Are you looking for an image or information about a particular species? Are you looking for ways to engage your students in ongoing research? If so, the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) is your go-to website. With >2 million images and 285 partners supplying additional resources, this site provides life-science educators with ample visuals to demonstrate evolutionary relationships or particular characteristics of a taxon. The site offers information and contacts for citizen science projects and is readily accessible through Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Yahoo. The resources include photos, podcasts, and access to various collections.
EOL was developed in response to E. O. Wilson’s 2007 speech proposing that “we learn more about our biosphere – and build a networked encyclopedia of all the world’s knowledge about life.” The request became a reality when EOL went live in 2008, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The original supporting institutions are the Field Museum, Harvard University, the Marine Biological Laboratory, Missouri Botanical Garden, and the Smithsonian Institution. The current list of institutional supporters is international, including such organizations as NCB Naturalis– the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity, Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre, and the South African National Biodiversity Institute.
Upon entering the site, you will encounter a search box. Type the common or scientific name of any organism to discover photos and detailed descriptions, as well as specific facts about the characteristics of the organism. Similarly, clicking on the name of a group of organisms takes you to a page with images and a clear discussion of the classification of the group followed by a list of references and additional resources.
On the website, you will also find classroom-relevant answers to questions such as “What is a species?” The answer to this question includes a discussion of biodiversity and the following definition: “Most broadly, a species is a group of organisms with a shared, closed gene pool…. According to this definition, a species is made up of all the organisms that are able to mate with each other and produce fertile offspring.”
You may also want to involve your students in actual research. The makers of the site suggest public participation in scientific research (PPSR) and present inventories that are being completed through activities called “bioblitzes.” Frequently sponsored by environmental groups, bioblitzes are 24-hour events in which participants survey a specific location to count and identify the living things in that location. In addition, EOL lists 14 citizen science websites, such as Project Noah, that can be accessed directly. These citizen science programs offer students opportunities to make real impacts on the scientific community.
There are other resources buried within the site. The “Gateway for Educators” is one (http://education.eol.org). The EOL Learning + Education Group provides a variety of activities for use with students. These include games, field guides, and ecological relationship activities, among others. The group is looking for worldwide collaboration through which educators are encouraged to utilize the ideas provided and share results.
Quoting the EOL information page: “Our knowledge of the many life-forms on Earth…is scattered around the world in books, journals, databases, websites, specimen collections…. Imagine what it would mean if this information could be gathered together and made available to everyone, anywhere, and at a moment’s notice.” The goal of Encyclopedia of Life is to bring together this information for the currently identified 1.9 million species and meet E. O. Wilson’s request “to learn more about our biosphere.” Take a look, join, and contribute! This is an active site worth your time to visit.
REMY DOU taught high school life science for eight years before becoming an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow (2011–2013). Currently, he works as a Graduate Assistant at Florida International University where he contributes to STEM education research.