For his part, Kazilek says he feels the SPORE award is giving credit where it is dueto the hard-working volunteers who answer questions with individually tailored, grade-appropriate answers.
"It is so nice to see that the volunteers' efforts and time are being recognized," he says.
Ask a Biologist began back in 1997 when the Arizona State University (ASU) School of Life Sciences was creating a Web site. At the time, the model for the public to ask questions about science was telephoning a reference librarian or a local university. "That was cool," Kazilek says, "but it wasn't something that would scale well."
Kazilek wanted to create a system that would work similarly, remain personal, and yet not require that a person sit by a phone. Search engines like Google hadn't taken off yet. But even as search engines have gotten more sophisticated, Ask a Biologist holds its own for several reasons, Kazilek says. The human interaction it provides is crucial, especially when a student doesn't know how exactly to phrase a question. Ask the wrong question of a search engine, and the answer will often be confusing or utterly off track. But with Ask a Biologist, students are often guided in clarifying their questions, in itself a learning process. Also, while search engine results offer multiple answers, often including ones that are conflicting, incorrect, or out-of-date, Ask a Biologist customizes each answer. If a user asks a question that has already been asked, Kazilek and his teaching assistants may offer an answer that has been offered previously. If they make changes to it, they send the question back to the volunteer who originally answered the question so it can be reviewed.
Kazilek's own background inclined him toward the communication or presentation of science information. As an undergraduate in Fine Arts, he took a job producing medical films, which ultimately led to h
|Contact: Natasha Pinol|
American Association for the Advancement of Science