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Summer Classes (or, Gettin’ Classy) by Ceri R. '16

I made a series of Biology videos about blood and learned about digital education!

This summer, I was enrolled in one of the five [email protected] classes being offered for MIT students (with the snazzy bonus of summer housing, since these courses are all experimental). I took 7.S390, creating Digital Learning Materials for Biology aka. THANK YOU MIT FOR OFFERING A CLASS (even though it’s a summer course) THAT COMBINES BIOLOGY AND MULTIMEDIA AND LETS ME BE ARTSY/WORK ON COMMUNICATION SKILLS WHILE ENJOYING MYSELF. To be more specific and less caps-locky, this was the course description:

7.S390 (Undergraduate) 7.S930 (Graduate) Special Subject in Biology (Creating Digital Learning Materials for Biology)

This course is a student-driven, discovery-based iterative project with workshop-like lecture meetings. Students will use existing digital and traditional content to identify a scientific misconception, outline a lesson plan to address the misconception, apply the best teaching practices to implement the lesson plan, select the best medium (or one of the best) for translating that lesson plan into a digital format, present both the lesson and design plan to instructors for approval and feedback, implement an iterative design process including regular feedback from the instructors and peers on the design and redesigns, and evaluate other students’ work through a system of peer review. Designed to improve students’ scientific communication skills and provide experience in communicating through a digital format. Enrollment limited.

Instructors: M.E. Wiltrout, N. Schafheimer, S. Thornton

Over the course of this class, we explored current examples of online educational materials from videos to edX courses to game-type simulations. We read articles on good teaching practices and papers on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to help get us thinking about what online content is being implemented right now and how to shape our own projects. After a couple weeks of research, we selected a scientific misconception about which we created an educational video or course.

There were only 13 students in the class (including fellow blogger Lydia K.!), which made for a very comfortable space for discussion and a lot of peer review throughout the project. We participated in workshops with guest lecturers to teach us about the style of edX platforms or how to edit video, lessons specifically on how to best utilize a tablet and the Adobe Illustrator program, and informative sessions about intellectual property–all to prepare us to create our own content and truly appreciate how much effort goes into even a seemingly simple thing like recording Eric Lander’s biology lectures for an MITx Biology course.

The process of creating our final projects varied from person to person; people took advantage of combinations of filming, audio recording, tablet capture, editing, post-processing in After Effects, coding, illustration, script writing, and question formulating to make their projects. While some people had experience with one or several of these things beforehand, other people had never touched a tablet or edited a video before. This class and its instructors were wonderful at supporting everyone with all levels of experience, partially because they got to know each one of our projects intimately as they grew from our initial proposals into full-fledged digital learning materials.

Today was the culminating presentation for this class. There were 13 display screens set up in Lobby 10, one for each of our projects. We stood alongside these screens for around 3 hours this afternoon, playing videos on repeat or showing off online courses for random passerby or biology faculty who received the email and decided to stop by to check out our projects.

(Awkward selfie with my face and an equal size version of my face projected on the screen behind me.)

It got crazy. And loud. And many things that I don’t like, personally, but were probably beneficial to my professional growth and ability to stay composed and energized for 3 hours. (I honestly don’t know how people at conventions, poster presentations, etc. do it). Thankfully, my friend Courtney D. ’17 stopped by and gave me a morale boost when there was only half an hour to go, and some of my favorite guest lecturers from edX stopped by and liked both my project idea and how it turned out! It’s a mega plus when cool people like the thing you made even if you’re equal parts proud and embarrassed.

For those of you who are wondering, my project was a video series intended to debunk the myth that blood is red in your arteries and blue in your veins. It’s akin to a “choose your own adventure” or “Truth or Fail” (for any nerdfighters out there) video series, only geared toward educational biology. You watch part of a video that gives you information about blood or the circulatory system or proteins like hemoglobin, then answer a multiple choice question to bring you to a new video that either confirms you were right or clears up what you got wrong.

I guess I’m most proud of the illustrations; there’s something unnerving about being in front of the camera instead of behind it that limits how entertaining my face is. But, I guess you can play along for yourself, if you’re curious, either by the embedded video below or by following this link. The videos are unlisted right now, but I’ll update this post if they are made public (along with everyone else’s from my class, most likely).

Anyway, that’s mostly what I’ve been up to this summer–odd jobs on top of one of the most unique biology classes I’ve taken here thus far. If 7.s390 is able to secure a spot next summer or as a class during the year, and you’re like me (interested in both digital education/media and biology), I highly recommend giving this class a shot. This probably sounds like some sort of advertisement, but I really learned so much about education, edX/MITx, and just the fundamental process of making professional videos rather than just frivolous vlogs. And it really left me excited for classes this next semester, where hopefully I’ll be able to more directly delve into similar passions.