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Adding virtual value

CBS launches Digital Biology Initiative to explore creative ways to “flip” classes and improve student learning through technology.


This spring, six groups from across the college are introducing online learning components into classes as part of the Digital Biology Initiative. Prompted by a call by Provost Karen Hanson to boost online learning efforts, the groups are exploring a number of strategies including producing short videos and identifying existing online resources with an eye to helping students learn more efficiently and freeing up class time for problem-solving and discussion.

The courses in which online learning is being piloted include:

  • Social and Ethical Challenges in Biology for Majors and Non-Majors (David Greenstein, Perry Hackett and Bonnie LeRoy)

  • Human Neuroanatomy for Non-Science Majors (Steven McLoon and Nicole Shirkey-Son)

  • Ecology and Evolution for Non-Science Majors (Craig Packer and Annika Moe)

  • Molecular Biology for Majors (Jocelyn Shaw, Rob Brooker and Paul Siliciano)

  • Foundations of Biology (Brian Gibbens, Mark Decker, David Matthes, Anna Mosser and Sue Wick)

  • Nature of Life (Abby Conover and Jean Underwood)

“We hope that these different teams will be able to explore what kinds of technologies are available,” says Robin Wright, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs. “It may be that videotaping a professor giving part of a lecture is effective in some cases. In other cases, it may be that what you really want is to feature undergraduates to make it more relatable. We are still at the beginning stages of determining what these things should be and what they should look like.”

Case in point, the Foundations of Biology team is developing a series of short videos on skills that are important but not typically addressed in science courses such as brainstorming, giving good presentations and making a scientific poster. Brian Gibbens introduced the idea as part of a freshman seminar titled How to Win a Nobel Prize. “I like that when you create a video it’s out there, it’s permanent, it’s a resource for students; a collection of resources that grow over time.”