Bridging between scientific disciplines: Educational strategies to meet the challenge of managing information across the sciences

Authors


Abstract

The need for research to address global, complex problems that require expertise from multiple disciplines across geographic distances and the impact of new computing and network technologies on the practice of science and engineering research endeavors has received attention from many stakeholder communities. Helping to supply an appropriately trained information professional and researcher who can readily step in and contribute to a cyberinfrastructure-enabled research process has lagged behind other contributions made by information and library schools. Each of the panelists has developed strategies that prepare students to thrive in this new environment where they can play an active role in an interdisciplinary research process. Given that technology and interdisciplinary involvement may differ greatly between disciplines and research projects, and that the scientific process will evolve as new technologies are adopted, it is important to examine the different aspects of training required for this complex environment. The panelists will therefore detail strategies used to expose and involve students in a range of science disciplines and problems, while providing these students room to express their own interests and come to an understanding of information needs and solutions appropriate for scientific research, whether occurring alone with a computer, via interaction with others in a virtual collaboratory, or as a result of inputs from a remote observation station or laboratory. The panelists will then invite discussion to help identify successful aspects of these solutions that can be incorporated into permanent information and library school course offerings regarding managing information across the sciences.

Panel Session Description

The need for research to address global, complex problems that require expertise from multiple disciplines across geographic distances and the impact of new computing and network technologies on the practice of science and engineering research endeavors has received attention from many stakeholder communities. In particular, the increased productivity and challenges that technology brings to scientists at many levels of their endeavor has created opportunities for the information science community to offer findings, systems, and assistance in the application of informatics or management of the proliferating types and number of digital resources. (Borgman, 2007) Helping to supply an appropriately trained information professional and researcher who can readily step in and contribute to a cyberinfrastructure-enabled research process has lagged behind other contributions made by information and library schools. Grant-funded curriculum development efforts have created new courses and programs that have begun to address the need for this type of worker. The limitations, however, of some stand-out examples are instructive in that they either focus on a broad class of digital resources that exist well beyond the bounds of science, or they train for a skilled person, but one who is capable of operating only as a discipline-specific informatician. (Lee, et al, 2007; Palmer, et al., 2007)

Science librarians, and academic librarians in general, have a proven history in simultaneously designing information resource management systems that operate across disciplines, while also serving as trusted partners to meet specific information needs. The new forms of digital information and geographically-dispersed colleagues scientists now work with, and the new roles that technology is playing in their work processes, challenge this equilibrium, particularly because the adoption of technology and impact on work practices varies by discipline and situation.

Each of the panelists has developed strategies that prepare students to thrive in this new environment where information professionals can play an active role in the interdisciplinary research process. For example, students learn how to co-create information management solutions that are technology enabled, tailored for collaboration, have a high cost-benefit ratio, support the scientists' current work practices, and are compatible with the norms and values of scientists from multiple communities. Given that technology and interdisciplinary involvement may differ greatly between disciplines and research projects, and that the scientific process will evolve as new technologies are adopted, it is important that each presenter emphasize a different aspect of the training required for this complex and evolving environment. The panelists will therefore detail strategies used to expose and involve students in a range of science disciplines and problems, while providing these students room to express their own interests and come to an understanding of information needs and solutions appropriate for scientific research, whether occurring alone with a computer, via interaction with others in a virtual collaboratory, or as a result of inputs from a remote observation station or laboratory instrumentation. The panelists will then invite the ASIS&T annual meeting attendees to join them in discussion to help identify successful aspects of educational design and implementation that can be incorporated into permanent information and library school course offerings regarding managing information across the sciences.

The speakers' topics are:

  • 1Evidence-based Discovery Catherine Blake is an associate professor at the School of Library and Information Science and will share her experiences in developing a new course entitled evidence-based discovery while at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's SILS. The course combines theoretical models from discovery science with a survey of informatics tools that support scientists and policy makers. Each week a distinguished faculty member from a variety of disciplines outlines both the research process that he or she uses and the role that informatics tools play in that process. The subsequent discussion explores the synergy between synthesis and discovery, the gaps between the theory and practice of science, and recurring themes that span all disciplines. Course projects allow students to explore the gaps between existing informatics tools and research practice.
  • 2An Active Approach to Science Data Management John D'Ignazio is a doctoral student at the School of Information Studies who has worked as a research assistant throughout the life of the NSF-funded Science Data Literacy (SDL) Project (Dr. Jian Qin, PI). The goal of the project was to develop a course to promote awareness about the role of digital data in the scientific process and train the students in resource management techniques to support data-driven research endeavors. D'Ignazio will describe how the course design, which had to accommodate undergraduate students from all STEM majors as well as iSchool masters students, helped the students deal with this low-level matter fundamentally embedded in all science practice by motivating them to actively work with data. First, the students reverse-engineered the resource management of web-based data repositories, and then they applied this knowledge in a project connected to a working scientist's creation and use of data. Information about the SDL project, including course materials, is available at sdl.syr.edu.
  • 3Students & Scientific Collaboration: Teaching and Involvement Diane H. Sonnenwald is a professor at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science and will discuss her experiences running workshops for students and scientists to learn and practice interdisciplinary collaboration. She will discuss her experience involving Ph.D. students in collaborative projects with scientists to both educate them to the types of collaborations that can occur in research and to highlight the interplay among the collaborative information behavior, technology and scientific processes in other disciplines and university contexts to achieve successful research project outcomes. Given this experience, she will conclude the panel with insight into ways courses can encourage students' understanding of collaboration and incorporate work with scientists.

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