • 5 articles created
  • 45 articles edited
  • 180 total edits
  • 259,000 page views (!)

Even more exciting is how the edit-a-thon was able to inspire attendees to use Wikipedia in their own efforts going forward. “I’m more excited than ever about using Wikipedia in my classes!” exclaimed ASBMB member Sandi Clement from Cal State Poly, San Luis Obispo after attending the event.

Sponsorship for the edit-a-thon came from the Simons Foundation, who has helped to put on edit-a-thons at numerous professional society meetings over the past year, including those of the American Society for Cell Biology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as the Wiki Education Foundation as part of their “Year of Science” (you can read more about the “Year of Science” here). As such efforts continue, even more members of the scientific community will be willing and able to get involved and start doing outreach, even if it’s just from their couch.

Join the ASBMB Wikipedia edit-a-thon at EB2016


Finding information on Wikipedia is similar to paying for a car wash: the service is only worth as much as the detailing. With new discoveries in science happening daily, it’s important to not only have a Wikipedia page about a subject, but also to make sure it’s as thorough as possible. Unfortunately, not all pages are created equal. While pages on subjects like DNA or photosynthesis are well fleshed out, many topics are merely given a brief overview and a picture, a few citations, and then published and left to become outdated. For example, the page on the lipid transporter protein Flippase was created in November 2006 and is still only 8 sentences long.

Enter Edit-A-Thons: ambitious gatherings of amateurs and experts with the singular goal of improving the quality of topic-specific articles. These events are not limited to science: the 2012 World War I Edit-a-thon in London created 7 new articles and improved 25 more, while the 2015 Art+Feminism Edit-a-Thon in New York saw approximately 1500 participants in 75 locations (spread across 17 countries on four continents) generate nearly 400 new articles and significantly improve 500 more.

ASBMB will host our own Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon at the 2016 Annual Meeting in San Diego, sponsored by the Simons Foundation as part of the Wiki Education Foundation‘s Year of Science 2016. This session will take aim at improving biochemistry and molecular biology articles on Wikipedia. We invite all attendees of Experimental Biology to join us as we tackle a range of topics, including (potentially) cytoplasmic streaming, immunocytochemistry, and of course, flippase. Or submit your own below!

Edit-a-thons are not meant only for experienced Wikipedia editors; at most edit-a-thons, experts are merely on hand to teach novice participants everything they need to know about editing Wikipedia. In fact, Wikipedia has even developed resources on how to best edit specific subjects for beginners. At the ASBMB edit-a-thon, we will have table leaders who are experienced in Wikipedia editing and experts in various fields of biochemistry and molecular biology to guide participants through the event. We are still looking for participants to join us! To learn more and to sign up to participate visit our website.

Post by former ASBMB Outreach Intern Travis Radford

SciTrek- Helping students learn “How Science Works”


Mealworms are ~1 inch long larva with a slightly hardened exterior to help them burrow underneath rocks, logs, or in stored grains, but how do mealworms find food and a comfortable environment? To find the answer, 3rd graders at numerous elementary schools in the Santa Barbara, California area worked with staff and volunteers from the UCSB SciTrek program, a K-12 science outreach venture created by Dr. Norbert Reich to improve science education in 2nd-8th grade classrooms by bringing the resources, people, and modules in order to help teachers.

SciTrek_1 The members of SciTrek have created modules that combine a fun activity and test subject (in this case worms!) with learning how to be a scientist.  Each module balances the need for efficient classroom management and meeting specific Next Generation Science Standards with the freedom for students to reason and think critically about each aspect of doing science.

For the mealworm module, SciTrek members worked with a number of local area teachers to develop an interactive, 6 lesson module to test what factors affect the direction a mealworm travels, in order to explore the role of food, moisture, light, and surface texture on mealworm habitat and health.

After learning about and making observations on the mealworms, students were guided through developing testable hypotheses with controllable variables. Many hypothSciTrek_2eses were different from each other, with no “plug and chug” protocol stifling scientific inquiry. For example, “If there are more than 6 mealworms in one pill container slot at time point 0, then the mealworms will travel away from each other until there are 3 mealworms per container slot at time point 5 minutes.” Students formulated an experimental plan and ran the experiment, making sure they conducted each trial multiple times so that they could calculate elementary statistics and gauge confidence in their results. Finally, students analyzed their data and presented their findings at a classroom poster session. Students were encouraged to make statements on what makes a mealworm travel based upon their data, with the understanding that there wasn’t necessarily one correct answer.

