Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bot 2.0: Botany through Web 2.0, the Memex and Social Learning

About a week from now BotCamp starts. One might ask, "What the heck is BotCamp?" Well, first one (that would be you) might peruse the description for the NSF-funded project entitled Bot 2.0: Botany through Web 2.0, the Memex and Social Learning. It's cool and it's at UNC.

The official blurb, as lifted from the MRC web site and our NSF grant, is:

Bot 2.0 project is an innovative technological approach to retaining student interest in the biological and botanical sciences and addresses the lack of diversity in the student population pursing the botanical sciences. The project involves introducing students from area universities and community colleges to a three-phase curriculum involving reading and field exercises that incorporate inquiry-based learning, communal learning, and reflection.

For my part in this project I am talking with Bot participants about their experiences and expectations with regard to botany, science curriculum writ large, issues of "literacy", and technology. Toward this end I've been reading more of Shirley Brice Heath's work...this time, I'm into her new title On Ethnography which is co-authored with Brian Street. I've also been digging up some of my old qualitative data from my days in D.C., when I taught at the University of the District of Columbia. I'm hoping to post some of those pieces eventually as well.

What I'm meditating on right now is the value of ethnography, which seems not only to be disregarded way too often, but to get lost in a lot of tech talk in these globalized times. If folks do make nods toward audience or individuals it seems to get morphed into User Experience speak which is pretty deterministic (don't want to say myopic here...ooops, said it). UX seems to be bound up in technical aspects and to use behavioral theories from Psychology nearly exclusively. Good ethnography explores "the social" and gets at the dialectic between group and individual identity...social forces trump individual psychological inclinations. I'm endeavoring to craft an ethnographic frame that does this, which may be challenging in an Information Science (and NSF) context, but it would certainly be in the spirit of Heath's project.

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