Encyclopedia of Life

“Imagine an electronic page for each species of organism on Earth, available everywhere by single access on command.” – Edward O. Wilson 2007

I had not heard of the Encyclopedia of Life until I was looking up information about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. One of the resources I located was part of the EOL site. From here I did a search on EOL and came up with all sorts of information about it (some from here) and the man who set it up, Harvard biology professor and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Edward O. Wilson.

The EOL is managed by a partnership of natural history institutions in the United States, Harvard and five others: the Smithsonian Institution, the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Field Museum of Natural History, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library, itself a consortium of 10 major natural history libraries, including two from Harvard. The content results from collaboration with a multitude of institutions and individuals from across the world.

It is an amazing and ambitious project as its sets out to organize and make available, via the Internet, virtually all information about life present on Earth. It is not just about biodiversity but serves as a gateway for anyone interested in finding out about life on Earth. It contains species descriptions and images and also  provides links to a wide array of resources available on other Web sites. It offers comprehensive information for all species.

Set up as a series of Web sites, one for each of the approximately 1.9 million known species. The entry-point for each site is a species page suitable for secondary school students but you can follow-up on linked pages that are aimed at more for specialist users. The sites include text and supporting images that are in themselves worth a look. In fact I believe I read that there are more than 30,000 still images and video that  have been uploaded to the EOL by the  tools that have been added to the site to allow public contributions.

There are instructors at four universities, including Harvard, who are giving their students the opportunity to create species pages as part of class projects. “It’s about contributing to a real-world project. If the students do their job properly, it will go online,” James Hanken (chairman of the EOL’s Steering Committee)

The Encyclopedia of Life has achieved a lot in its first two years.  Its further development, both in number of species covered and in depth and richness of content, will depend on its continued success in encouraging  users to generate content and, at least as importantly, to monitor its quality. Intute post 2009

It is not just information from the USA, although there is much from the US organisations but  EOL has also inaugurated regional groups in the Netherlands, China, and Australia.

I mentioned about the collaborative nature of the project above . You can contribute (see here). The quotes below explain some of the process and the checking/reviewing.

Any user of the site need only register to be able to add text, or images and videos (via Flickr), but these appear on the site with a yellow background until they have been reviewed by a curator, and a visitor to the site can choose between seeing everything or only “authoritative information”.  Professional scientists can provide their credentials to sign up as curators to review content relating to the group of organisms on which they work, or register as content partners to contribute an existing online database.

The Help Build EOL page  invites scientists, students, and teachers to contribute to the project in a variety of other ways such as adding tags to images or comments to content, or by submitting taxonomic information (a classification scheme or information on names) for a particular group. Intute post 2009.

I have spent 2 hours looking at the site. There is so much here and I have only touched the surface. I want to look at how teachers and their students can best use EOL. There is a blog, a forum, an extensive FAQ list, it offers news, announcements and has a “what’s new” section on the homepage that is constantly updating. Also of use to our students are the tips on citing information from the EOL site.

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