This type of module is typical of the SciTrek approach. Besides providing equipment and materials, SciTrek’s roll during the actual module is to create an environment that encourages students to think like scientists, meaning students learn to make observations and then try to objectively figure out why those observations are true and what they mean. This process requires patience, and breaking bad habits that limit exploration by discouraging experiments that don’t always work or by following experimental plans instead of creating them.

SciTrek offers a comprehensive online resource containing numerous modules (including mealworms), along with teacher instructions and student lab notebooks for nonlocal educators teaching 2nd-8th graders. To learn more about SciTrek, read our interview with Dr. Reich to learn about aspects of SciTrek’s creation, maintenance, and future plans, or visit SciTrek’s website.

The Center for Translational Science Education – Outreach through the Prism of Research


No matter the subject, students find it hard to focus on material that is abstract and can’t be applied to their daily lives. The Center for Translational Science Education (CTSE) at Tufts University has designed the Great Diseases program to make the link between health and basic science very clear to high school students. In addition to explaining the science behind these diseases, the material in the Great Diseases program emphasizes ways that science can inform our choices so we can live healthier lives. This program is divided into four Great Disease modules; infectious diseases, neurological disorders, metabolic diseases, and cancer. These four groups cover most illnesses imaginable, and cover the diseases any given person is most likely to suffer from during her/his lifetime. Each module includes at least one in-class demonstration led by a volunteer scientist, and the material from all four modules can cover a full academic year. Teachers can use as many or as few of the modules as they’d like for free, and they work with scientists on CTSE staff to better understanding the material.

Teachers learning about brain anatomy.

Teachers learning about brain anatomy.

You would think that an institute focused on creating engaging high school curricula would be staffed by people with formal education backgrounds. This is an area where the CTSE differs from other outreach groups. Dr. Berri Jacque, Research Assistant Professor and the Co-Director of the CTSE, says what distinguishes their program is that the CTSE does “outreach through the prism of research.” The CTSE is staffed by scientists and postdoctoral fellows who use their research skills to evaluate their programs, publish their work, and then use their findings to improve their programs.

The CTSE developed the Great Diseases program with teachers from the Boston Public School system, and it has been used by teachers in Boston and beyond. One teacher, when asked about the program, said “I was originally skeptical, but I was so impressed with how effective it was that I am very eager to use this approach in my biology class.” The CTSE showed in their Academic Medicine paper that thousands of students have demonstrably improved understanding of the Great Diseases material, and that most teachers find this program very valuable. The CTSE is currently working on ways to assess if students make healthier choices after taking Great Disease classes.

Now that the material for the Great Diseases program is complete, the CTSE is focused on expanding their program around the country, keeping their material up to date with the newest scientific discoveries, and supporting teachers using the Great Diseases modules. These are all areas where scientists can volunteer. Why should you get involved?

A teacher learning about brain anatomy

A teacher learning about brain anatomy

“I think it’s so important for scientists, and particularly younger scientists, to get broader training in what they’re doing,” says Dr. Jacque. He tells scientists generally interested in volunteering to “think really critically about the ways you can make a real impact. Teachers are really great, as far as thinking about targeting who you’re going to spend your time with, because they interact with so many students in their career. Anything they can learn from you impacts far more people than you could ever impact with a couple classroom visits.” The CTSE will coordinate one-on-one video chats between teachers and scientist volunteers who can support them while they cover the Great Diseases material. The material from this program is not usually taught at a high school level, and most teachers are “really hungry to have that interaction with a scientist and to learn more about the science world.” Scientists from all over the country can help this way after a short training period with Dr. Jacque, giving you a great way to have a huge impact while only investing a few hours of your time.

To learn more about the CTSE and how you can get involved, read our article and contact Dr. Berri Jacque [].

A Community of Practice


Last week, dozens of informal science education stakeholders met in Washington D.C. for the biennial Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) Primary Investigator meeting, organized by the Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE). The meeting provided a platform for outreach professionals to show off their National Science Foundation-supported programs, share insights and best practices, and confer with researchers and evaluators about future directions in the field.

The 2014 AISL PI Meeting ProgramThe first day featured technical assistance sessions for PIs, provided by NSF program officers and CAISE leadership. One session focused on evaluation in informal learning, one of the major themes for the conference. Attendees noted confusion about whether the intent of evaluation was to determine the effectiveness of projects for enhancing learning, or to simply determine whether the projects had met their goals. There was also a call for clarifying the distinction between evaluation of, and research on, informal learning.

