Last week on Data Pub, I provided the impetus for my latest publication with co-author Stephanie Hampton in Ecosphere about data management education (available on the Ecosphere site). The manuscript is the result of my postdoctoral work with theDataONE organization. The question that spawned the research? Whatever happened to the lab notebook? This query resulted in a survey of whether undergraduates in ecology are being taught about data management. The short answer? No. Here are some more detailed results.
We surveyed the instructors for Ecology courses at 48 institutions. First, we asked whether they cover various data management topics in their courses:
The gist? No, these topics aren’t covered. More on the why later… Next, we asked whether these same topics were important for undergrads to understand. That is, should undergrads be learning about this? The results:
White data points are the average importance reported by instructors, on a a scale of one to five. So in general, YES… although apparently an understanding of databases and archiving, as well as re-use of data and meta-analysis, are less important skills. Next? Are these topics important to the instructors themselves when they are wearing their researcher hat?
These topics are therefore important to the researchers as well. In particular, reproducibility ranks quite highly for importance. Of course, you can’t reproduce results without first managing and sharing data, but I digress.
So why aren’t undergrads learning about this stuff? I asked the instructors to identify the barriers associated with teaching these topics to their undergrads. The responses were free-form, however several answers rose to the top as repeat “offenders”:
The full set of free-form responses are available in the Appendix of the article. One theme that arose was that many instructors indicated that, given better access to resources and course materials, as well as a better understanding themselves of data stewardship issues, they might be more inclined to teach their undergraduates about good data stewardship. Did you hear that, librarians? This is our opportunity to help!
Here are relevant links to the manuscript:
- Ecosphere site for paper: http://www.esajournals.org/doi/full/10.1890/ES12-00139.1
- PDF of paper: http://www.esajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1890/ES12-00139.1
- Full survey PDF: http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/ES12-00139.2
- Raw survey results and data cleaning and processing scripts for R: Ecological Archives C003-013-S1
- Data and metadata in the Knowledge Network for Biodiversity data repository: http://knb.ecoinformatics.org/knb/metacat/knb.300.9/knb