Byte-sized bioinformatics: introducing Big Data through computational biology

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Biological Sciences

Abstract

This project will build on our successful public engagement with senior secondary school classes and teachers across Scotland. We propose increased reach and depth of coverage through:

- further school visits to deliver our curriculum-linked workshop for Higher Biology, Higher Human Biology and Advanced Higher Biology pupils;

- national deployment of our recently developed workshop for younger pupils, taking National 4 and National 5 Biology; and

- enrichment and further development of long-term relationships with schools.

We aim to have directly impacted bioinformatics teaching in at least 70% of secondary schools in Scotland by the end of the project. We will deliver, refine and share whole-class activities in bioinformatics across Scottish schools for Biology students in S3-S6, as well as continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers in Scotland. Priorities will include schools remote from major centres of STEM activity, and schools with low progression rates to university.

Bioinformatics is an example of Big Data - a topic central to STFC's mission. Big Data is at the heart of many aspects of modern life, including communications, design, business, finance, manufacturing, transport, engineering, recreation and marketing as well as science. We use curriculum-linked bioinformatics as an entry point to engage young people with computational science and Big Data.

Computational science and Big Data provide career development opportunities, an ability to conduct and support internationally competitive research, and are a keystone to future economic growth and security. These subjects are typically taught within university science programmes. But for rapid progress, social inclusion and public understanding, acquiring these skills must be integrated at much earlier stages in education.

Bioinformatics (computational biology) provides an excellent means to allow young people to gain computational skills and to demonstrate the pervasive relevance of computational science and Big Data. Computational thinking - and many computational skills - are transferable across Big Data and STEM including computer science, physics, astronomy, chemistry, statistics and applied mathematics. Bioinformatics underpins current and future progress in medicine, agriculture and environmental research, and many STFC science and technology projects have a bioinformatics component.

In Scotland, an important leap forward was made with the new Curriculum for Excellence for Higher Biology and Higher Human Biology curricula, which explicitly include bioinformatics. However, the topic is usually taught without a practical component, and may be seen as distant from practice in schools. In reality, practical bioinformatics can be easily accessible to schools - requiring only free software and an Internet connection to access exactly the same tools, data and environment as used professionally.

Whole-class activities in bioinformatics for biology students reach an almost entirely new audience for scientific computation, and off-set the strong male gender bias associated with computer science. Our whole-class activities have extensive advantages for diversity and inclusion. Our workshops will give a taste of practical university-level activities, link topics within the Biology curriculum and across Biology and computing, and increase understanding of Big Data.

We will leave Scottish teachers self-sufficient in bioinformatics, and we will leave pupils with a better understanding of bioinformatics and an awareness of the central role of computational science and Big Data in modern research, industry and society. The materials that we will develop will be made freely available to all, online.

This project follows a pilot project funded via the University of Edinburgh and a successful project part-funded by an STFC Public Engagement Large Award (ST/R000328/1).

Publications

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Bain SA (2021) Bringing bioinformatics to schools in Hello World

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Bain SA (2022) Bringing bioinformatics to schools with the 4273pi project. in PLoS computational biology

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Bain SA (2022) Bioinformatics in schools in Genetics Society News

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Plaisier H (2021) DNA sonification for public engagement in bioinformatics. in BMC research notes

 
Title Bioinformatics in School video 
Description We created a series of bioinformatics tutorial videos to support teacher CPD and the integration of bioinformatics into biology lessons. These online videos allow us to safely reach schools at a time when in-person events are not possible. This video covers Bioinformatics: The Power of Computers in Biology. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact This video has been viewed 53 times internationally. 
URL https://4273pi.org/videos
 
Title Bioinformatics in Schools Video 
Description We created a series of bioinformatics tutorial videos to support teacher CPD and the integration of bioinformatics into biology lessons. These online videos allow us to safely reach schools at a time when in-person events are not possible. This video covers the NCBI database and keyword searches. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact This video has been viewed 292 times internationally. 
URL https://4273pi.org/videos
 
Title Bioinformatics in Schools Video 
Description We created a series of bioinformatics tutorial videos to support teacher CPD and the integration of bioinformatics into biology lessons. These online videos allow us to safely reach schools at a time when in-person events are not possible. This video covers the NCBI protein structure database. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact This video has been viewed 197 times internationally. 
URL https://4273pi.org/videos
 
