Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Interview with Vikram Savkar, Nature Education: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Welcome to an interview with Vikram Savkar, Nature Education, who has dedicated energy and time to promoting science education that is truly collaborative, and which leverages new technologies and social networking to engage students and to make them comfortable with discovery science. He has led the development and launch of a new product, Scitable.com, which offers online learning, a social network, and a resource base of science.

What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
I’m Vikram Savkar, Senior Vice President & Publishing Director of Nature Education, a division of Nature Publishing Group. We are devoted to creating high quality, broadly accessible science e-learning.

Vikram Savkar

What is Scitable? Who are the users? What is their background (age, etc.)
Scitable, Nature Education’s first product, is a global online classroom for science. It is a combination of journal-quality articles and a social network. Scitable provides a library of free, peer-reviewed learning content to an online community of scientists, teachers, and students. Students not only delve deeply into key topics in science on their own using our content, but also reach out to and connect online with others—teachers, scientists, grad students—for advice, guidance, and insight.

Teachers use Scitable to create private online classroom spaces , combining premium content, discussions, news feeds, and more.

Currently, users come from more than 85 countries and include prominent researchers, teachers, postdocs, graduate students, undergraduate students, high school students, and even a number of non-science-related adults who are interested in learning more about science for personal reasons.

Please provide some examples of Scitable in use. E-Learning? Research?
Faculty in several countries have used Scitable to run their undergraduate classes, using our private classroom spaces and premium content. These classes range from “genetics for non-scientists” to intermediate level genetics classes. Researchers are also using Scitable to create public dialogue around topics of special interest to them. And a pleasant surprise is that a number of parents have come to use the site as a way to learn more about science topics covered in the news (like cloning or evolution), so that they can be in a better position to explain them to their children.

How is Scitable used in social networks? What kinds of social networks do you envision developing around Scitable in the future?
The faculty members who are using Scitable to run their classes form a unique kind of narrowly focused social network within Scitable. They are using the site as a powerful communication tool for their students in order to collaborate and have debates with each other.

Many users from overseas are using the site to build global networks of likeminded people whom they don’t otherwise know. We frequently hear how isolating it can be to be studying science in a country in which there are not very many science students.

In Scitable, these students find a thriving 24/7 global community of people studying the same area. We are planning to do more to capitalize on this potential and envision playing more of a “connector” role by which the site helps people find mentors or study partners from within the site community.

How much does Scitable cost? Are there articles that are free?
Scitable is free, and all of the articles on the site are free as well.

Does Scitable include images, audio podcasts, video podcasts? What kinds of assets do you incorporate?
Scitable contains text, images, podcasts and vodcasts. Please watch for Simply Science, a new online video series that we will launch shortly. It will explain cutting edge research in very simple terms from which any of us can learn. A podcast series on key trends in science education is also in the works. One of our goals is to provide resources that today’s students will enjoy using. Having a range of media assets is a key part of that strategy.

What are your plans for Scitable in the future?
We plan to expand our editorial coverage from genetics— the field in which we’ve created premium content initially—to the other life and physical sciences. Second, we plan to develop a version of Scitable that is accessible by Smartphone. There are numerous places in the world where top quality science resources are greatly needed that don’t have dependable Internet access, but do have strong mobile networks. Third, we’re going to continue to develop features that facilitate networking among our users.

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