ERIC Identifier: ED456865
Publication Date: 2001-12-00
Author: Zia, Lee L.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Information and Technology Syracuse NY.
The National Science Foundation's Massive Digital Library for
Education: Opportunities and Challenges for Teachers and Librarians. ERIC
The National Science Foundation (NSF) released its first call for proposals
for the National Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology Education
Digital Library (NSDL) program early in 2000. Building on work supported under
the multi-agency Digital Libraries Initiative, this program aims to establish a
national digital library that will constitute an online network of learning
environments and resources for science, mathematics, engineering, and technology
education at all levels.
Fiscal year 1994 marked the beginning of the
Digital Libraries Initiative (DLI), a multi-agency research effort involving the
National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA), and the Department of Defense's Advanced Research
Projects Agency (ARPA). NSF served as the lead agency in this program that
provided support for basic research into the transformative potential of
information technology as applied to library and information science.
Six multi-year projects were funded in the first four years, featuring
collaborations of researchers and users from a variety of organizations,
including leading universities, state agencies, secondary schools, prominent
libraries and museums, the publishing community, government laboratories, and
the computer and communications industry. In a brief note in Educom Review, Paul
Evan Peters (1995) provided very short summaries of these projects; but more
importantly he posited the term "digital library" as the logical replacement for
what Peters called two prior terms of art: the "electronic library," with its
basic "bits on silicon rather than ink on paper" concept, and the "virtual
library," as captured in the idea of "not only what you own but what you have
access to." (It bears mentioning that this same early to mid-1990s time period
also marked the emergence of the first text-based browsers, which were followed
very quickly by graphical browsers.)
In 1995 initial thinking about digital libraries for science education began
with an internal concept paper for the NSF Division of Undergraduate Education
(DUE), and the concepts were developed and informed by a series of workshops and
accompanying reports (Manduca & Mogk, 1999; NRC, 1998, 1999; NSF, 1998,
1999a, 1999b). By FY98 the initial DLI had gained more partner agencies and
under the umbrella of a new DLI-2 effort, a prototype program was conducted for
two years to explore the application of digital library research to
undergraduate science education test beds. Spurred by both enthusiasm from the
broad educational community and both the legislative and executive branches for
the promise of digital libraries to enable improvements in education, the formal
NSDL program (http://www.ehr.nsf.gov/ehr/due/programs/nsdl) was established in
The "virtual facility" envisioned by the program is intended to serve the
needs of students and teachers alike at all levels -- preK-12, undergraduate,
graduate, and life-long learning, by providing seamless access to rich
interactive learning materials and resources, marked by the breadth and depth of
the subject matter addressed, and valued for their authority and reliability.
The NSDL will also enhance the services of existing libraries through the
intelligent retrieval of relevant information, indexing and online annotation of
resources, and archiving. Moreover, the emerging broadband potential of the Next
Generation Internet offers new capabilities, such as access to virtual
collaborative work areas, interactive networked laboratory experiences, tools
for analysis and visualization, remote operation of instrumentation, mining of
large databases of real time data, and exploitation of simulated environments.
By enabling broad access to comprehensive high-quality collections of teaching
and learning resources in a digital environment, along with value-added
services, the NSDL is expected to encourage and support continual improvements
in the quality of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education
for all students.
The NSDL program features four tracks:
Core Integration, Collections, Services, and Targeted Research. In the core
integration track, projects are expected to focus on the coordination and
management of the library's core collections and services and to develop the
library's central portal. Collections track projects are expected to aggregate
and manage a subset of the library's content within a coherent theme or
specialty, while services projects are expected to develop services that support
users, collection providers, and the core integration capabilities that enhance
the impact, efficiency, and value of the library. Finally targeted research
projects are expected to explore specific topics that have immediate
applicability to one of the other three tracks.
In fiscal year 2000 eighty-nine proposals were received across these various
tracks requesting approximately 59 million dollars. Twenty-nine new awards were
made in September 2000 including six pilot projects in the core integration
track (Zia, 2000). In FY01 the program received one hundred and five proposals
across its four tracks requesting approximately 74 million dollars. In September
2001 grants were awarded to support thirty-five new projects: one full
development project in the core integration track, eighteen projects in the
collections track, thirteen in the services track, and three in targeted
research (Zia, 2001b).
Although the first-year grants are barely a year old, projects have been
developing and testing prototype models of aspects of the NSDL. Issues being
addressed include collection development policies, distributed review and
quality control, user access and authentication services, standards development,
metadata frameworks, and intellectual property. Because the program is seeking
to build an enterprise much larger than any individual project, there has been a
conscious effort on the part of NSF and the principal investigators of the
various grants to foster a collective sense of mission. For example, project
participants have self-organized into various working groups (see
<http://www.smete.org/nsdl/workgroups>) that are helping to define user
requirements and to develop technical specifications such as protocols for
tagging resources with metadata and indexing taxonomies to facilitate searches.
A fundamental organizational and technical infrastructure is also being created
to support the interoperability of the distributed collections and services.
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
As the NSDL program begins its
second full year of project support there are numerous opportunities and
challenges that present themselves (Zia, 2001a). With respect to the preK-12
community, the traditional roles for librarians and teachers are evolving, just
as they are beginning to evolve at the post-secondary level. If indeed the
distinctions between the two roles are blurring, and the requisite skills of
each are enlarging, then there are certainly implications for pre-service
preparation and continued professional development.
