Education and Outreach at Plant Biology 2013

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Published on: August 30, 2013

At Plant Biology 2013, I gave a talk in the Education and Outreach minisymposium, and was in inspiring company.

Vision and Change in Undergraduate Education

Plant science lecturers Nitya Jacob and Thomas Jack gave an overview of the 2011 report Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education (download it here) and PULSE, the initiative set up to address issues raised in the report. They are both US-specific but the principles apply to the UK, and any lecturer from wanting to expand their teaching methods would definitely benefit from looking at the report and PULSE resources.

The report itself looked at the reasons for ‘leaky pipeline’ to a bioscience degree. According to the report, roughly half of students entering college intending to major in biosciences graduate in biosciences – the rest either change courses or drop out of education all together.

ASPB joined with other stakeholders including US biology funders NSF, NIH, and HHMI to set up the PULSE Community to improve undergraduate biology education. Jacob and Jack are both PULSE teaching fellows, a group of university educators who are driving change in undergraduate biosciences education. They are encouraging university departments to commit to the PULSE Vision and Change Rubrix (link to an extremely dry PDF), a set of standards in core concepts, integration of core competencies, assessment, and faculty support.

The Rubrix are designed to be flexible, but meeting them even halfway is impossible with typical courses made up of a lecture-essay-labs-worksheet structure. The Vision and Change toolkit helps lecturers who have committed to the rubrix by suggesting teaching methods including active learning and flipped classes.

Another undergrad teaching tool

Something to consider when teaching undergraduates maths and statistics, and no doubt a valuable tool for US lecturers committed to Vision and Change, are the online MathBench modules, which Christine Fleet presented during the session. The MathBench site is free to use and contains interactive teaching modules on nine broad themes. For example, the Measurement theme includes basic lab techniques, logs and pH, while the Probability and Statistics theme spans bar graphs, standard error and advanced Punnett Squares to understand linked genes and recombination.

Something for teachers and science outreach activists

Miranda Haus presented the education and outreach resources she and her fellow University of Illinois PhD students have developed. The Plants iView team take interactive plant science to after school clubs, and Haus admitted her own surprise at how popular the program had proved – the students in the after school club could chose from a lot of activities including different sports, arts and watching films, but the Plants iView sessions were always full (group size is limited) and students stayed for the duration, and often returned on another day. Some of the activities the PhD students run can be downloaded on the Lessons page.

From Plant Biology 2013

Categories: conferences, resource
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Published on: August 1, 2013

Last week I was at ASPB’s annual conference, Plant Biology 2013. It was a great week and I learned a lot of new science and discovered a lot of new resources to share with UK plant scientists – some brand new, and some golden oldies that get better with time.

First of all through, some shameless self-promotion – I wrote a report for New Phytologist on the UK’s own Plant Science conference, PlantSci 2013, with Ruth and Mimi. It’s now published (open access) here.

For the last three years, ASPB have been working on a decadal vision for plant science in the US. The final report was released in July, and will be rolled out to Congress in the autumn with the aim of raising awareness of the importance of plant science and getting extra funding. You can download the report, entitled Unleashing a Decade of Innovation in Plant Science, here. The Plant Science Research Summit website also explains how the report was written and includes the preliminary report from 2011.

Kate Dreher gave an excellent talk in the Genomic Tools minisymposium on the ever expanding output from the Plant Metabolomic Network, the free online tool which enables users to find and predict genes or proteins, other metabolites, reactions, and pathways. In June this year seven new databases were released, including BarleyCyc and OryzaCyc. In July, many existing databases were updated – AraCyc 11.5 now contains data on 597 pathways, 9041 enzymes, 3490 interactions, and 2613 compounds. For tutorials, see this page. (more…)

Perseverance and community: The opening session of Plant Biology 2013

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Published on: July 21, 2013

Follow Plant Biology 2013 on #plantbiology2013

Plant Biology 2013 is in full flow here in Providence, Rhode Island. It kicked off on Saturday afternoon with an impressive Awards Ceremony recognising fifteen plant scientists (see the list here) from across the world, and of all ages – from graduate students to emeritus professors. Celebrating the huge breadth and depth of plant science today and over lifetimes was an inspirational way to start the conference.

The first major conference talks began directly after the Awards Ceremony with lectures from two of last year’s award winners, Lisa Ainsworth and Ian Sussex, and the Science Perspective Speaker Robert Zeigler. These three lectures were each very different, but represented three major themes of ASPB and the conference: an overview of excellent research, a celebration of plant science, and an update on the reason most plant scientists do what they do: the food security challenge.

Lisa Ainsworth’s work on ozone damage and ozone resistance in soybean is remarkable for its quality (publications here) and its potential impact, but for me the stand out message was the reminder that US science is just on another scale to UK plant science. Ainsworth carries out most of her experiments in the open air at SoyFACE in Illinois – not a growth chamber or glass house in sight. UK scientists constantly struggle with the difference between results obtained in ‘lab conditions’ and the field phenotype, even when working on crop species. Ainsworth’s results, although they are very much in the experimental stage, already show realistic field phenotypes.

Ian Sussex, an Emeritus Professor from Yale, gave a perspective on experimental plant morphogenesis and how it evolved from what was essentially surgery on plants in the 18th century into modern molecular biology in the 1970s. It was an interesting talk, and some of the ideas are in this paper by Sussex in Plant Cell vol. 20.

The CEO of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Robert Zeigler, gave the last of the three diverse opening lectures. He gave an overview of the food security challenge, but with an understandable focus on rice and the work of IRRI. Rice is the staple food for 50% of the global population, but of a staggering 70% of people living in poverty worldwide. Zeigler presented an impressive and typical case study demonstrating the objectives of IRRI: submergence-tolerant rice. Using an integrated research approach, including soil scientists, genetics, and physiology, IRRI scientists bred ‘scuba rice’ and tested it in 2009.

A theme that ran through these three talks was perseverance and the importance of seeing the long view. Ainsworth is part of a long-running research programme that she joined as a post-grad student, and no doubt in the next few years, her ozone-tolerant soybean will be having a big impact. Sussex’s history of plant biology, in which he highlighted the decades before the Arabidopsis genomics revolution in the 1970s as a dry spell for cell and molecular plant science reminded us that modern plant scientists are part of a long tradition of strong community and modernisation. Zeigler summed it up when anticipating a second Green Revolution: “You can do what people say can’t be done.”

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