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International Universities Unite as S-Star to Provide Free Online Bioinformatics Education

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S-Star, a global organization of six universities, just launched the first stage of what may eventually be a fully accredited series of free online bioinformatics courses at www.s-star.org.

Karolinska Institutet of Sweden, the National University of Singapore, Stanford University, the University of Sydney in Australia, the University of Uppsala in Sweden, and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa have banded together as S-Star to provide the Global Genomics and Bioinformatics Unified Learning Environment (GLOBULE) to anyone interested in learning more about bioinformatics.

GLOBULE offers a modular learning environment in which students may select courses in order to build a comprehensive program in genomics and bioinformatics. Courses are targeted to senior undergraduates and first- or second-year graduate students with some working knowledge of biology, math, and computer programming.

Stanford’s Russ Altman said the course could be considered a “free sample” of the online bioinformatics certificate currently offered through the Stanford Center for Professional Development (http://scpd.stanford.edu), but added, “it is really more than that — we want to be part of the global dissemination of bioinformatics knowledge.”

S-Star lecturer Jan-Olov Höög of the Karolinska Institutet said the project would be of particular interest to students in developing countries who otherwise would not have access to an accredited bioinformatics program.

In addition, the founding members hope the courses will serve to shore up the lean ranks of trained bioinformaticists currently available for industry jobs.

While S-Star participants would not have a formal degree, “there is such a shortage of bioinformatics people worldwide, that someone who takes this course and does well may be attractive to employers — particularly if they have a record of achievement in their previous job situations,” said Altman.

Each S-Star institution is supporting the effort with its own funding. Altman said the group is currently considering different models for covering ongoing expenses. “So far, this is a labor of love by people who want to disseminate bioinformatics lectures for a variety of reasons,” Altman said.

The organizing universities are still working out the finer points of how to test and grade participating students. While the international nature of the collaboration has led to conflicting views on how to best train and evaluate students, Höög said these differences are expected to be resolved over the summer.

Coincidentally, all the founding members came from universities or countries beginning with “S,” which gave the group its name. Höög joked that this wouldn’t rule out future involvement in the group by other universities, “but we do have a small connection with São Paulo…”

— BT

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