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A European gateway to the science and research of health, through online and offline innovative activities aimed at citizens, patients, pupils and teachers

Final Report Summary - XPLORE HEALTH (A European gateway to the science and research of health, through online and offline innovative activities aimed at citizens, patients, pupils and teachers)

XPLORE HEALTH was a European educational portal on cutting-edge health research that offered innovative multimedia and hands-on resources and events aimed at young people from 15 to 18 years of age.

The portal was launched with funding from the European Commission, through the Seventh Framework Programme, and was developed by a European consortium coordinated by the Barcelona Science Park (PCB), a meeting point between research centres, industry and society boosting biomedical research, and promoted by the University of Barcelona. The consortium also included the Centre of the Cell (COC), a science education centre located within Queen Mary, University of London. Both PCB and COC were located within biomedical research centres and had vast experience in delivering science outreach programmes and developing multimedia tools to communicate current research. The consortium also integrated two European networks that coordinated workshops for young students in the context of their outreach activities and educational projects, namely European Schoolnet (EUN), the consortium of 30 Ministries of Education in Europe working with an extensive network of schools in Europe and the European Network of Science Centres and Museums (ECSITE), which included more than 400 members including science centres, museums and research centres. Ubach Munné, a Spanish consultancy, was in charge of the project management.

XPLORE HEALTH was an opportunity window into current biomedical research for students from different countries to get closer and play a participative role in the 'day to day' activities of laboratories. The portal offered different formats, such as virtual experiments, where students could conduct online-current experiments, entertainment and video games contextualized within current scientific developments or videos.

At the same time, the portal also provided educators with experiment protocols that would enable museums and research centres across Europe to recreate research projects. These tools invited their audiences to carry out experiments, such as the synthesis of a drug against Parkinson's disease that was under research at the Barcelona Science Park, or a bacterial transformation project that was also being researched at the University of Barcelona within the framework of a project against atherosclerosis.

XPLORE HEALTH was also committed to train citizens in the ethical, legal and socioeconomic issues that revolved around research. To the end, the portal also provided tools to promote social debate around these issues. Among other initiatives, card games were provided so that schools and museums could discuss these issues with strong arguments and, at the same time, participants could express their conclusions through a blog.

The content in the portal was structured in eight thematic modules that covered drug development, biotechnology, genomics, malaria, human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), skin cancer, obesity and mental health. Each module contained a multimedia gallery and resources for educators. All contents were published in four languages, namely English, French, Polish and Spanish, and thanks to external contribution they were also translated into Catalan.

The main aims of the project were:

1. Decreasing the gap between current biomedical research and education
2. Inspiring future researchers
3. Promoting scientific literacy
4. Stimulating social debate.

The project was promoted through a strong dissemination programme with activities in internationally recognised museums, research centres and schools.

The tools provided by XPLORE HEALTH were received enthusiastically by students and teachers involved in the project. XPLORE HEALTH focused on some specialised scientific fields through a series of online educational modules. Each module contained a variety of activities, including online games, protocols for student experiments, virtual or simulated experiments, video reports of research, interviews with scientists and other tools to explore moral, social, ethical and legal issues surrounding the research.

XPLORE HEALTH was an undoubted success. From the selection of topics to the development of practical modules, with input from research scientists as well as scientific interpreters and educationalists, XPLORE HEALTH resulted in a virtually unique resource for use by the whole community.

The production was engaging, accurate, scientifically credible and often challenging and expensive to produce, but the lessons learned were invaluable. As a result of this project the factors involved in constructing a multinational collaboration were much better understood. Those involved in the project, from the management group to teachers delivering module activities, contributed to an outstanding facility and benefited through their own experience.

This approach to the teaching of difficult, and sometimes controversial, scientific issues was thought by some to be revolutionary. The scientific credibility of the information provided was paramount. The expertise built up by the team should not be lost. Measures to promote the use of existing modules and to develop more through this and other projects would be sound investments for the future.

In a novel project of this nature delays and difficulties could be expected. The fact that they were overcome in a constructive and productive way was commendable but most important of all was that the consumers were delighted and rated it so highly.

The recommendations drawn up from the quantitative and qualitative analysis made for the evaluation of the XPLORE HEALTH project were as follows:

1. Resources and expectations should be more closely aligned.
2. Timetables for production should be discussed in advance with material providers.
3. The project should be sustained.
4. More support in application and use of the website and its activities should be provided for teachers.
5. Resources should be provided for an advertising campaign throughout Europe.
6. More time and effort should be spent on planning realistic delivery in relation to school calendars.
7. Implementation of a communal project management system from the outset should be promoted.
8. More emphasis should be placed on scientific interpretation and language translation.
9. Development and quality assurance by scientists involved in the research should be maintained as cornerstone of similar projects.

In order to promote the portal, the consortium conducted a strong communication campaign, covering on the one hand a strong social media campaign, conducted by PCB, and on the other hand dissemination actions covering leaflets, newsletters, mailings and attending events and presenting the portal all around Europe, which were conducted by the entire consortium.

The social media campaign started with the design of a strategy which first led to the creation of You Tube and Vimeo channels, and accounts on social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Slide Share to raise the online profile of the portal and ensure its wide dissemination.

From October 2010 to October 2012, 22 070 people visited the portal with an average of nearly four pages visited per person during five minutes, which indicated that the visitors spent time viewing the tools. This could be confirmed by looking at the number of hits that the website showed under each tool, some of which already rose up to more than 30 000 hits, showing that some people played the games more than once. In general, on all social media, there was a steady increase of traffic. The promotion of the portal led to a steady increase in the number of visits to the portal, and also to some tools that were published on other channels. Therefore, XPLORE HEALTH would continue working on social media management with the aim of increasing the traffic to the website.

The XPLORE HEALTH Project had very ambitious objectives. During its 32 months eight modules were published containing very high quality tools. The portal offered a very wide range of innovative multimedia tools covering all the topics listed above. The traffic to the portal was steadily increasing, mostly coming from students working with the tools both in class and individually. We expected the number of visits to continue increasing beyond the lifetime of the project, and for that reason we focussed on promoting the portal through Twitter, Facebook, publishing newsletters and attending conferences and congresses aimed at educators, among other actions. For example, in September 2012 XPLORE HEALTH was presented by PCB during a workshop in the future classroom lab, in the European School Net, Brussels, which was organised as part of the Scientix project (please see http://www.scientix.eu online). The Barcelona Science Park also worked with researchers and teachers to develop new lesson plans.

XPLORE HEALTH was becoming a reference 'window' to enable secondary school students to link their biomedical curricula to current research. It was also starting to become a reference for other audiences with an interest in health research. In that respect, some patients' seminars were organised to present its educational resources. On 15 October 2012 a seminar for patients was organised in the cultural centre 'Caixa Forum', in Barcelona, where scientists explained the latest advances on the development of the vaccine against HIV and XPLORE HEALTH was also presented to offer its tools as means to facilitate the dissemination of research in this field.

During the project efforts were focused on engaging the relevant stakeholders to the project in order to raise funding for its development and to assure self sustainability in the future. The commitment of 'Fundació la Caixa' would allow the development of new content for the portal in the future and they would also fund further outreach activities.

More information about the project could be obtained at http://www.xplorehealth.eu.

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