Award-winning science outreach: Ask a Biologist

Before the ‘Ask a Biologist‘ website won its Science Prize for Online Resources in Education, or SPORE, award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), there was a scholarly October article in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) written by the project’s developer, Charles Kazilek.

Since 1997, Ask A Biologist has grown from a single page on Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences website to more than 2,500 pages of content. More than 150 scientists and experts support the “Ask a” section, which has now offered insight to more than 25,000 perplexed or curious children and adults. The School of Life Sciences is the home for a large group of biology experts who can provide insights on a wide range of topics. Questions are routed to appropriate faculty and graduate student experts through a common email address which protects any single person from being inundated with questions. It also provides a level of review, and an opportunity to revise answers to ensure they are grade appropriate.

In addition to the core question and answer (Q & A) feature, a strong conduit between the public and the working scientist, Ask A Biologist has grown to involve scientists in content creation. The site has also evolved to include multiple media formats. Audio interviews with scientists, video, teachers’ tools, photo galleries, and games have been developed to accommodate different types of learners and meet the expectations of nearly one million visitors, yearly. [ref. to figure removed]

The Oct. 14, 2010 news item on physorg. com offers a more lively perspective than is possible with a scholarly article,

“A key-stroke can bring the world to one’s laptop, but nothing substitutes for a living, breathing expert,” says Kazilek, director for technology integration and outreach in ASU’s School of Life Sciences.

The experts backing up Dr. Biology are more than 150 volunteer scholars at ASU, which include professors, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the School of Life Sciences and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The popularity of the site has also attracted an army of off-campus volunteers from around the world.

“Scientists, educators and science Web developers often don’t realize that great graphics and in-depth content are only part of why ‘Ask A Biologist’ is popular,” Kazilek says. “People still need people.”

(I have a feeling I’ve featured this quote before but my website searches don’t yield it.)

A Nov. 25, 2010 news item on physorg.com celebrates the AAAS award,

What set Arizona’s Ask A Biologist apart? Reading interventionist Joan Howell with the Phoenix Elementary School District, a teacher for 20 years, says that it is Kazilek. “Charles simply knows how to connect with children,” she says. “He has combined science and art and created a wonderful vehicle for learning. It keeps you aware of the Web, it’s something local, it shows that ASU is a leading institution and it’s infectious. We are very thankful at our school and in our district. He has opened up a world of possibility.”

Kazilek’s virtual world is kaleidoscopic, encompassing coloring pages, image and zoom galleries, games, stories, science career pages, teacher’s resources, experiments, and language translations into Spanish and French. Entrancing more than a million visitors a year from across the globe, favorite offerings from amongst the 2,500 pages of content are the Ugly Bug contest and the Ask A Biologist’s podcast, which injects children’s voices, as co-hosts, in the website’s audioprogramming (http://askabiologist.asu.edu/explore/watch_listen).

“The Ugly Bug contest teaches kindergarteners to sixth graders how to look at things closely,” says Howell. “The details of the bugs inspire all sorts of questions. It’s a wonderful skill for children to develop. They don’t even realize that they are learning.”

The numbers are telling: more than 10,735 votes have been cast to determine 2010’s ugliest bug since it debuted on Oct. 31. Locked in battle are top contenders, the assassin bug and yellow dragonfly (http://askabiologist.asu.edu/activities/ubc).

Congratulations to Charles Kazilek and ‘Ask a Biologist’.

1 thought on “Award-winning science outreach: Ask a Biologist

  1. Pingback: Universe Awareness wins prize « FrogHeart

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