ABE Ireland bioinformatics workshop piloted online

Laptop displaying BLAST tool website
Laptop showing the BLAST bioinformatics tool website

On Monday 29th June we ran an online teacher training workshop to try out ABE Ireland’s new material on bioinformatics with two wonderful teachers and their great students. 

Over the last year we developed four new labs on bioinformatics, the area of research that uses computer models, big databases and online tools to explore biology. At our online training workshop we piloted Bioinformatics lab 1: Introduction to genomics and bioinformatics. This lab covers the genome, DNA sequencing and the Human Genome project, and introduces bioinformatics with activities using online tools like those researchers used to uncover the geographic origin and form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus behind the Covid-19 outbreak.

We did something a little different for us this time - we included some students in the teacher training workshop so the students can help the teacher deliver the labs in the classroom. We are introducing peer learning with the bioinformatics material because most of the practical aspects are carried out using the online databases and tools. From earlier conversations with teachers we realised that having extra people in the classroom able to help their fellow students navigate these websites would be useful.

We were delighted that two teachers took part with some of their students: Ms Mary Mullaghy from Eureka Secondary School in Kells, Co Meath joined us with Katie, Emmajane, Aimee and Claire and Ms Hilary Rimbi from St Andrew’s College, Blackrock, Co Dublin joined us with Stephen, Noémie and Sophie. We gathered on Zoom to go through the class and ended with an activity where the students acted as food detectives, using the BLAST tool to investigate how many different species’ DNA were in some pork sausages (it was a lot!). Then everyone gave us their feedback on the material, what they learnt and what they did.

The teachers and students were generous with their time and insights and we are very grateful. We were impressed with how the students engaged with the material which is not easy in online classes. Their feedback has helped make the material easier to understand and they made fantastic suggestions that will make future training events more engaging and complete, including having a working researcher to talk about how they use bioinformatics tools in their research.

We will now redraft the material and run another pilot workshop in September, probably online again. If you are a teacher who would be interested in helping develop material and could round up some senior biology students, please send Síle an email sile.lane@ucd.ie.