Science 2.0…

INTERACTIVITY is key in the new Web 2.0 infrastructure, it’s what all the crazy cats are doing. The idea has now extended into the lecture theatre, with my university trialling a new system of student-lecturer interaction that one can only describe as ‘Lecture 2.0‘.

The particular technology being used is called Interwrite PRS, which is essentially a hand-held device lent to students for the year that can be employed to take part in impromptu quizzes and give feedback on the lecture. At the start of the lecture the students sign in using a key code, registering themselves with the computer at the front of the theatre. Points are awarded and recorded for both participation and for answering questions correctly.

Part of the aim is to get live feedback from the students; gone, hopefully, are the days when a question asked by the lecturer is met by a stony silence and a complete absence of hands being raised. It seems that generation X (or is it Y we’re on these days?) likes the anonymity of the web interface; and whilst it doesn’t necessarily address the need to be able to stand up in a crowd, it could in the long term engender greater confidence, and attention in lectures, as a result of participation.

One of the issues I wanted to raise around the Science Online London 2009 meeting is how we measure the impact of web-based science. Communicating science in the Web 2.0 infrastructure should mean that we can get real feedback on just how much people have understood what they read, or liked what they read. This isn’t to suggest that we start testing readers after every article of science writing.

We already have an open comments box, but in many respects this presents the horror of a blank piece of paper. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to construct an interactive feedback box that is more directed? Maybe something that is a third-party application that collates the feedback data from numerous science blogs? I’m sure there are plenty of tools out there in the blogosphere, but it would be nice to collate some independent data on the impact that science writers and science bloggers have.

In brief…(wry, ironic smile)


THIS weekend I will be attending the Science Online London meeting at the Royal Institution, where 150 delegates will be discussing science blogging and the nature of the web as a medium for the communication, practice and culture of science. It  also happens to be a year since I switched to my own installation of WordPress, and started what I’ve since referred to as a science blog. So I thought it might be a choice time to catalogue just some of the science I have been writing about in the past year.

LHC I started my ramblings last August, which was in time to comment on a report in Nature describing a virus that infects a virus, a virophage. The small virophage was called Sputnik, and it infects an enormous virus, called Mamavirus. This was an astounding piece of observational work, and having realised that such parasitism exists, and adjusted their views to the sizes of particles involved, the researchers reported that this phenomenon may be common in nature. Certainly, if parasitism is occurring at this scale, this may have major repercussions for what we understand about the biology and life-cycles of other important single-celled organisms that are also susceptible to viruses, such as algae. Algae are major players in the production of oxygen and fixing of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thus viruses that can (and do) infect algae could have indirectly influenced the state of our climate over the millennia.

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