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Natural history collections data and Biodiversity Literacy in Undergraduate Education (BLUE)

By Elizabeth Ellwood1, Anna K. Monfils2, Debra Linton2, Molly Phillips3

1. Florida State University 2. Central Michigan University 3. iDigBio

Presentation made by Elizabeth Ellwood et al. as part of the "Bringing Research Data to the Ecology Classroom: Opportunities, Barriers, and Next Steps” Session at the Ecological Society of America annual meeting, August 8th, 2017, Portland...

Listed in Teaching Materials

Version 1.0 - published on 15 Aug 2017 doi:10.25334/Q46Q26 - cite this

Licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International according to these terms



Natural history collections (NHCs) are one of the richest sources of information for documenting earth’s biodiversity across both space and time. As collections data become more accessible through the many digitization efforts (such as NSF’s Advancing Digitization for Biological Collections Program), many new research and educational applications for specimen data are being realized. When data from NHCs are combined with emerging ecological data resources (NEON, USGS, etc.) the power to address research questions of global concern and engage students in data-based independent and guided inquiry is profound.

With the publication of the NSF/AAAS document, Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology: A Call to Action, the recent American Institute of Biological Science initiative “Leadership in Biology”, and other federal reviews of STEM education in the US there is national recognition that the next generation of college graduates must be skilled in communication and collaboration, have quantitative competency, possess the ability to understand and interpret data, and be comfortable working with large databases. Specimens and data from NHCs can serve a unique role in addressing Vision and Change recommendations as museum specimens and associated digital data provide significant opportunities for authentic undergraduate research experiences, and provide a valuable resource to teach about the iterative process of science, data literacy, critical thinking, quantitative biology, communication in the sciences, and biodiversity informatics. These skills can be integrated within the context of exploring topics including climate change, spread of disease, species conservation, interspecific interactions, and invasive species. The place-based capacity of collections data combined with the social and societal relevance of biodiversity can also serve a role in creating inclusive, culturally relevant and socially conscious educational materials that engage a broad audience in biodiversity science.


Biodiversity Literacy in Undergraduate Education (BLUE; is a new initiative that brings together communities of biodiversity, data, and education specialists to develop effective strategies for sustained development and implementation of biodiversity and data literacy education. Here, we present examples of activities developed by BLUE, and BLUE partners, that highlight the use of NHC data in undergraduate biology courses. We will also discuss ways one can join the BLUE network, participate in BLUE activities, and share and disseminate resources through the growing BLUE network.

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