UCAR > Communications > Staff Notes Monthly > February 2001 Search

February 2001

Digital library builds collections and community, one meeting at a time

Mary Marlino. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Students will probe scientific data collected the same morning or gathered painstakingly over centuries. Teachers will collaborate and learn from each other on line. That's the vision of the Digital Library for Earth System Education (DLESE), a collaborative effort among U.S. geoscience educators to build the next generation of science-education libraries.

The DLESE Program Center in UOP (known as the DPC) is coordinating the construction effort, which is "community designed, owned, and managed," says Cathy Manduca (Carleton College), who, as a DPC staff member, serves as DLESE outreach coordinator. To help enlarge that community, DLESE principals—including Cathy, DPC director Mary Marlino, collections coordinator Dave Mogk (Montana State University), and colleagues—have been making presentations at key scientific meetings this fall and winter, from the Geological Society of America and American Geophysical Union (AGU) to the American Meteorological Society. Their prime goal: expanding the DLESE community.

DLESE is being built to foster collaboration among earth-science educators and learners, nurture new advances in teaching about the earth as a system, and encourage active student investigation of scientific questions by offering

"Our vision for the digital library is rapid, sophisticated access where you find the information you want without having to plow through [Web] pages about clothes shopping," said Cathy at her AGU talk in San Francisco this past December. "It's been hard to search for appropriate materials and explore data sets on line. The dream is to make it easier." To accomplish that goal the library includes multiple access paths, including searching or browsing by grade level (from primary grades to professional audiences), subject matter, type of material (e.g., curriculum guide, classroom activity, or virtual field trip), type of text (e.g., journal article, book, or glossary), and a number of other categories.

Peer review and digital barn raising

The library will offer an additional service not found often on the Web: peer review of materials for scientific accuracy, audience level, and effectiveness in the classroom. "That's something the community has asked for," says Mary. Adds Cathy, "We see the library as a catalyst for change, integrating research and education to help us all become better teachers and learners."

To build the collections, "We're actively seeking the good resources that already exist out there," says Dave. "Just imagine what a rich collection we'll have if our colleagues each contribute just one or two of their best learning activities." To boost the accessibility of materials through the library's search and browse features, good cataloguing is a must. To assist that effort, "We're also providing tools to help creators of new resources characterize their materials," Dave says.

Pitching in to help are K–12 teachers, informal science educators from museums and other outreach programs, and educational publishers. These efforts, coordinated by the DPC and a community-based governance structure, include funded partners at Columbia University; Dartmouth College; the San Diego Supercomputing Center; the University of California, Santa Barbara; and the University of Colorado, among others. "These educators are developing collections, proposing library services, formulating intellectual property policies, and investigating business plans," Mary explains.

Participants also serve on a variety of working groups to deal with large data sets and metadata (the data about data that allow cataloguing and retrieval), identify materials, develop the peer-review process, and ensure diversity in DLESE's community building.

Here in UOP, the DLESE Program Center is "the piece that's tying us all together," says Cathy. The DPC's 15 staff are building the library's technical infrastructure, including the search and retrieval system and the look and feel of the Web pages. DPC technical staff are working closely with FL4 colleagues in Unidata, who have years of experience in managing and displaying large data sets. A $500,000 grant from NSF to DLESE, administered by the center, is supporting efforts to tackle issues such as cross-platform interoperability, metadata structure, and system architecture. Unidata director Dave Fulker is the principal investigator. According to Mary, "The staff at the DPC is very excited about having Dave spend a major part of his sabbatical with us. His perspectives, coming from his Unidata experiences, are invaluable to DLESE in these formative times," says Mary.

Testing is under way, and intrepid pioneers can explore the current version. A highly functional prototype will be available by summer. Primary support for DLESE's development has been provided by NSF; some additional funds have come from NASA.

As DLESE becomes operational, the community of educators will expand even further on line through the project's collaboratory tools. The DLESE project is governed by a steering committee representing all the subdisciplines in earth-system science, at all grade levels and collegiate levels. "One of the real strengths of the project is the community leadership," says Mary. "We're at this wonderful convergence right now, where the time is right and the technology is right—technology that will allow interaction among educators, scientists, policy makers, and students around the world."

• ZG

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
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Last revised: Mon Feb 5 13:36:05 MST 2001