Big Data for Little Schools: #BD4LS #LTER #openscience

University libraries are increasingly becoming repositories not just for books but for data.  Data are diverse including numbers, text, imagery, videos, and the associated meta-data.  Long-term ecological and environmental data are also important forms of evidence for change, a critical substrate for scientific synthesis, and an opportunity to align methodologies and research efforts nationally and globally (i.e. LTER).  Any school library can participate in this process now with the capacity for distributed cloud storage, the internet of things, and very affordable microenvironmental sensors placed in ecologically meaningful contexts.


Source:  Ignite talk on big data in ecology.

In collecting ecological data about a place, we assign cultural value (it is worthwhile measuring now and for a long time), and we develop a more refined and permanent sense of attachment to this place.  Increased engagement by local individuals within the immediate community is an important first step in promoting ecological education, breaking down the barriers between traditional and citizen science, and producing meaningful big data on the environment and ecology of place.  Consequently, school libraries, at least the elementary level, can engage with big data in ecology.  In the ecology course course I teach to second-year university students, we use flower power sensors to measure soil moisture, temperature, light, and soil nutrient levels.  These sensors are very affordable, have an excellent dashboard, and bluetooth sync with iOS devices.  However, the big data are only server side and need to be extracted using an app from the dashboard data visualizations.  Onset also produces the pendant loggers that measure light and temperature.  These sensors log and store data as well but are not bluetooth enabled.  You must plug them into an optical sensor but then can download all the data your computer.  We use both sensors in this ecology course and deploy them on our university campus.  Elementary schools could absolutely do the same for a nominal investment and engage children with microenvironmental datasets that can be linked to their school gardens, flower patches, or any other habitats within the campus.  We have a profound opportunity to teach big data, ecology, experimental design, and awareness of place.



1. Work with elementary school librarian to set up/select appropriate data repository.

2. Develop a short curriculum with learning materials for teachers on open data, publishing data, meta-data, and micro-instrumentation to measure meaningful attributes associated with the ecology of a campus.

3. Discuss open science and highlight urban ecology research to date.

4. Purchase a set of a dozen sensors to deploy on the school campus.

5. Students work with the librarian to download the data regularly, describe the data, and publish is regularly on a data repository.  The students publish the data.

6. The library highlights and hosts the visualizations associated with these data and archives the photographs, descriptions of the methods, and videos from students.




1. A school protocol for measures the dynamics of the natural environment on campus.

2. Real-time or aggregated descriptions of the ecology of the campus (descriptions of the flower gardens, vegetable gardens, or any greenspace).

3. Datasets in public repositories.

4. Imagery/videos of the greenspaces linked to big data also provided by the students.

5. Data management training and experience within the library context for elementary students.

6. Consider including or working with basic r-code to do statistics or visualizations.



Test question using VW TDI cars

You purchased a VW TDI car because you need to drive once in a while but also care about the planet. You like the power AND the fuel efficiency too. VW however undermined your efforts by programming a cheat code that makes the diesel burn clean only when tested. It burns 4 to 40x the pollutants it should the rest of the time when you drive it. You are thinking about practical ecology and the niche. VW violated this principle. Explain the principle of niche and how it was used by this company to unethically sell more cars.


You are Matt Damon stranded on Mars. Alone.

You are Matt Damon stranded on Mars. Alone.
You recall an ecology course you took in training to be an astronaut (but do not remember the prof). Perhaps ecology can you keep you alive. Interactions: biotic-biotic-abiotic. Your air filtration system can keep you alive for years. There is ample water too. Food is the real issue. You realize that the formula for NPP is the most important principle you need right now to stay alive. What is it?