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JHU Center for Biotechnology Education Receives Grant to Study Technology Use in Science Courses

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Next time you see a biotech researcher surfing YouTube, the video she’s searching for may not involve dancing cats or laughing babies. At least, not if Johns Hopkins Center for Biotechnology Education (CBE) has anything to say about it!

Five faculty members from JHU’s CBE, which has locations on the Montgomery County Campus and in Baltimore, recently were awarded a grant from the university to pursue a study on the use of technology to enhance understanding in science courses. The study will focus on three initiatives: a video series, an examination of threaded discussions and wikis, and a workshop on evidence-based teaching.

The video series will focus on two areas: explaining lab techniques commonly used in research labs, research papers and core science courses and demonstrating basic methods used in biostatistics and bioinformatics.

“Lab technique videos do exist,” said Kristina Obom, PhD, Program Director and Senior Lecturer, CBE. “But there are two things we want to do differently. First, we’re creating videos that specifically fulfill the needs of our courses. Second, and equally important, is our plan to evaluate whether or not these videos are actually effective and accomplish our goals.

“We have some evidence in another context that demonstrates the value of laboratory videos in student learning outcomes,” said Obom, referencing a 2007 project where the department, along with JHU’s Department of Biology, produced 11 short videos on how to use a pipet, centrifuge, and perform other basic lab procedures.

“We incorporated those videos into the General Biology Laboratory, and when students were asked to assess the impact of the videos, the results indicated that the videos improved students’ confidence, knowledge, and experience,” she said.

With this grant, the Center plans to create five short videos that demonstrate basic biotechnology/biology lab methods that students may not be familiar with, but are necessary to complete coursework. The videos will focus on the biological safety cabinet, cell culture basics, next generation DNA sequencing, and quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). An assessment of the videos’ effectiveness will be done via quizzes that viewers will take after watching the video as well as surveys of JHU CBE students.

The Center also will create up to 10 videos that will explore commonly used tools in bioinformatics, including R programming basics, statistical analyses in R, using PubMed effectively, advanced BLAST, pairwise and multiple sequence alignments, membrane-spanning prediction, generating phylogenetic trees and protein structure predictions. Robert Lessick, PhD, Associate Director and Senior Lecturer, CBE, had produced a video on basic BLAST methods prior to receiving the current grant that has been well-received. While the videos will be marketed primarily to CBE students, they also will be posted to YouTube, and Obom said she hopes that they will be used by other JHU departments as well as the larger biotechnology community.

The videos will be taped this spring and posted online by the end of summer.

The second component of the grant will be a study on the effective use of discussion tools in the online environment with an evaluation of whether student-led or faculty-led discussions are more effective. During the first half of the class, instructors will choose discussion topics and lead the discussions. During the second half, students will be asked to choose topics and prepare ‘lessons,’ and then facilitate and moderate the chosen discussion topic by posing at least two questions to the class to start the discussion.  This piece also will include an evaluation of the use of student-created wikis in an online learning environment.

The final component of the grant is to hold a workshop – or workshops – on evidence-based teaching. The workshop will examine questions such as: If you try a new teaching strategy or exercise, how do you know it works? How do you do an accurate assessment? How do you know if you fulfilled learning goals? How do you set up those types of studies? Details about the workshop(s) are forthcoming. Please contact Dr. Obom if you’d like to receive information about the workshop(s) when it is available.

The grant was one of 10 awarded to faculty teams as part of the university’s Gateway Sciences Initiative. The President’s and Provost’s offices sponsored the grant program to identify and fund a set of pilot projects that will both improve current gateway science courses and point the way to potentially larger changes in pedagogy, course and program design, and instructional methodologies.

The first round of grants attracted 29 proposals that were voted on by the 21-member GSI faculty steering committee, formed last summer by Provost Lloyd B. Minor. The committee—co-chaired by Steven David, vice dean for undergraduate education and a professor of political science in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and Marie Diener-West, director of the Master of Public Health program and professor of biostatistics in the Bloomberg School of Public Health—was charged with working throughout the year to identify and promote best practices and to develop recommendations for a strategic approach to continuous improvement in gateway science courses in all divisions.

Read more about the winning grant proposals.

CATEGORY: Academics, Research, Featured