Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Undergraduate writing in the sciences: three nice examples

In working with a few of the junior year writing classes in the sciences here at UMass Amherst, I've been impressed with some of the creative assignments instructors are using to engage students in the process of scholarly research and writing.

Recently, I've come across a few other examples of innovative scientific/scholarly writing projects for undergraduates, which I'd like to share here.

First, from the University of Michigan's Museum of Zoology comes Animal Diversity Web, "an online database of animal natural history, distribution, classification, and conservation biology." Many of the species articles in Animal Diversity Web are written by undergraduates, and articles go through an editing and peer review process. From their website:
An essential feature of the ADW is student authorship of species accounts. Students learn considerable detail about the biology of a species, then share their work with users worldwide by making it part of our permanent database...Instructors and ADW staff review and edit accounts before they are added to the site. Classes at a number of universities contribute to the ADW project, and the resulting growth of the database makes us even better for inquiry learning.
Secondly, I saw a great presentation at this year's NERCOMP conference that described a collaborative writing project in the sciences at Vassar College. A professor teamed with educational technologists, a science librarian, and a writing center staffer to create an assignment whereby teams of students collaboratively wrote scientific review articles on topics in protein chemistry. The presentation focused on both the pedagogical and technological aspects of the project--students used an open-source content management system called Plone as a platform for collaborative writing and bibliography assembly. The end result was a series of very impressive scholarly review articles on topics including the pharmacogenetics of HIV/AIDS, chemical biology and cell cycle control, the metabolomics of mad cow disease, and proteomics and Vioxx.

Finally, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is launching a student-run, peer-reviewed journal, the Wisconsin Undergraduate Journal of Science. The creation of the journal strives to meet the following goals (from their "About" page):

* To integrate peer-reviewed writing into the undergraduate science curriculum
* To assist students in finding research opportunities both on and off campus
* To allow students to be directly involved in the publishing process

If you or your department is involved in an innovative project to introduce undergraduates to writing in the sciences, feel free to leave a comment below!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Microsoft launches academic search engine

Today, Microsoft launched a search engine devoted to scholarly, academic publications. Dubbed "Windows Live Academic," the search engine (still in beta) so far indexes content in the areas of computer science, physics, electrical engineering, and related areas.

Comparisons are already being drawn with Google Scholar, another major initiative by a search company aimed at indexing scholarly literature. (UMass Amherst has partnered with Google Scholar to make materials that we license accessible to our users. Microsoft will be working with libraries in the weeks to come to achieve something similar.)

Microsoft is fairly explicit about which content they are indexing.

Windows Live Academic is still brand new, and it will be interested to see how it is received by the academic community in the days to come. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment on this post or contact the library.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Happy National Poetry Month, Scientists!

April is National Poetry Month, and let it never be said that science and poetry are incompatible. Here are two instances of the intersection of poetry and science:

Fibs: poetry based on the Fibonacci sequence, a famous mathematical series (via Slashdot)

The Periodic Table of Poetry: click on an element to read a poem about it. Poems contributed by readers! Feeling inspired? There are several elements that still don't have poems.

(As I write this, I notice that my colleage Stephanie Willen Brown, aka CogSci Librarian, has just posted links to some poetry podcasts.)


Sunday, April 02, 2006

UMass faculty: Your input requested

Faculty members: If you can spare a few moments, please fill out the following survey on the possible creation of a digital repository here at UMass.

The deadline for the survey is Friday, April 7.

If you have questions or comments about the proposed digital repository, please contact Marilyn Billings at mbillings@library.umass.edu or (413) 545-6891.

Thank you!