On October 28-29, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University was buzzing with twenty two college educators learning and discussing ways to teach genomics in the classroom. The two day iPlant Collaborative faculty workshop was taught by Jason Williams from the DNA Learning Center of Cold Spring Harbor Labs. Participants comprised faculty from around the region, representing community colleges like Roxbury Community College (Boston, MA) and Manchester Community College (CT) and four year schools including the UMass system (Lowell and Dartmouth, MA), Smith College (Northampton, MA), and Bates College (ME).
The workshop began with discussions about important concepts in molecular biology and genomics. Using the same resources available to the plant biology research community, the participants collected “unknown” species of wildflowers from the hillside outside the Arboretum’s Weld Hill Research Building, performed DNA extraction and barcoding experiments in the undergraduate teaching lab, and practiced analyzing their results on their computers. The DNA barcodes from the unknown plants were used to identify their species by utilizing real-world bioinformatics techniques. Barcoding techniques are commonly used by scientists out in the field, including Arnold Arboretum scientist Cam Webb, to document biodiversity in the world’s forests. In addition to lab experiments and bioinformatics tools, the workshop allowed the educators an opportunity to interact with their peers and discuss everyday issues in teaching.
The iPlant Collaborative workshop was funded by National Science Foundation and was offered to participating teachers free of charge. Teachers also received a small stipend to defray housing and transportation costs associated with attending the workshop.