On the second day, conference attendees were addressed by Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Assistant Director of the Education and Human Resources Directorate at the National Science Foundation. At the last PI meeting in 2012, Ferrini-Mundy stunned attendees with her decision to rebrand the NSF Informal Science Education (ISE) program as AISL, redirecting the program’s focus towards supporting research about learning in informal environments. This year, her remarks were much less controversial, instead touching upon on strategies for improving the visibility of informal education programs.

Attendees then split up into multiple breakout sessions:

  • Broadening Participation in Informal STEM Education
  • Connecting with Scientists: What are the Needs & Unexplored Opportunities?
  • How is Technology Building New Audiences for ISE?
  • ISE Contributions to the STEM Workforce
  • ISE Networks, Infrastructure & Resource Centers
  • Learning & Learning Environments: Research, Design & Implementation
  • Measuring Learning Across ISE Projects
  • Mining the Field: What Are We Learning?

Discussions ranged widely, though a common motif was how the lessons learned from current effective approaches can be applied more broadly to grow the field. Attendees also felt it important that the field include stakeholders beyond those supported by NSF, a point that was emphasized during a lunch panel that featured staff from several different federal agencies (including NASA, NOAA and the National Endowment for the Arts) talking about how their organizations supported informal STEM education programs.

PIs showed off their individual programs during an afternoon poster session. The diversity of programs ranged from small-scale programs at individual institutions to larger efforts like media projects and national outreach networks, covering the entire breadth of STEM fields.

For the conference’s final day, attendees got to choose from a series of open sessions nominated by their fellow PIs:

  • Cultural Competency And Cultural Relevancy Strategies For Broader Engagement And Impact
  • The Intersection Of Art As Science: Arts/Science Connection
  • STEM And Public Libraries
  • How Do You Measure Success?
  • ISE and Scientists: Helping Each Other Cross the Divide
  • What Are The “Big” Research Questions We Should Focus On Regarding Broader Participation In The Field?
  • Broadening Participation Through Media
  • Informal STEM Media/Tech/Social Media
  • Place-Based Education And Community Involvement
  • Learning In Public Places

One of the collective take-aways from these sessions was that the community needs to come up with strategies to ensure that the informal science infrastructure be set up so that existing programs and individuals can support each other. Such infrastructure should include clearly defined terms and goals, identification both of successful and unsuccessful approaches to doing informal education, making resources widely available and establishment of platforms for collaboration and interaction amongst stakeholders.

Given this infrastructure, the conference attendees determined that a logical next step is to demonstrate the importance and value of informal STEM education to those who are not currently engaged or involved. Attendees felt that both top-down and ground-up approaches could be used to build support for the informal education field and expand its reach and effectiveness. Potential ideas that were mentioned included a landscape study of existing informal education programs, a separate conference to discuss these themes, and drafting of a white paper to be shared with top administrators. Certainly laudable goals to aim for by the time the meeting returns in 2016.

A Storify of tweets from the conference can be found here.

Information about the conference can be found on the CAISE website.

A Special CAISE


When ASBMB made its formal foray into science outreach a few years ago, the first step was to undertake an assessment of the organizations and programs already out there doing outreach. Our goal was to identify who was doing what and how they were doing it, in order to figure out how our efforts could be most effective. One of the most thorough, useful programs that we identified was the Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE), an National Science Foundation-funded initiative that aims to “strengthen and advance the field of professional informal science education and its infrastructure by providing resources for practitioners, researchers, evaluators and STEM-based professionals.”

CAISE banner

In the August issue of ASBMB Today, we get an in-depth look at CAISE and how it can be used by ASBMB members, thanks to a comprehensive interview with CAISE staff Jamie Bell and Kalie Sacco. In the article, they recount the history of CAISE, describing the motivation for its founding in 2007 and talking about how the project has grown since then. The main focus of the article is on the centerpiece of CAISE’s efforts, the website. This site, which contains thousands of case studies and professional resources, is a great starting point for all ASBMB members who are involved with outreach, regardless of whether they are at the planning or evaluating stage. Homepage


But CAISE is more than just a website. This week, CAISE is set to host the semi-annual Advancing Informal STEM Learning PI meeting in Washington D.C. NSF-funded participants will convene to share their outreach and informal STEM education experiences, and to hear from NSF leadership about future directions. The conference also serves as a wonderful networking opportunity, as informal educators from across the country build connections with other dedicated individuals in the field. Check back with the Cellular Culture blog for a full recap!