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IntoBiology website

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IntoBiology website

This case study explores the creation of the IntoBiology website, supporting A-level and Advanced Highers students in their extended projects in science. The project was lead by Gatsby Plant Science in partnership with the University of Cambridge.

  • Lead organisations
    • University of Cambridge: Sainsbury Laboratory and Cambridge University Botanic Garden
  • Project summary
    • As part of a broader programme to inspire young people about plant science, the Gatsby Plant Science Education Programme team created a website, IntoBiology.org, and a YouTube channel. The website and videos were aimed at keen young biologists aged 16 – 21, and were designed in conjunction with our Youth Advisory Panel.

    • At the suggestion of our Panel, the website has a 90-second film on the homepage, exploring the excitement and relevance of plant science, largely in students’ own words. The film was created by a professional film company, and was a major part of the cost of the site.

    • Content ranges from videos taken by scientists as part of their research, through to tips on how to choose your undergraduate degree. New content is added regularly, and is allowing us to develop new partnerships with organisations such as the University of Cambridge Museums. We leveraged existing projects across the Programme to supply content for the new website, and encouraged young people to contribute to the site themselves. The content has a particular focus on supporting A-level students taking the Extended Project Qualification, and for Scottish students taking Advanced Highers.
  • Project aims
    • The website formed part of a much broader engagement programme, engaging young people and their teachers with plant sciences. It formed a key part of the communications strategy for the programme, enabling us to reach students throughout the UK who were not able to take part in a face-to-face event. In addition, it was intended to support the face-to-face events that take place as part of the Student Engagement Programme.

    • We set an initial target of 5,000 UK users of the website in the first year of launching, and achieved over double our original target.
  • How it started
    • The Gatsby Plant Science Education Programme has a UK-wide remit for our mission to inspire young people about plant science. A website and YouTube channel is therefore an obvious way for us to reach our target audience.

    • We have run a very successful website for another project for many years, www.saps.org.uk. This contains a large collection of teaching resources for secondary and post-16 biology, together with a small number of resources for older students. In an external review, it was identified that teachers were confused by the presence of the student-focused materials on the teachers’ site. The new website would provide a home for these existing materials, alongside video content that emerged naturally from other Programme projects.

    • At the same time, we were conscious that our Summer School, although receiving excellent feedback, could only reach 80 undergraduates each year. The website was an opportunity to reach out to undergraduates beyond our Summer School alumni.

    • We believe that young people will find articles and videos about contemporary plant science engaging, and the website offered an opportunity to demonstrate this.
  • Partnerships
    • We had initial discussions with the awarding bodies, to get their input on the suitability of our proposed content to support the Extended Projects. They were extremely helpful in reviewing the draft content. This proved very useful in after the launch of the project: both OCR and AQA have recommended the website in their material to teachers and students, and have allowed us opportunities to promote it in events they run for teachers. This has resulted in our reaching much higher visitor numbers than we otherwise would have.
  • What did you do?
    • We created a website aimed at keen young biologists aged between 16 and 21.

    • We worked in association with our Youth Advisory Panel, a group of young people from the target audience, who advised us on the content of the website, the design and the feel. The Panel selected the name for the site (IntoBiology.org) and recommended that we should commission a splash film for the home page.

    • While the site is ultimately about plant science, we worked hard to ensure that it did not feel narrow or limited in scope. Topics range from food waste to biochemistry.

    • We took a substantial amount of existing content from previous Programme projects, and updated and adapted it for the new target audience. We were keen to support young biologists in doing Extended Projects for the relatively new Extended Project Qualifications, and focused on developing project starter ideas. As we are based at the University of Cambridge, our Principal Investigators were keen for Cambridge plant science research to be featured as project starters.

    • Students, particularly alumni of the Summer School, were invited to contribute articles and project starters to the site. Their contribution was valuable, although ultimately the majority of the content was sourced and edited by the project team.
    • The Programme runs an undergraduate Summer School, and we used this as an opportunity to create a collection of short filmed interviews with distinguished scientists.

    • We created a YouTube channel and social media presence to support the site, and to promote our videos.
  • Evaluation
    • Our Youth Advisory Panel had played a very useful role in guiding us as to the content of the website that the target audience would find useful. We used this as a measure to evaluate the content of the site.

    • We carried out a soft launch of the website, and asked alumni of the Programme’s Summer School for feedback. We also carried out a substantial user testing programme during the soft launch, with members of our target audience. The feedback from this was used to make slight adjustments to the content of the website.

    • We developed target usage figures for the website based on the usage of other websites owned by the Programme.
    • Following the launch, we used Google Analytics to assess the usage of the website, and YouTube analytics to assess the usage of the video channel. These allow sophisticated assessment of the nature of the audience viewing the website.

    • The usage of the website easily beat our target viewing figures in its first year, but usage of the majority of our videos was disappointingly low.
  • Key lessons learnt
    • We had planned to commission content from experienced biology teachers, anticipating that this would be an effective way to gather high quality materials for the site.

    • In practice, the lengthy University procurement and financial procedures meant that a disproportionate amount of time was spent on getting people onto the payment system. This proved discouraging to potential contributors and a burden for project administrators.
  • Keys to making it work
    • We were not starting from scratch with the website: another of the Programme’s websites was well known to biology teachers, and we had existing relationships with the awarding bodies. By targeting a growing focus for schools – the Extended Project Qualification – we were able to tap into an expanding potential audience of students. Awarding bodies and teachers were happy to recommend our materials, which meant that we had a much greater usage of the website than we anticipated in our first year. This allowed us to cut back on some of the sustained promotional work that we had anticipated needing to do. As this clearly would not be the case for everyone, people should take it into account when setting project budgets and targets for usage of web-based materials.

    • The Youth Advisory Panel played an important role in creating a website that would appeal to the target audience. We would strongly recommend that other programmes look at creating a similar panel, drawn from the target audience, to advise them at an early stage. It should go without saying that, having asked for their advice, you should then pay attention to it.