DATA: Discover, Investigate, Inform: the 4th Life Discovery – Doing Science Education Conference

The Biology Data Revolution in the Classroom
By Teresa Mourad, Director of Education and Diversity Programs, ESA

Participants brianstorm together at 3rd Life Discovery Conference.

The volume of biology data is exploding in many different forms: numeric, geospatial, specimen, genomic, visual, and audio. What is even more exciting is that the technological innovations in computing power make it possible for nearly anyone, with a little help, to explore the stories of life on earth!

The National Science Foundation has just awarded a grant (DUE-1742980) of $48,000 to the Ecological Society of America to elevate national attention to the promise and accessibility of research data for education at the 4th Life Discovery – Doing Science Education Conference (LDC) on October 19-21, 2017. The conference will unravel the quirks, surprises and capacity for research data to transform Biology classrooms.

To broaden participation, the conference will offer awards to faculty from high schools, community colleges, minority-serving institutions and primarily undergraduate institutions as well as minority faculty from any institution to cover travel to the meeting site at the University of Oklahoma, in Norman, OK. Applications are due July 10, 2017.

Why Data in the classroom?

The call for developing quantitative literacy has stepped up over the past two decades (NRC 2003; Steen 2005; Donovan 2008; MacMillan 2015; Hoffman 2016). Various reports have called for a life science education related to the real world, with more inquiry-driven learning, and more emphasis on scientific evidence and how it is obtained (AAAS 2010, 2011; NRC 2003, 2009; Speth et al. 2010). These reports and studies have indicated that data-enriched undergraduate classrooms have significant benefits for improving students’ understanding of science concepts, scientific reasoning and the scientific process. Developing data skills allows students to participate as scientists, succeed in increasingly data-focused careers, and become well-informed citizens and consumers (Donovan 2008; Feser et al. 2013; Aikens and Dolan 2014).

Challenges to Introducing Real Data

The challenges to introducing real data in the classroom are not trivial. Faculty must consider access to data, the analytical skillsets that students have, their experience of research, and the technologies available to analyze data. Methods to scaffold student experiences with data are key if instructional time is to be productive.

The community has risen to some of these challenges. The 2017 Life Discovery Conference will bring together leaders in data literacy initiatives to help participants to discover and investigate data and to explore the use of data in informing decisions impacting the well-being of our environment and society. BioQuest has for 30 years offered professional development and educational resources in quantitative biology. The Advancing Integration of Museums into Undergraduate Programs (AIM-UP!) lists 22 natural history collections databases on their website. The Guiding Education through Novel Investigation’s Annotation Collaboration Tool (GENI-ACT) provides access to hundreds of genomes and bioinformatics tools. The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) project is steadily bringing massive volumes of data online and has initiated work on resources for undergraduate audiences. The Data Nuggets modules, now widely used in K-16 classrooms, are created from cutting-edge scientific research and include authentic, and sometimes messy, scientific data.

The Quantitative Undergraduate Biology Education and Synthesis (QUBES) project is fast becoming a focal point for cost-effective professional development with their Faculty Mentoring Networks program. LDC has partnered with QUBES to offer more extensive support for faculty interested in implementing data-rich classrooms as an exciting option of the LDC Travel Awards. The LDC-QUBES Faculty Mentoring Network will use selected modules from the Data Nuggets project.

→An informational webinar about the travel awards and DC-QUBES Faculty Mentoring Network will be available on June 28, 2017.

→Applications for the Travel Awards are due July 10, 2017.


Related article:

September 30, 2016 Blog on Ecotone:

Bringing data-rich experiences to undergraduate classrooms – ESA Education Scholars pave the way





Life Discovery Partners:

LDC Planning Committee:

  • Phil Gibson, Associate Professor of Biology, University of Oklahoma (chair and co-PI)
  • Catrina Adams, Director of Education, Botanical Society of America
  • Arietta Fleming-Davies, Assistant Professor, University of San Diego, QUBES
  • Juliet Noor, Lecturer, Biology, Duke University
  • Traci Richardson, Science Teacher, Stillwater High School, Stillwater, OK
  • Paul Strode, Science Teacher, Fairview High School, Boulder CO

Conference Collaborators

We thank the organizations in the Professional Societies Alliance for Life Science Education (PSALSE) and others for their support in promoting the conference:

Advancing Integration of Museums into Undergraduate Programs (AIM-Up!)
American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS)
American Geophysical Union (AGU)
American Society for Microbiology (ASM)
Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES)
Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative (CCURI)
Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN)
The Geological Society of America (GSA)
Guiding Education through Novel Investigation  (GENI)
Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio)
Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTER)
Quantitative Undergraduate Biology Education and Synthesis (QUBES)
USA National Phenology Network | Nature’s Notebook (NPN)


  • Aikens, M. L., & Dolan, E. L. 2014. Teaching quantitative biology: goals, assessments, and resources. Molecular Biology of the Cell, 25(22), 3478–3481.
  • Donovan, S. 2008. Big data : teaching must evolve to keep up with advances. Nature, 455(September), 15260.
  • Feser, J., Vasaly, H., & Herrera, J. (2013). On the Edge of Mathematics and Biology Integration: Improving Quantitative Skills in Undergraduate Biology Education. CBE Life Sciences Education, 12(2), 124–128.
  • Hoffman, K., Leupen, S., Dowell, K., Kephart, K., & Leips, J. 2016. Development and Assessment of Modules to Integrate Quantitative Skills in Introductory Biology Courses. CBE Life Sciences Education, 15(2), ar14.
  • Langen, T. A., Mourad, T., Grant, B. W., Gram, W. K., Abraham, B. J., Fernandez, D. S., Carroll, M., Nuding, A., Balch, J. K., Rodriguez, J. and Hampton, S. E. 2014. Using large public datasets in the undergraduate ecology classroom. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 12: 362–363. doi:10.1890/1540-9295-12.6.362
  • MacMillan, D. 2015. Developing data literacy competencies to enhance faculty collaborations. LIBER Quarterly. 24(3), pp.140–160.
  • National Research Council (NRC) 2003. BIO2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists, Washington DC: National Academies Press.
  • National Research Council (NRC). 2009. A New Biology for the 21st Century, Washington, DC. National Academies Press.
  • Speth, E. B., Momsen, J. L., Moyerbrailean, G. A., Ebert-May, D., Long, T. M., Wyse, S., & Linton, D. 2010. 1, 2, 3, 4: Infusing Quantitative Literacy into Introductory Biology. CBE Life Sciences Education, 9(3), 323–332.
  • Steen, L. A. (ed.) 2005. Math and Bio 2010: Linking Undergraduate Disciplines. The Mathematical Association of America. Washington, DC.