Informal Learning | News

Community of Practice Goes the Way of the Dinosaurs

Researchers at the University of Florida have received a four-year, $1.97 million grant from the National Science Foundation to establish a national network that brings together professional and amateur paleontologists.

The effort, dubbed the "FOSSIL Project" (for "Fostering Opportunities for Synergistic STEM in Informal Learners") will involve in-person, blended and online interactions, including an online community.

According to U Florida: "Fossil clubs across the country function independently and do not communicate with each other or professionals as most science-hobbyist groups do.... The FOSSIL Project ... will cultivate a network for fossil enthusiasts to collaborate in blended learning, the practice of science and educational outreach."

To kick things off, the project has for the first time invited fossil enthusiasts to participate in the annual North American Paleontology Convention, taking place Feb. 15–18 at the Florida Museum of Natural History, located in the University of Florida Cultural Plaza.

Longer term, the group reported it plans to create "an interactive Web site where users can input data, submit requests for information and connect with other paleontologists. The Web site will also provide links to social media and information about opportunities for training and development, workshops and K-12 outreach to underserved audiences," according to information released by U Florida.

"I had this idea of a web-based education community that connects people with a shared interested in paleontology," said Bruce MacFadden, principal investigator and vertebrate paleontology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, in a prepared statement. MacFadden will lead the effort with co-principal investigators Shari Ellis, Kent Crippen, Austin Hendy and Betty Dunckel. "Few members of fossil clubs are students, so this is also a way that people who share an interest and love of fossils can continue to learn outside of the classroom throughout their lives."

The effort also aims to expand drastically the availability of specimens in digital format. According to the project's description, "The advantage of this organization would be to facilitate sharing of specimens (digitally on the web), educating each other, and most important, making the public outreach from each club more effective. While each club has specimens, this network would provide access to over 100 million digitized samples."

The collection will be curated by MacFadden at U Florida.

Further details can be found on U Florida's FOSSIL portal.

About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 25-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEJournalDave (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).

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