Using IGoR in teaching

This article suggests a few specific ways that faculty at all academic levels from K12 to college could use IGoR to give students hands-on experience with research. The primary goal of IGoR is to make it easier for people to do science without the support of big institutions. If students see that they can do creative and original science, and continue to do so after they leave school on any career path, they may be more excited by science. In addition, creating and participating in projects on IGoR could help students learn about science as a process, and make it easier for instructors to bring research into the classroom.

Who can use IGoR?

Anyone can use IGoR, although minors need written consent from a responsible adult who will monitor their use of the site, and help them use it safely.

How much does it cost?

It's free!

What do you need to do to use IGoR?

Register for a Wikidot account and click the "join" button on the IGoR front page. Then you can create and contribute to project and article pages. (To keep IGoR free we use Wikidot as a wiki-hosting service. IGoR is not affiliated with Wikidot in any way, but requiring users to register helps keep down the trolls and spammers.)

How can instructors use IGoR?

Instructors at all academic levels can use IGoR to aid their teaching. The following are a few specific ideas for how you could use IGoR in the classroom, with hypothetical examples:

1) Use IGoR to improve class research project ideas before bringing them into the classroom. If you have an idea for a class research project or a lab exercise, you may want to make sure it will work well before using it in class. However, you may not have the time to perfect it on your own. You could propose the idea on IGoR and do small parts of it. Other people could then join the project and help improve it until it is ready for the classroom.

2) Use IGoR to build research projects over several years, or to interact with other classes. Perhaps you've started a class research project, let's say one on mushroom development. Maybe this year your class looks at how and whether they orient to gravity by testing whether oyster mushrooms (yum!) reorient when you tilt a mushroom garden sideways as they grow. Your students might have lots of ideas for improved experiments or follow-up experiments. If the mushrooms reoriented, do they only do it during a specific period of their development? What part of the mushroom senses gravity? Your class could share their ideas and experience with next year's class through an IGoR project page.

Alternatively, you could use IGoR to coordinate with other classes in other subjects. In this example, a math class might figure out how to analyze the results statistically while a biology class focuses on fungal biology.

3) Use IGoR to coordinate projects over a large geographic range. Let's say you want to study how salinity affects populations of the most perfect of all animals, the comb jellies. Using IGoR you could collaborate with schools and other organizations all around the East Coast to monitor comb jelly populations and salinity. Teachers, student, and others could propose and critique different monitoring methods on IGoR. Then different schools, organizations, or individuals could monitor different sites, and post their data on IGoR.

4) Use IGoR to get access to techniques that you could not otherwise use in your classroom. For example, a classroom favorite is the plasmodial slime mold, Physarum. It's great for doing low-tech cell biology because it grows to be a huge, single cell that's easy to work with. You can have your class do lots of simple projects. For example, do they respond to variation in the stiffness of the surface they crawl on in the same ways that human cells do1? One could test this easily by growing them on gels with different stiffnesses. But let's say you want to go further and link up biology with physics by studying the physics of cell movement. This might require a tensiometer to measure the forces the plasmodium can exert. Since plasmodia get huge – up to a several centimeters – it would not be hard to make such a device with the right tools and experience. Posting your project on IGoR might inspire an engineering class or a hobbyist machinist to design and build a tensiometer that you could use.

5) Set up a pen-pal style relationship with science classrooms in different states, or even different countries. Say your class is doing an experiment on the effects of salt water on plant growth. You could collaborate with a class in a different state or country. Each class could examine the same question with different experiments. Students could discuss the different approaches and compare their results.

6) Use IGoR projects as a writing exercise. In particular, the wiki approach will give students experience with editing and providing constructive feedback. This will help them improve their own writing.

How can students use IGoR?

1) Students could find ideas for research projects. Students could find new ideas for senior projects, undergraduate research projects, science fair projects, or science club activities on the site. Students could share their ideas and results, and get feedback from other users. (High school students would need support from responsible adults.)

2) Students can keep their project ideas alive. Undergraduate researchers typically stay in one lab for only a few months to a couple of years, so they often leave with projects partially completed, and many more ideas for follow-up projects than can be done in their lab. They could post these ideas on IGoR so that their ideas won't die after they leave the lab. This may make the undergraduate/high school research experience more satisfying.

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