January 13, 2017
An online mentoring community that connects plant scientists with secondary school students to work on student-designed research projects found the tools it needed to expand in HUBzero, Purdue’s open-source platform for scientific collaboration.
PlantingScience.org was founded in 2005 by The Botanical Society of America, in partnership with 18 other scientific societies, as a way of helping teachers overcome “plant blindness,” namely a focus on animal biology at the exclusion of plant science. The program has served more than 22,000 students and partnered with more than 1,000 scientists since its inception.
“We provide scientists with an easy opportunity to get into the classroom,” says Catrina Adams, the program director for PlantingScience and the education director for the Botanical Society of America. “In less than an hour a week from their offices they can make a difference to science education by logging in and communicating with a team of students.”
As word of the project spread and more participants signed up, PlantingScience began to outgrow its website, which also required a great deal of administrative upkeep. Adams and her colleagues turned to Purdue’s HUBzero team for help designing a web-based platform that would better suit their needs and allow the project to expand in the ways they wanted without such a large investment of staff time.
HUBzero and support from the team led by Director Michael Zentner and Manager of Research Operations Betsy Hillery has done just that by facilitating increased coordination directly between mentoring scientists, teachers and students. Mentors can now keep up to date with classroom progress, and forums and resource libraries built into the hub provide a space for participants to share their collective expertise.
Thanks to HUBzero, teachers also now have the option to select from a gallery of potential scientist mentors rather than being assigned a mentor by PlantingScience staff, which has allowed for more individualized mentorship and reduced administrative work.
“(The new platform) has been doing all the things we wanted it to do to take our program to the next level and allow us to do a lot more community-building,” says Adams.
The relationship has also been a beneficial one for the HUBzero team, who have been inspired by PlantingScience’s scalable approach to connecting secondary students with professional scientists.
“We hope the model PlantingScience uses for engaging and forming connections between K-12 students and the professional world could serve in other domains of science within which we work,” says Zentner.
HUBzero is a ready-made cyberinfrastructure for research and education developed at Purdue. The HUBzero platform now powers more than 60 interactive, web-based hubs in fields such as nanotechnology, medical device informatics, cancer treatment, pharmaceutical manufacturing, volcanology, environmental modeling, biofuels, and the bonds between humans and companion animals. Built-in social networking creates communities in almost any field or subject matter and facilitates communication, collaboration and distribution of research results, along with training and educational materials. The award-winning HUBzero also enables rapid deployment of computational research codes, and visualizing and analyzing results, all through a browser. The platform has a growing set of data management and interactive database capabilities.