Revolutionizing the Use of Natural History Collections in Education

By Karen E. Powers, L. Alan Prather, Joesph A. Cook, James Woolley, Henry L. Bart Jr., Anna K. Monfils, Petra Sierwald

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Using natural history collections, both physical specimens and archive data, promises to connect classroom learning with the real world of science. 


From the article:  "Natural history collections are an irreplaceable and extensive record of life, and form the basis of our understanding of biodiversity on our planet. Broad-scale educational accessibility to these vast specimen collections, specimen images, and their associated data is currently severely hampered. With emerging technologies and massive efforts towards digitizing specimens, there is enormous potential to revolutionize biology education at all levels. These specimens, images, and data provide an unparalleled opportunity to integrate both inquiry-based and place-based learning into education at all levels and in all venues. Natural history specimens and associated data have an inherent focus on spatial and temporal variation and are uniquely situated to integrate traditionally segregated disciplines, and to develop creativity, generative thinking, and rigorous inquiry; qualities that will be required of successful future generations. These collections are excellent tools for engaging students in biology and helping students draw connections among sub-disciplines within biology (e.g., ecology, evolution, and molecular genetics) and connect biology to other fields (e.g., art, computer science, and geography). Natural history specimens can nurture student interest in solving important societal issues such as sustainability, invasive species, declining biodiversity, food security, climate change, and emerging pathogens. To realize these educational opportunities we need to overcome the disconnect between educators and museum scientists by providing greater access to teaching collections and building student-friendly digital interfaces and educational modules that demonstrate how to explore the vast natural history collections. There are a growing number of excellent models for overcoming these hurdles that illustrate how these approaches could be expanded and more widely adopted in educational settings/environments." 

Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Powers, K. E., L. A. Prather, J. A. Cook, J. Wooleey, H. L. Bart, Jr., A. K. Monfils, and P. Sierwald (2014). Revolutionizing the Use of Natural History Collections in Education. Science Education Review, 13(2):  24-33


Dan Metz

Radford University