Sure. We are part of a network of 25 environmental and zoological education centres in NSW, part of the Department of Education. The centre itself is located in Bournda National park on the far south coast of NSW in a region you could describe as a biodiversity hot spot. We work in partnership with schools and a range of government agencies, NGO's and community organisations to provide a real world, authentic context for students to learn about the environment. This includes students from kindy all the way through to year 12.
How do you use biodiversity data in this setting?
Teachers and students look to us for support with resources and activities that really get them engaged with questions about how we manage and protect our biodiversity, and what impacts humans are having on biodiversity in our local area. We want to have examples that are not just textbook examples, but real world applications of science to their area.
Open, freely available biodiversity data is becoming more and more important in this setting, particularly to support the high school curriculum. If we look at the stage 6 science syllabus there is a real focus on students undertaking depth studies, which includes data analysis as part of their investigation. Students are required to undertake construction and analysis of graphs and tables, and analyse using data from a number of different sources.
With appropriate skill development, students can access an amazing range of information. Not just from their local area, but across NSW so they can compare what they find out about their local ecosystems with contrasting areas throughout the state. I think having that range of information at your fingertips, being able to see understand how your region is different to others, illuminates some of the factors that underlie the differences in biodiversity.
What is the role of data from BioNet in this?
When I first saw how the open data web services you have produced could be so easily accessed by students [via Excel], and the heat map that was produced looking at threatened species sightings, I immediately saw the link with the depth studies. Students are not only required to create visual presentations, but to seek novel ways to present data and to investigate emerging technologys. The whole idea of online data being available to all highlights the power of bringing big data to bear on problems we need to solve.
A platform like BioNet means that students have equitable access to data no matter where they are, so that they are not dependant on having a local scientist in their area to access data. At the same time, I see the potential for something like BioNet to provide a common platform for collaborative learning. A platform that engages students and teachers and through which they can connect with biodiversity scientists in NSW.
How will all this activity make a difference to biodiversity in NSW?
I'll try not to sound too radical! One of the main thrusts of education is to have active and informed citizens. If you have people in your community that understand how to source biodiversity data and understand what it means, if people know and understand what is in their local community, they will act positively to protect it. They are not relegated to depending on a government department to know what is there and understand it. In the end, we are skilling students to help them, and the community, understand and look after the environment.