MIT Biology and Office of Digital Learning Team Recognized for DNA Video

By Lisa Eichel, MITx Community and Outreach Manager


A DNA structure animation created for the MITx course 7.28.1x Molecular Biology: DNA Replication and Repair won the BioCommunications Association Medical Education Award for Motion Video and a Citation of Merit in the Motion Media: Video category at the 2015 BioImages visual media competition. The annual competition honors still, graphic, and motion media projects that focus on life sciences and medicine.

MITx Biology Digital Learning Fellow Sera Thornton and Office of Digital Learning Science Visualization Specialist Betsy Skrip collaborated on the deep dive video, which marries 2D and 3D representations to present a cohesive picture of DNA structure. The video reinforces the key structural and functional characteristics of DNA and illustrates some often difficult-to-visualize perspectives, such as how the flattened view of the structure is derived from the helix and how the major and minor grooves coil in 3D space.

While initially produced as part of the 7.28.1x MOOC for MITx on edX (offered again starting August 4), the team purposely designed the video to be able to stand alone from the full course so that it could be used by a diverse audience of biology students — from high school to graduate level, and on and off the MIT campus.

On the MIT campus, students enrolled in Professor Steve Bell and Professor Wendy Gilbert’s 7.28/7.58 (Molecular Biology) are utilizing this video, along with other videos and online assessment questions developed for 7.28.1x, as supplementary materials to enhance their classroom learning. The MITx Biology team also plans to circulate the clip more widely so that it can benefit a broader scope of science educators and learners. Already, Skrip’s former professor at The College of New Rochelle has made the video a requirement in their undergraduate Molecular Biology course.

“ODL has brought together under one umbrella a group of people with diverse skill sets,” describes Dr. Thornton. “We’ve really taken advantage of that in this collaboration, and it’s allowed us not only to learn from each other, but also to create exactly the teaching tool we envisioned – a video that is both beautiful and biologically accurate.”

Skrip and Thornton worked closely together on both the scripting and the animation. MIT student Ceri Riley narrated the video, Julian Samal refined the sound, and Professor Steve Bell and MITx Digital Learning Lab members Mary Ellen Wiltrout and Nathaniel Schafheimer assisted with script editing and feedback. MITx Media Specialist Caitlin Stier provided additional support for the entire 7.28x course.

Want to learn more about DNA and molecular biology? 7.28.1x starts on August 4 — register now.

MIT in new collaboration to transform teaching in the digital age

Photo of professor speaking to a classroom.

MIT Professor Eric Klopfer is co-leading MIT’s new teacher training initiative, along with ODL’s Vijay Kumar.

MIT does not have an education school, but it’s just announced a big new initiative with the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation on elementary and secondary teacher training.  From MIT News:

MIT, through its Office of Digital Learning (ODL) and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, today announced a new collaboration aimed at supporting teachers in their efforts to use emerging digital learning tools and environments, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The effort will promote new ideas, technologies, and curricula along with research related to educator preparation with a focus on STEM subjects for students from pre-kindergarten through the senior year of high school.

Specifically, this collaboration brings together the Woodrow Wilson Academy for Teaching and Learning (WW Academy) and a new research effort within ODL called the MIT PK12 Initiative. It is designed to fill a growing need in education by providing new capabilities to teachers as they transform their classrooms into the technology-enhanced learning environments of tomorrow. The MIT PK12 Initiative has been created with $9.9 million in seed funding from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation to bring together educators and researchers at MIT interested in learning from infancy through the secondary level.

“Hands-on, problem-focused, curiosity-driven learning is squarely at the heart of an MIT education, and it will be central to MIT’s work with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. Together, we will combine MIT’s ‘mind and hand’ approach to learning with recent breakthroughs in cognitive science and digital learning to inform the Woodrow Wilson Foundation’s efforts to develop and support excellent STEM teachers and school leaders,” said MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “We are thrilled to begin this effort to reimagine the classroom experience.”

Read the complete article >

The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that

The venture also builds on some of the ambitions for greater educational experimentation that MIT articulated last year in its report on [The Future of MIT Education]. That plan called for MIT to become more involved with elementary and secondary education; to make greater use of competency-based teaching, blended learning, and simulations; and to develop new roles for professors and new kinds of credentials. The new academy is “a chance to apply it all to teacher education,” said [Woodrow Wilson Foundation President] Arthur Levine…

The teaching academy will start out small; 25 students will attend free in the first class, beginning in the fall of 2017. After that, the academy hopes to enroll about 200 students who will each pay about $15,000 for a degree earned by satisfying the required competencies set out in several modules. The program will focus at first on training teachers for mathematics, and the sciences, working directly with two MIT professors: Eric Klopfer, an expert in the use of computer games and simulations to understand science, and Vijay Kumar, MIT’s associate dean of digital learning.

Professor Klopfer has long been an enthusiastic champion of online learning. Learn more about him in this faculty profile, and check out some of his courses on OCW and MITx.

OCW courses by Eric Klopfer

MITx on edX courses by Eric Klopfer



NSF video showcase honors two MIT digital learning projects

The National Science Foundation has just announced awards for its 2015 Teaching and Learning Video Showcase: Improving Science, Math, Engineering, and Computer Science Education.  Two projects involving our MIT Office of Digital Learning partners in the Strategic Engineering Initiatives unit are among the winners.

Screenshot of MIT-Haiti video player.

Click to see video for MIT-Haiti Initiative: Opening up education in Haiti: Local language for global impact in cyberlearning and development.

The MIT-Haiti Initiative started in response to the destruction of Haitian universities by the earthquake of January 12, 2010.  They are working to open up education in Haiti, by translating and developing digital learning technologies and active learning pedagogy in the local Kreyòl language.

