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Conference Report


D-Lib Magazine
November/December 2008

Volume 14 Number 11/12

ISSN 1082-9873

The NSDL Community at its Best

Report on the NSDL Annual Meeting 2008


Carol Minton Morris
Cornell University

Red Line


As Congress debated the details of a financial bailout package, almost 200 National Science Digital Library (NSDL) partners and projects gathered in Washington, D.C., to celebrate a substantial national return on a very good cyberlearning investment and to discuss new directions for the 8-year-old National Science Foundation (NSF) NSDL program. The NSDL Annual Meeting was held September 30-October 2, 2008. Attendees participated in a day and a half packed with opportunities for networking, and sharing research results and accomplishments, project outcomes and good stories. NSDL is designed to leverage online educational Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) technology and resources for students and learners of all ages. Many partners and projects have been part of NSDL since 2000, and as usual, the conversations and collaborations in and around the annual meeting were highly valued by attendees as a way to catch up professionally and personally.

Linda Slakey, Director, Division of Undergraduate Education, National Science Foundation, opened the conference by engaging participants in looking towards a mature version of NSDL that would address issues of sustainability and offer proof of how digital learning is having an educational impact in classrooms. Slakey's remarks echoed the newly released NSF Task Force on Cyberlearning report Fostering Learning in the Networked World: The Cyberlearning Opportunity and Challenge, which presents the NSF's views on future investment in educational technologies in support of STEM workforce development.

Presentations, panels, posters and lightning talks painted a picture of NSDL as a working cyberlearning platform developed by a dedicated community with NSF support and investment. As a set of technological and educational solutions in support of mature discipline communities, NSDL addresses the national vision in support of cyberlearning called for in the report.

One NSDL strategy for building NSDL in support of efficient resource discovery for broad categories of users is through eleven discipline-specific Pathways portals managed by organizations and institutions that have both history and expertise in serving their target audiences. Three new NSDL Pathways were introduced by their Principal Investigators at the NSDL Annual Meeting.

MSP2 Pathway

Kim Lightle, Ohio State University College of Education; Mary Henton, National Middle School Association (NMSA); and Sarita Nair-Pillai, Education Development Center (EDC) introduced the Math and Science Middle School Pathways Portal (MSP2) as an offshoot of the NSDL Middle School Portal (MSP). Launched in 2005, MSP has taken advantage of NSDL cyberinfrastructure to make progress. MSP2 will feature a more interactive version of the current web site, with a networked, cutting edge set of resources for its many dedicated users.

Sarita Nair-Pillai said, "Students are at the center of what we do (at the Fun Works), and we engage them as partners and producers." MSP2 will include The Fun Works virtual learning experiences connected to career information for youth, with participation from the National Middle School Association's (NMSA) 30,000 voting members (over 200,000 members nationwide). The NMSA is focused on helping teachers become "21st century teacher leaders."

NSDL Ensemble Pathway: Enriching Communities and Collections to Support Education in Computing

Ensemble stands for "Enriching Communities and Collections to Support Education in Computing." This new NSDL Pathway is being developed by Lillian Cassel, Villanova University; Rick Furuta, Texas Engineering Experiment Station; Lois Delcambre, Portland State University; Ed Fox, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; Gregory Hislop, Drexel University; and Peter Brusilovsky, University of Pittsburgh. In this context the term "Ensemble" means infrastructure plus organized outreach through communities who take on the study and teaching of computing as a whole. There has been a decline in computer science graduates overall, with an even greater decline in female graduates, while computing jobs are on the rise. Ensemble would like to turn this situation around.

The team is interested in highlighting the multidisciplinary aspects of computer science – information science, informatics, computer engineering, educational technology and software engineering – to present computing "writ large" to new kinds of potential students.

NSDL Quantitative Social Science Digital Library Pathway

William Frey, Co-PI for the Quantitative Social Science Digital Library Pathway (QSSDL), pointed out that quantitative literacy in the social sciences is missing in currcula, and that quantitative reasoning in data analysis is not well understood. The idea of dealing with data analysis is not something that makes it down to core study in any field, because there are not yet enough research methods courses.