As new learning resources become available, new materials and curricular
Development possibilities also open up, along with opportunities to reuse,
repackage, and repurpose the digital learning objects. New sources of such
materials are also becoming available, for example the vast museum holdings
whose availability to date has been bound by place. Recognizing the
opportunities in this area, NSF and another federal agency, the Institute for
Museum and Library Services (IMLS), have brought together a set of grant
recipients to explore ways in which library and museum holdings may be
appropriately leveraged in support of new course and curricular materials. A
joint IMLS-NSDL working group is currently developing a report of its
There is also a key opportunity for teachers and librarians to provide
important "end-user" perspectives to the development of the collections and
services of the NSDL. In the previous section above various working groups were
mentioned. Communication within these groups is primarily through public
listserves, which can be accessed at the site given above. Participation in
these discussions is strongly encouraged and will be especially valued.
Finally, evaluation in its many forms is exceedingly important to undertake
as the NSDL continues to grow. Here again the teacher and librarian communities
represent a vital resource to be tapped by the various projects in the NSDL
program. Plans are underway for evaluation of a variety of aspects of the
digital library including ease of accessibility, user satisfaction with content
and services, the use made of materials, documentation of learning gains due to
using NSDL material, to name but a few.
The NSF conceives of the NSDL as a community-built and community-governed
public resource for the nation's students and teachers. Significant involvement
of the country's teachers and librarians will be vital to achieving this vision.
Manduca, C.A., and Mogk, D.W. (1999). "Portal to
the Future: A Digital Library for Earth System Education." [Online]. Available:
National Research Council (NRC). (1998). "Developing a Digital National
Library for Undergraduate Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology
Education." NRC workshop, August 7-8, 1997. [Online]. Washington, D.C.: National
Academy Press. Available: http://books.nap.edu/books/0309059771/html/R1.html%20(ED
-----. (1999). "Serving the Needs of Pre-College Science and Mathematics
Education: Impact of a Digital National Library on Teacher Education and
Practice." NRC workshop, September 24-25, 1998. Washington, D.C.: National
Research Council. [Online]. Available: http://www.nap.edu/catalog/9584.html%20
National Science Foundation (NSF). (1998). "Information Technology: Its
Impact on Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and
Technology." NSF workshop, April 18-20, 1996 (NSF 98-82). Arlington, VA:
National Science Foundation. [Online]. Available:
-----. (1999a). "Report of the SMETE Library Workshop." NSF workshop, July
21-23, 1998 (NSF 99-112). Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation. [Online].
-----. (1999b). "Digital Libraries and Education Working Meeting." January
4-6, 1999. [Online]. Available: http://www.dli2.nsf.gov/dljanmtg.pdf%20
Peters, P. E. (1995). "Digital Libraries Are Much More Than Digitized
Collections." "Educom Review," 30 (4), 11-15. (EJ 508 756)
Zia, L. L. (2000). "The NSF National Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and
Technology Education Digital Library (NSDL) Program: A Progress Report." "D-Lib
Magazine," 6 (10). [Online]. Available:
----- (2001a). "Growing a National Learning Environments and Resources
Network for Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology Education." "D-Lib
Magazine," 7 (3). [Online]. Available:
----- (2001b). "The NSF National Science, Technology, Engineering, and
Mathematics Education Digital Library (NSDL) Program: New Projects and a
Progress Report." "D-Lib Magazine," 7 (11). [Online]. Available:
INTEREST TO THE ERIC COMMUNITY Available at:
DUE 0127298, 0127308, and 0127520: Collaborative Project: Core Integration of
the National SMETE Digital Library. Institutions: University Corporation for
Atmospheric Research (UCAR), Cornell University, and Columbia University. PIs:
Dave Fulker, Bill Arms, and Kate Wittenberg.
DUE-0085874. Biology Education Online - An Interactive Electronic Journal.
Institution: National Association of Biology Teachers. PI: Wayne Carley.
DUE-0085823. National Digital Library for Undergraduate Mathematics, Science,
and Technology Teacher Preparation and Professional Development. Institution:
Ohio State University. PI: Kim Roempler.
DUE 0121636. Teachers Domain Collection: Life Sciences, K-12. Institution:
WGBH Educational Foundation. PI: Michele Korf
DUE 0121650. National Digital Library for Technological Literacy.
Institution: International Technology Education Association. PI: Brigitte
DUE 0121677. Gender and Science Digital Library. Institution: Education
Development Center. PI: Katherine Hanson.
DUE 0121724. Water in the Earth System (WES): An NSDL K-12 Collection
Project. Institution: Colorado State University. PI: Ed Geary. Services Track
DUE-0085855. The Instructional Architect: A System for Discovering,
Recommending, and Combining Learning Objects. Institution: Utah State
University. PI: Mimi Recker.
DUE 0121525. Developing Virtual Reference Desk Capabilities for the NSDL.
Institution: Syracuse University. PI: Richard Lankes.
DUE 0121692. Digital Library Services for American Indians. Institution:
American Indian Higher Education Consortium. PI: Carrie Billy.