Archive for September, 2009

Thoughts after the face to face interaction in the Korea training course

I am back from the training course, although the course is not finished yet. They still have one more week to go, full of exciting programs and field trips to learn a lot from. I had a great experience and I think it was very well organized.

Something I initially though it could be a problem, turned out to be of great benefit: the diversity of the group, with experienced and not so experienced scientists together, it was in fact very useful as in the practical lectures the ones that new already the techniques would teach the others and a good balance and interactions were achieved.

In the beginning of the course, I felt there were little opportunities to interact with the students. I decided to attend also the practical sessions to have the chance to interact more and get to know the students a bit better, as one of the objectives of my participation in this event was to disseminate this website and get as much as possible feedback from the users. So, it was very important for me to learn about the needs of the users and what would be useful to include in the website for the future. I had therefore an excellent opportunity to observe the dynamic of the group, as an outsider:

  • In the first day people were reserved and did not know each other. It was somehow not easy to engage the groups.
  • In the second day people knew a bit more about each other and started to interact and share more ideas/knowledge. People started to become more fluent in English, as this was the major communication language.
  • During the third day they looked very comfortable with each other, gained the confidence to teach others in areas they had already experience on. Participants started to have fun and interacted a lot more.

It took just 3 days to have an interesting group of students ready to interact and learn from each other. From my point of view, these informal interactions and conversations I had with many of the students, were in fact as useful (if not more) as the feedback questionnaires we got at the end of our sessions (thanks to everyone for filling the feedback forms! I will post a summary of results in this blog in the next few days). Here I could really learn about the needs of each of them and what improvements they wish to see.

The pictures below show the busy classes we had last week and everybody working together.

A list of few of the informal comments:

  1. There seems to be little interaction amongst information on the website about the different types of genebanks. For someone new, it would be very useful to know more about how the various types of genebanks are or should be used. When should we have a DNA bank or a field bank in addition to a seed bank? It would be useful to have more practical information on these management topics.
  2. Regeneration is a bottle neck for most genebanks. Criteria for prioritizing are often difficult. It would be good to have more practical information or examples on how it should be done.
  3. Regeneration is also quite expensive. Current projects developed to support it are sometimes not realistic and do not cover some of the direct costs for isolation (this is related to the projects that are arising after the development of the regeneration guidelines for 21 crops). Talking about regeneration guidelines, I was very happy to hear that some of them were already translated into Korean, to be more widely used! 
  4. When should the base collection be monitored and also when should it be regenerated? 
  5. Should every accession be monitored?
  6. How many seeds should be regenerated?
  7. Should characterization be done every time regeneration is done?
  8. Some genebanks are starting some molecular work or tissue culture and have little guidance or experience. They manifested interest to have access to some protocols to be able to perform basic activities. A suggestion could be to have some more practical links on these pages or a better defined list of contact persons (a few contact names from leading institutes in these areas).
  9. There are also a few genebanks that perform a series of services on molecular analyses as long as the DNA samples are provided. Contact lists of these would also be useful.
  10. Some also mentioned the fact that many of the references are not linked to the web. Some of these are the ones that are published in scientific journals and not freely available (I suggested in these cases to write directly to the authors and ask for copies of their papers; people usually respond quite well to these direct requests). But others are produced by other genebanks and would be great if they could be more freely available on the web (this is the case of the genebank manual of ICRISAT for example; recent informal discussions with them informed me that they are revising their manual and it will be possibly on the web in the next few months). It would be very important to sensitize other genebanks and related institutes for the importance of sharing their information and knowledge.

The questions above are often general questions that interest everyone. I tried therefore to compile them and have them on a wiki format to capture various responses. This will then be compiled as FAQ’s that would be very useful for new users of the site. Please feel free to contribute either with questions or with answers.

You can also respond to this blog on the comment box below, with either more questions you might have or provide responses to the questions mentioned here.

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The first face to face testing of our knowledge base platform

We finally started and had our first day of lectures at the International Training course on Plant Genetic Resources and Genebank Management in Korea.

A bit chalenging as many of the participants or lecturers where still recovering from long flights and jetleg… It is also fasting season and some participants are muslims.

A few difficulties on establishing good internet connection.

A few chalenges of people getting lost and main entrances being blocked due to the preparations for the official launching of the training that will occur tomorrow (in the entrance hall) with VIP people.

A few chalenges on comunication due to language barriers (people from so many Asian countries each one with its own language and not so often exposed to english)

But, despite these minor difficulties it was really great to meet such a diverse group of participants, some more experienced than others in genebank issues, others with chalenging experience on a wide range of crops.

Very well gender balanced with many women amongst them, a good improvement achieved compared to other similar trainings. 

We had our first working group, to solve 3 specific problem scenarios of chickpea, rice and barley. We had divided the participants into 3 groups, trying to assign participants to crops they did not have experince on.

This had advantages:

We have now a fair idea of the learning skills they could acquire from the resources given (this website) .

They were immediatly faced with a problem and had to make a few important decisions on which genebank procedures to follow and how to solve the problem.

But also disadvantages:

Participants did not have time to meet each other and be familair with the skills of each others.

Participants did not have opportunity to learn much before the exercise. They just had to ‘jump in’ into a hipothetical problem.

Neverthless, all groups understood well what they had to do and gave a good draft of important steps to follow. A few missing steps were then pointed out or corrected and discussed in plenary. 

Ideally it would be useful to do a similar exercise at the end, but unfortunately this is not possible for practical reasons. We will rely on the information that participants will provide on the evaluation questionnaires.

Hope both participants and lecturers will continue to benefit from this training in the few coming days, during the lectures and the practical exercises too.

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