2020 was challenging....2021 has just started but is obviously going to be challenging as well. What we bring to the challenges of this year are the lessons learned from last year. It can be difficult to be optimistic sometimes, but so many people have made so many amazing contributions to education that we are better able to teach, and students are better able to learn, in January 2021 than we were in March 2020.
One of those amazing contributions involves a resource that has been developed in Seattle-- the Allen Institute Open Datasets collection. The Allen Institute's mission is to "unlock the complexities of bioscience and advance our knowledge to improve human health". The Institute was founded in 2003 by Paul G. Allen and has expanded from its initial pursuit of understanding the brain to a broader program of investigating the inner workings of cells, an exploration of the human immune system, and even funding transformative scientific ideas around the world. The Institute has made a number of extensive datasets available to the public--for example the Allen Brain Map, a web portal, was designed for researchers but teachers have adapted some of the datasets for educational uses. A recent article (September 2020) highlighted three such efforts.
Elizabeth Glater, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and associate professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California, was teaching a course in genes and behavior. When the pandemic hit and she had to build lab modules for virtual classes she immediately thought about computational analyses with online datasets. She and her colleagues built realistic exercises using both the Allen Cell Types Database, and the Aging, Dementia and Traumatic Brain Injury Study for her fall introductory neuroscience class.
Ashley Juavinett, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and associate professor at University of California San Diego, was using the Allen Institute resources even before the move to virtual teaching. She had used some of the data for her own research during her graduate studies, and had also attended the Summer Workshop on the Dynamic Brain, a two-week computational neuroscience course run by the Allen Institute and the University of Washington.
Like Glater, she chose the Allen Institute Datasets to inject real-world experiences and virtual experiments into her labs, whether virtual, or eventually in-person once again.
Sarah Latchney, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and associate professor at St.Mary's College of Maryland in St. Mary's City, is teaching a hybrid class and is determined to make sure her remote students get the same quality of education as her in-person students. To do this she is using the Allen Institute for Cell Science's lesson plan and the Integrated Mitotic Stem Cell cellular model, for her fall introduction to biology class.
There are so many resources available that it could seem overwhelming but InnovATEBIO.org is working hard to help educators and students teach and learn during these difficult times. Visit the Allen Institute's Educator Resources webpage and InnovATEBIO's Educator Resources webpage for more ideas!