In many developing nations, one barrier to quality education is the fact that the community language is not used in formal education while the primary language of instruction is a formerly colonial language that few speak fluently. In Haiti, everyone speaks Kreyòl, but the language of instruction is French which is spoken by no more than 5% of the population. This language barrier is: (i) a root cause of academic failure and emotional distress among students; (ii) a chronic violation of human rights; and (iii) a roadblock to socio-economic development. In order to improve and open up education in Haiti, we are developing digital tools in Kreyòl for active learning of STEM, and we are evaluating and disseminating these tools among Haitian faculty through a workshop series that started in March 2012.


Screenshot of video player for Ink-12 project.

Click to see video for Ink-12: Expressive Digital Tools for Elementary Math Education

Ink-12, a collaboration of TERC and MIT, is developing tablet software to support elementary grade students learning multiplication and division. The software, Classroom Learning Partner (CLP),

…allows students to use a tablet pen to create and manipulate mathematical representations and wirelessly send them to the teacher. The complete history of students’ interaction with the computer is saved along with the final representation and is thus available for analysis by teacher and researchers. CLP also performs automatic analysis and sorting of students’ work to help teachers choose appropriate examples for class discussion.

These are just two of the many high-impact projects coming out of MIT’s Strategic Engineering Initiatives unit, spanning innovative digital learning and worldwide education transformation efforts.

A MOOC sees its greatest impact in the classroom at MIT (MIT News)

Banner image for VJx: a painting of a ship.

Japanese woodblock print of American warship, circa 1854. (Image courtesy of the Nagasaki Prefecture.)


MIT Professor Shigeru Miyagawa has been a long-time champion of online education and open sharing.  Now we can add “flipped classroom advocate” to that list.

This fall, Professor Miyagawa simultaneously taught two versions of his course Visualizing Japan to two very different audiences. He co-taught the massive online open course (MOOC) VJx on edX, and at the same time taught the residential course 21F.027 for MIT students.

The edX MOOC, which ran for 6 weeks, was a marked success. It had a completion rate of 13 percent — double the normal rate for a MOOC — and 97.5 percent of the learners said that they were satisfied to extremely satisfied with the course.

But the MIT classroom experience is perhaps the bigger story. While the MOOC was running, the MIT residential course operated largely in flipped mode. Students were assigned the MOOC video lectures and quizzes to complement their classroom work.

For both the students in class and for Miyagawa it became clear early on that something was very different. On the first day of the module “Black Ships and Samurai,” Miyagawa was set to give the lecture he had prepared with a PowerPoint presentation. Shortly into the lecture he asked the class, “What happened in 1868?” He was expecting a couple of students to raise their hands, but everyone seemed to know that this was the beginning of Meiji Restoration that put Japan on the road to modernization.

Miyagawa abandoned his lecture and pressed on with more questions. He was pleasantly surprised that most of the students were not only able to answer the questions, but also willing to engage him and the other students in discussion. “When I finished the class without showing even a single slide from my PowerPoint, I could only ask, what happened?” he remarks.

What happened was a transformative experience for both the students and the professor. Read the full story here.

MIT is Creating the Next Generation’s ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’

We’ve blogged about MIT+K12 Videos before; today BostInno posted a great writeup about the program with insights from program coordinator Elizabeth Choe:

In Choe’s eyes, MIT K+12 is a way to train ambassadors for science and engineering or spawn the next generation’s Bill Nye the Science Guy. The popular 1990s show helped highlight there was more to science than what classrooms and textbooks portray. “Having this trusted guy on screen is powerful,” Choe said, admitting much of what she learned growing up was from tuning in to the show.

“I tell the students they’re like Bill Nye 2.0,” Choe added. “Instead of one host, a white dude, we have a gamut of students with different personalities and interests.”

Through the program, MIT students are taught how to write a compelling script, be an engaging narrator and host and shoot video. “We train them on science communication in a way that’s very different,” Choe explained. “Instead of writing a journal article, they’re learning how to keep an audience that doesn’t have a science background.” Read the entire article on BostInno.

Make sure you’re subscribed to MIT+K12’s YouTube channel to see their new videos, and sign up for their newsletter if you’re interested.

Science Out Loud: A Video Series by MIT Students

Prashanth Venkataram and Maria Cassidy are MIT seniors, and they want to tell you about invisibility cloaks.

Harry's invisible

Remember this scene? Here‘s their explanation of it!

MIT K12 invisibility cloak

The Physics of Invisibility Cloaks is just one episode in Season 1 of Science Out Loud, a new webseries from MIT+K12 Videos. All of these videos are written and hosted by MIT students and feature science and scientists beyond the traditional textbook or classroom setting.

Each episode has a great webpage featuring not only the video, but information about the students who created it, along with other educational resources from MIT and beyond. At the bottom of the page is a section for teachers that points to related Next Generation Science Standards.

New videos go up on YouTube and TechTV every Monday.

Who does what in a massive open online course? (ACM)

MIT’s first MOOC, 6.002x Circuits & Electronics, had 154,000 people sign up. But how did these learners use the online course? Researchers analyzed the wealth of data these students generated to learn “who does what” in a MOOC. Here are their key findings:

  • Data collected in MOOCS provides insight into student behavior, from weekly e-textbook reading habits to context-dependent use of learning resources when solving problems.

  • In 6.002x, 76% of the participants were browsers who collectively accounted for only 8% of time spent in the course, whereas the 7% of certificate-earning participants averaged 100 hours each and collectively accounted for 60% of total time.

  • Students spent the most time per week interacting with lecture videos and homework, followed by discussion forums and online laboratories; however, interactions with the videos and lecture questions were distinctly bimodal, with half the certificate earners accessing less than half of these resources.

Read the entire article here. See the archived 6.002x here, or look at the current listing of MITx courses here.