Rosalind

I recently came across a really cool platform for learning and teaching bioinformatics. It is called Rosalind (named after Rosalind Franklin) and lives at http://rosalind.info/. Throughout my learning career, I’ve learned and/or taught myself many things using bioinformatics-themed tutorials, blog posts, and Q&A forums. I have to say, this new platform looks very exciting in terms of its potential impact.

The following is from Rosalind’s “About” page.

Learning bioinformatics usually requires solving computational problems of varying difficulty that are extracted from real challenges of molecular biology.

To make learning bioinformatics fun and easy, we have founded Rosalind, a platform for learning bioinformatics through problem solving.

Rosalind offers an array of intellectually stimulating problems that grow in biological and computational complexity; each problem is checked automatically, so that the only resource required to learn bioinformatics is an internet connection.

The creators of Rosalind are to be applauded for investing the time and resources required to design and produce learning modules, as well as implement the backend system required to provide automated assessment and feedback. But where Rosalind really shines is the integration of a variety of achievements, as well as tools for instructors.

Achievements

Not too long ago, you would have expected to hear terms such as “levels”, “experience points”, “achievements”, and “badges” in reference to video games and not a high school- or university-level course. However, in the last few years various types of flair have become very popular on many social platforms. For example, when I first started using the StackExchange Q&A network for questions related to my research, I saw reputation and badges primarily as incentives for continued participation, and as such I considered them somewhat childish and a distraction from the real purpose of the site. But the longer I’ve used StackExchange, the more I’ve come to appreciate the value of these “achievements” as indicators of real experience.

Instructor tools

Rosalind allows anybody anywhere to create an account and submit answers for feedback and achievements. However, Rosalind also has a feature that allows any user to set up a “class”. Users can select modules to include or exclude, can optionally set start and end dates for the class, provide enrollments link to students/participants, and Rosalind provides a gradebook to monitor student/participant progress. These tools should eliminate most barriers an instructor would encounter in creating a course (or courses) based on Rosalind resources or integrating Rosalind resources into existing courses.

Long-term vision

Achievements awarded by Rosalind (and indeed by other similar social platforms) have a huge potential to carry real, formal academic value in the not-too-distant future. I won’t pretend that a university can or should offer credit without taking measures to ensure students aren’t abusing the system, but institutions that can find innovative ways to leverage open learning tools will have a crucial impact on the future of education in the next few years.

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