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ToL Features for Learners

We are currently developing a variety of new features for the ToL web site that will greatly improve the experience of visitors who are not professional biologist or advanced students. These improvements fall into three main areas:

ToL Features for customizing your view of the Tree of Life

The Tree of Life Web Project serves diverse audiences. People visit the site for a variety of reasons and look for different kinds of information. A seven year old elementary student may be in search of pictures of bugs or of information on what certain animals eat; while a researcher may be interested in phylogenetic hypotheses or in details of the morphology of a given group of organisms. Right now you can set your own preferences to determine what ToL pages look like and what kinds of content are displayed for a few simple features. In order to make it easier for people to find the kinds of things they are interested in we are in the process of developing a set of customization tools that will give visitors more control over what kind of information is displayed on a ToL page and how this information is presented.

Once the full-fledged ToL customization system is put to work, we will be able to serve fundamentally different versions of the ToL project to different visitors, according to their personal needs and preferences. Since the list of available ToL preference options will soon become very large, we will also provide a number of pre-built presentation templates tailored to serve the needs of different user communities. In addition, visitors will be able to participate in the creation of customized templates by submitting their own modifications to the ToL site. This will allow people to fine-tune to ToL site to their own preferences as well as share their way of using the ToL with other visitors with similar needs and interests.

Here are some examples of display templates built for specific audiences:

Presentation templates for young children
When a visitor chooses this option, ToL branch and leaf pages would include more pictures than their default versions, introductory text sections, games, and suggestions for other activities involving the organisms featured on the ToL page.
Presentation templates for people of different ages and grades, and those with varying levels of expertise.
Along with a selection of scientific core content, ToL branch and leaf pages would feature exercises, review questions, multimedia, etc., aimed at the chosen grade level and/or level of expertise on a given subject.
Presentation templates for viewing information about certain subject areas
This option would allow visitors to browse for specific information. For example, fossil evidence, biogeographical evidence,osteological data, secondary metabolites, etc.
Presentation templates showcasing contributions from a given school or educational project
Visitors will have the option of browsing a version of the ToL that showcases contributions from one or several schools or after school projects. Visitors may choose to include only materials from one particular school or project or they may select a number of different schools located in a certain geographical area, schools adhering to a particular pedagogical philosophy, schools participating in a collaborative project, etc.
Presentation templates for use in individual classrooms.
Such templates would be put together by the users (in this case teachers) themselves. Teachers wanting to use the ToL as a key teaching tool could post their lecture notes, homework assignments, exercises, test questions, etc. to the ToL site, and this material would then be included in the ToL branch and leaf pages whenever the teacher's custom template was selected.
Presentation templates providing better accessibility to the site for people with disabilities
To improve the accessibility of the ToL for these visitors, we will provide a series of different presentation templates to work optimally with specialized browsers that address the needs of users with disabilities. In our efforts to develop ToL presentation templates optimizing accessibility for different user groups, we will rely heavily on feedback from visitors representing these communities. In this context, visitor to visitor sharing of customized presentation templates will become particularly important.

Forums for Teachers and Learners: Building Online Communities

In order to promote conversation, collaboration and exchange between ToL visitors and contributors, we will set up a number of discussion forums for different audiences. As these forums are developed, more information will be posted on the Tree of Life Forums page. The following forums will be of particular interest to teachers and learners:

Tree of Life Education Exchange
Teachers from kindergarten to college are using the Tree of Life as a teaching tool. The ToL Teacher Exchange will provide a place for teachers to discuss their experiences, ideas, and recommendations about using the ToL and related biodiversity resources in the classroom. Teachers will be able to make their own lesson plans and supplementary materials available to their colleagues, and they can use the Exchange to initiate collaborative projects for building ToL Treehouses.
Tree of Life Open Forums
ToL visitors will soon be able to initiate open discussion forums on any ToL branch, leaf, or accessory page. People can use these forums to discuss hypotheses and opinions put forward by the authors of a page, or they can inquire about relevant topics that are not covered on a page. Access to open discussions will be handled through the ToL Features system; i.e., visitors who are interested in seeing discussions on ToL pages can set their preferences to have this feature turned on; while people who just want to browse content created by ToL authors can leave it turned off.
Tree of Life Visitor Recommendations
In order to give people the opportunity to guide fellow visitors to materials they find particularly interesting, we will soon implement an open visitor recommendation system for the ToL site. People who wish to participate in this feature will be able to provide ratings and structured feedback regarding the merits of individual ToL pages. These ratings will provide ToL authors with feedback about the reception of their work, and ratings will be compiled into "most popular lists" that will supplement our current ToL browsing tools.

Partner Projects

In addition to original content, created by ToL contributors and native to the ToL web site, the ToL aims to provide access to relevant materials shared or imported from other collections of instructional materials. Interactions with related projects will range from simple hyperlink connections to sophisticated content integration on ToL branch and leaf pages. Other projects offering multimedia resources, lesson plans, curriculum activities, or news items about organisms will be able to feature their holdings on ToL pages, and the ToL will thus function as a portal to high quality information about organisms on the Internet.

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