Last year was a tumultuous one for the history books, to put it mildly. And while many of us already trying to forget the year that was 2020, the Ocean Data Labs community actually has a lot to be proud of.

Of course, from an educational perspective, the biggest disruption of the past year was the Covid-19 pandemic, and the ensuing and sudden move to virtual education and working from home.

Coincidentally, our team at Rutgers first tried building virtual collaborations among Ocean Science educators with our COSEE Networked Ocean World project, which ran from 2007-2012. This was no small feat at the time. (Does anyone remember Elluminate?) However, while we had some moderate success at running virtual webinars for scientists and educators, we weren’t able to build a large-scale sustainable virtual collaborative network.

Community building is just hard work. And while virtual tools can break down geographical and temporal barriers, it takes an immense amount of work and coordination to build teams and keep them focused on their goals.  As we’ve all learned (again) in the past year, this is even harder when you’re not in the same room.

But in 2020, the world decided to run a large experiment in virtual collaboration and education. While it was a challenge (to say the least), in our Data Labs corner of the universe, we made some positive progress on both fronts.

Here are just a few of our community’s accomplishments in 2020…

  • In the before-times, we ran a very successful mini-workshop at Ocean Sciences with 32 participants and 8 presenters who introduced our new members to the numerous educational resources and activities available. Data Labs community members also presented eleven talks and posters and participated in several Town Halls. It was a great start to the year!

And then the world changed… but, our community persevered.

  • This summer we ran our first-ever (and quickly planned) Virtual REU, in partnership with Rutgers RIOS, providing an opportunity for 16 students, including ones from Guam, Puerto Rico and Alaska, to engage in research. The experience included a 2-week daily workshop on scientific programming, research projects, and career paths, along with a 6-week research mentorship. The entire program was developed in about 2 months, with the help of a dozen community members who stepped up to be virtual mentors, as well as the quick support of NSF.
  • We continued our series of Webinars, showcasing new Data Explorations developed and presented by our community. As it turns out, many faculty scrambled to redesign their spring and fall courses for suddenly-online students, and they found these Explorations a perfect fit.  As one faculty put it, Data Labs was “a remote learning life jacket.”
  • In late 2019, we selected 10 Data Lab Fellows to research the use of Data Explorations and OOI datasets in their classrooms. As anyone might guess, their plans had to change. But after a lot of rethinking and redesigning, all of them were able to accomplish their projects this fall, and we look forward to sharing their results and experiences in the coming months.
  • In January of 2020, we gathered 11 authors and editors from around the country for an in-person workshop (back when you could do that kind of thing) to develop a new online OOI focused lab manual. Over the course of the spring and summer, the authors worked virtually (as we had originally planned) to finish the first draft of the manual. And then, this fall 20 educators were selected to pilot test the manual in their courses, including a variety of hybrid, synchronous and asynchronous settings. Thanks to their feedback, we will be revising the manual this spring and releasing an updated version in the summer. We also plan to recruit a second cohort to test the updated manual in the Fall of 2021.
  • Finally, at the Fall 2020 AGU Meeting, Janice McDonnell presented a report on our community’s accomplishments at the OOI Facilities Board Town Hall.  You can check out her full presentation here, which includes some initial reports from our “Reach Survey”, which we also conducted last year (more on that soon).

So while it was by no means an easy year, our community has a lot to be proud of.  And while we may all be yearning for in-person classes and workshops, which will hopefully return sometime this year, it’s important to note that there are many upsides to remote working, learning and collaboration. Those modalities are definitely here to stay, and now that the world has a lot more experience with them, hopefully they will be easier for everyone in the future.

We’re looking forward to seeing all of you again soon, both virtually and hopefully eventually in-person.

Here’s to a bright and productive 2021!

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