The NSDL Quantitative Social Science Digital Library Pathway (QSSDL) aims to change that by providing a portal to materials and modules that integrate quantitative analysis with the teaching of the social sciences. QSSDL is a partnership of the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) and the Social Science Data Analysis Network (SSDAN), both at the University of Michigan, and the American Sociological Association, the American Political Science Association, and the Association of American Geographers.

QSSDL objectives include: community-building around the use of Web 2.0 interactive and social networking tools; outreach across disciplines, as well as making methods and tools for automating data extraction available; and connecting data with analysis, especially for teachers.


Meeting sessions kicked off with presentations about NSDL operations going forward. Core Integration, the entity responsible for coordinating the central infrastructure and organization of NSDL in recent years, has been replaced by two new NSF-funded entities: the Resource Center (RC) and the Technical Network Services provider (TNS). In combination, these two organizations have assumed the functions of Core Integration to ensure a smooth continuation of NSDL's successful trajectory since 2000.

Screen shot from the NSDL Science Literacy Maps web site

NSDL Science Literacy Maps utilize the NCore strand map service which is a tool to illustrate connections between concepts as well as how concepts build upon one another across grade levels.

Presenters from the Resource Center and from Technical Network Services pointed out that this transition marks a turning point for NSDL, and they reviewed plans, services and technologies. Since NSDL began, both the infrastructure focus and the external context for NSDL have changed. The National Science Foundation initiated the NSDL program during a period of startling transition of the Web from what was a network of hyperlinked documents to one that supports and encourages networks that build around information objects accessible through the Web. That transition has radically changed the way that people use the Web as well as changed concepts of digital libraries, information sharing, and collaborative knowledge. NSDL-future will continue to reframe ideas around managed collections of digital resources in recognition of this new Web context and the vision of cyberlearning laid out in Fostering Learning in the Networked World: The Cyberlearning Opportunity and Challenge.

Screen shot from the How to Smile web site

The How to Smile web site.

Online Science Museums as Cyberlearning Components

NSDL's Pathway to Informal Education, aptly named SMILE, features an intriguing introductory web site that is all about presenting a treasure trove of math and science instruction as a way to have a good time learning while outside the classroom. Boosting access to the deep content expertise and resources behind the Exploratorium, The Lawrence Hall of Science, the Science Museum of Minnesota, The Children's Museum of Houston, The NY Hall of Science in one convenient interface using NSDL technologies is enough to make anyone smile. Darrell Porcello, Lawrence Hall of Science, UC Berkeley; Sherry Hsi, The Exploratorium; and Eric Marshall, NY Hall of Science discussed what it took to combine resources, and data from partnering institutions. Their presentation provided lots of good ideas about metadata, interactivity, user needs and survey data in planning a comprehensive portal solution to serve the nation's informal STEM education teachers and learners.

More Highlights from the NSDL Annual Meeting

Interesting and far-reaching presentations included a round-robin on "Sharing Evaluation Expertise and Results" featuring nine institutions who shared a variety of methodologies and tales from the field about tackling the "thorny" issues.

Screen shot from the NSDL Reflections web site

The NSDL Reflections web site.

In an afternoon session Flora McMartin presented early results of an NSDL history project entitled "NSDL Reflections", which seeks to present both historical reflections and various perspectives on where NSDL has been as well as what its impact has been on collaboration and research. NSDL Reflections is also a way for the community to expand the story by adding their own comments.

Screen shot from the Ask a Biologist web site

The ASU Ask a Biologist web site.

Charles Kazilek, Director of Technology Integration and Outreach, School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, (aka Dr. Biology), who is the podcaster behind, "Ask A Biologist," presented the art and science behind podcasting. Kazilek's session was designed to inspire NSDL community members to get out there and make more media. He provided participants with resources and step-by-step tips on how to utilize podcasting for content delivery and dissemination.

NSF NSDL Changes

Although the NSDL Annual Meeting Zia Haiku were delivered on time, long time NSF NSDL Program Director Lee Zia announced that he has taken a leave of absence from the National Science Foundation to serve as a 2008-2009 Commerce Science and Technology Fellow within the Department of Commerce. Hal Richtol, NSF DUE, is currently serving as the interim NSF NSDL Program Director.

To keep current with NSDL news and information and announcements, you may subscribe to NSDL Whiteboard Report, a monthly NSDL newsletter.

Presentations and posters from the NSDL Annual Meeting are available here.

Copyright © 2008 Carol Minton Morris

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