Two great web resources for worldwide life
The days of the Encyclopedia Britannica lining home bookshelves are likely over. So while you may have grown up mining the pages of your family set for help with your written reports, quite obviously the Internet has changed things a bit. That doesn’t mean Britannica has gone away, not entirely. With a subscription you can now make use of the resource online. Of course, without a subscription you can access Google, Wikipedia, and countless other information resources. (Though it’s important to remember, and to remind your kids, not all resources are created equal. Not all are reliable. As we discussed earlier, media literacy is a growing concern with so many online sources.)
For kids and families exploring the world’s rich biodiversity, the science behind its flora and fauna, two resources gaining in our estimation are the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) and ARKive. Both of these offer a wealth of information for the science and biology classes in your child’s future.
Encyclopedia of Life
The Encyclopedia of Life started with the ambitious premise that an individual web page was needed for every species on the planet. With foundation support and partners in the university, lab, and museum community, EOL was unveiled in 2008. It was with trusted partners like Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Marine Biological Laboratory that EOL got off the ground, but it’s with an expanding community of collaborators—including kids, families, citizen scientists worldwide and other global partners—that the resource has become something larger.
Today the online portal to the planet’s rich biodiversity offers a range of resources, discoveries, and learning tools for the students in your life. As the group itself touts, you can use EOL “to find information for a paper, poster or class project, make a collection of species of interest to you, listen to a podcast, watch a video, make a field guide, join a conversation or share your expertise.”
For starters, EOL serves up information, taxonomy, multimedia, maps, and a host of other resources for every organism in its more-than-million-fold collection. EOL is also developing a collection of podcasts, videos, and sound recordings all focusing on individual species. As a work in progress, some of these remain limited in their scope, but that’s understandable. When was the last time you tried to list every species under the sun?
Other tools from EOL include field guides, which give users a way to organize information specific to personal interests, class projects, or research. Other personalization tools or opportunities to collaborate on the site include EOL Collections and LifeDesks, which provide “a collaborative space for creating, editing, and publishing web pages of species information to EOL.” A Communities feature within the Encyclopedia of Life provides users with an opportunity to engage each other, share expertise, and ask questions.
All of these are features you can use at home with your younger kids, while the older students in your life might find the resource a treasure trove for independent study and their biology homework. Their teachers might already be using it in a range of subjects to help structure lesson plans, support project-based learning, and more.
Launced in 2003, ARKive is motivated by the accelerating rate of species extinction and the concern that dwindling public awareness or limited education programs make it difficult to reverse the trend. In response, the producers of ARKive are hoping that the world’s best wildlife imagery can be an “emotive and effective means of building environmental awareness and engagement.”
That is to say, ARKive is more targeted in its approach than EOL. It’s not setting out to document every known species on the planet with additional information, taxonomy, media, and the like. ARKive’s goal is to promote environmental conservation—especially that of threatened species across the globe—by cataloging the rich films and photographs that give Earth its visual record. If anything, its narrower (though no less inspiring) ambitions might make success easier to grasp. But building a digital archive of the world’s wildlife imagery is one thing, seeing that archive used is another.
ARKive’s growing library of films and photographs of the world’s species is intended as a resource for scientists, conservationists, educators, students, and the general public worldwide. The site’s content is grouped across species; by “Eco-regions” (Antarctic, Atlantic forest, Mediterranean basin, etc.); topics like climate change; simple geography; and by threat level (extinct, endangered, vulnerable, etc.). Education resources are broken down by age ranges (5 years old to 18) and include specific materials for teachers to use in class, including presentation materials, games, and activity packs. And like EOL, there are also activities and games that help create an online community of ARKive users.
Educators are encouraged to use ARKive’s collection of videos, images, and other information resources to support teaching across a range of subjects. The multimedia gathered on the site are also available for a variety of uses—no small thing in the digital age when access to media is critical for student projects, reports, and more. As ARKive suggests, beyond inspiring care and concern for Earth’s species, the rich media can be used to engage classes in “key biology topics, such as variation and adaptation, habitats or life cycles, or [for use] as creative inspiration for art & design projects.”
The Internet is many things: a tool for communication and community engagement and home to a growing body of information and resources unimaginable in scale. With such capacity, it seems a worthwhile goal to record the planet’s diversity and make it available wherever the World Wide Web reaches. It’s a benefit to educators, students, families, and the public that such energy is being harnessed to share knowledge, promote awareness, and improve understanding. Your basement bookshelves will never be the same, but is that such a bad thing?