Title Bioinformatics in Schools video 
Description We created a series of bioinformatics tutorial videos to support teacher CPD and the integration of bioinformatics into biology lessons. These online videos allow us to safely reach schools at a time when in-person events are not possible. This video covers our Bioinformatics: Food Detective Workshop. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact This video has been viewed 42 times internationally. 
URL https://4273pi.org/videos
 
Description Online teacher CPD 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Online teacher CPD event - S3-S6 Bioinformatics for Biologists. Teachers were provided with resources packages that included a Raspberry Pi with 4273pi formatted SD card, power supply, case, monitor cables, a bioinformatics textbook and hard copies of our handouts. In this workshop, we led teachers through our bioinformatics workshops and other resources to provide them with the knowledge, confidence and equipment required to integrate bioinformatics into their classroom teaching. Feedback was collected and will be evaluated as part of a peer-reviewed publication.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Online teacher CPD 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Online teacher CPD event - S3-S6 Bioinformatics for Biologists. Teachers were provided with resources packages that included a Raspberry Pi with 4273pi formatted SD card, power supply, case & monitor cables, a bioinformatics textbook and hard copies of our handouts. In this workshop, we led teachers through our bioinformatics workshops and other resources to provide them with the knowledge, confidence and equipment required to integrate bioinformatics into their classroom teaching. Feedback was collected and will be evaluated as part of a peer-reviewed publication.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Online teacher CPD 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Online teacher CPD event - S3-S6 Bioinformatics for Biologists. Teachers were provided with resources packages that included a Raspberry Pi with 4273pi formatted SD card, power supply, case, monitor cables, a bioinformatics textbook and hard copies of our handouts. In this workshop, we led teachers through our bioinformatics workshops and other resources to provide them with the knowledge, confidence and equipment required to integrate bioinformatics into their classroom teaching. Feedback was collected and will be evaluated as part of a peer-reviewed publication.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Online teacher CPD 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Online teacher CPD event - S3-S6 Bioinformatics for Biologists. Teachers were provided with resources packages that included a Raspberry Pi with 4273pi formatted SD card, power supply, case, monitor cables, a bioinformatics textbook and hard copies of our handouts. In this workshop, we led teachers through our bioinformatics workshops and other resources to provide them with the knowledge, confidence and equipment required to integrate bioinformatics into their classroom teaching. Feedback was collected and will be evaluated as part of a peer-reviewed publication.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Online teacher CPD 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Online teacher CPD event - S3-S6 Bioinformatics for Biologists. Teachers were provided with resources packages that included a Raspberry Pi with 4273pi formatted SD card, power supply, case, monitor cables, a bioinformatics textbook and hard copies of our handouts. In this workshop, we led teachers through our bioinformatics workshops and other resources to provide them with the knowledge, confidence and equipment required to integrate bioinformatics into their classroom teaching. Feedback was collected and will be evaluated as part of a peer-reviewed publication.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Online teacher CPD 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Online teacher CPD event - S3-S6 Bioinformatics for Biologists. Teachers were provided with resources packages that included a Raspberry Pi with 4273pi formatted SD card, power supply, case, monitor cables, a bioinformatics textbook and hard copies of our handouts. In this workshop, we led teachers through our bioinformatics workshops and other resources to provide them with the knowledge, confidence and equipment required to integrate bioinformatics into their classroom teaching. STFC researcher, Martyn Winn was a guest speaker at this event and presented his work on SARS-CoV2 genomes as a case study in bioinformatics/computational biology. Feedback was collected and will be evaluated as part of a peer-reviewed publication.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Online teacher CPD 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Teacher online CPD event - S3-S6 Bioinformatics for Biologists. Delivered training on our two curriculum-linked Biology workshops to Biology teachers as part of the Midlothian Science Festival. Teachers were provided with resources packages that included a Raspberry Pi with 4273pi formatted SD card, power supply, case, monitor cables, a bioinformatics textbook and hard copies of our handouts. In this workshop, we led teachers through our bioinformatics workshops and other resources to provide them with the knowledge, confidence and equipment required to integrate bioinformatics into their classroom teaching. Feedback was collected and will be evaluated as part of a peer-reviewed publication.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Presentation at GOBLET AGM 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presented our project to GOBLET members at the AGM in summer 2020. We highlighted our online resources and their usefulness during the pandemic. We also discussed our plans to move our teacher CPD online which generate a lot of interest and discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020