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1a. VSG Project: Context, problem

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My SoTL work has centered around i) the utilization and impact of visualizations on learning in the sciences; and ii) how collaborative inquiry develops in online communities (disciplinary; multidisciplinary; international).     



“Visualizing the Science of Genomics (VSG) – an international online genomics research project” started out as a “What’s possible?” SoTL project.[To view the archived VSG project, please visit:]

The project and outcomes are described in detail in Takayama, K. (2005).


My goal was to model an online student inquiry community around how we as scientists engage in, interact and collaborate in research communities. I was rather ambitious in deciding to do this with 42 students from 24 different universities, in 11 different countries. So if I think about what my “problem” was which moved me to take on this project, it was that students across the entire 4 years of university were not developing the habits of mind that we as scientists practice so intuitively.     


Emphasis on process, not content.     

By shifting the emphasis from a content- and outcome-focused approach to a process-oriented approach, reflection and analysis becomes second nature to the student. One of the greatest challenges is to teach students to transfer what they have learned to a new situation; the process of application. To identify and clarify the scientific process and situate abstract concepts in relevant and authentic contexts to aid students’ understanding of the ‘big picture’ as well as the functional details, I created VSG as an open-ended, fully online research community to engage students in the active process of collaborative scientific inquiry.     


Was it possible to move students to a realm in which they collaboratively developed and integrated a ‘real research approach’ by experiencing the excitement of authentic research in a fully online environment?I also wanted to emphasize the global nature of scientific research, and its dependency on contributions from scientists with different areas of expertise. The students worked in multidisciplinary teams comprised of participants from different parts of the world to analyze, hypothesize, reflect, and formulate models starting from HIV genomic sequence data. I created case studies based on sequences obtained from an international database. My goal was to induce students to collaboratively assess and interpret available data, and to come up with their own research questions and approaches. This approach contrasts significantly from the traditional university laboratory course, in which the student learning experience is dictated by the ‘aim of the experiment’ and the prescribed methodology in the lab manual. Hence, the VSG project became a unique (but rather ambitious!) online model for teaching and learning scientific research.     

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