Group Meeting Archive: Dr. Brian White & Dr. Mary Ellen Wiltrout

Dr. Brian White and Dr. Mary Ellen Wiltrout

Title: 7.00x Introduction to Biology: A Year Post-MOOC Development, Residential Applications at MIT and the University of Massachusetts, Boston

Group Meeting Date & Time: Friday, June 20, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

View the slides from Dr. White’s and Dr. Wiltrout’s Group Meeting

Dr. Brian White is an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. As an MITx Technical Instructor and Curriculum Development Specialist, Dr. Mary Ellen Wiltrout oversees all residential and world-wide bound MITx projects in the Biology Department at MIT. In their talk, titled 7.00x Introduction to Biology: A Year Post-MOOC Development, Residential Applications at MIT and the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Dr. White and Dr. Wiltrout described how the online course content is being used in residential classrooms, showed student feedback, and provided some early insights from the data collected.

In March 2013, the Department of Biology at MIT offered its first massively open online course (MOOC), called 7.00x Introduction to Biology – The Secret of Life, on the edX online course platform. Professor Eric Lander put together the core biology team of Drs. Michelle Mischke, Brian White, Mary Ellen Wiltrout, and Graham Walker to launch the course and all of its associated materials and digital learning tools. The first iteration of 7.00x Introduction to Biology was launched in March 2013. Since then, it has been released two more times, in September 2013 and most recently in June 2014. Both of the first two releases had approximately 40,000 registrants, with 5-8% of registrants finishing the course each time. For more information about the course demographics, see the Office of Digital Learning’s working paper on the first iteration of 7.00x.

Since the initial release of 7.00x on the edX online course platform, the content from the course has been used in several of the Introductory Biology courses at MIT (7.01 series of courses) and at the University of Massachusetts, Boston (UMass Boston). When used in MIT’s residential courses, the 7.00x course content is hosted on a course website hosted on the MITx online course platform, which is based off of the edX platform and is designed to support residential courses. MIT hosts five different versions, called 7.012-7.016, of the semester-long, lecture-based introductory biology course. In two iterations of the introductory biology course, 7.013 and 7.016, select videos and resources from 7.00x were used to support residential learning. In the past academic year, other iterations of MIT’s introductory biology course have used more online material to support residential learning. In particular, 7.012 in fall 2013 provided the students with access to the entire online course and 7.014 in spring 2014 utilized online course lecture videos, resources, and problems to integrate active learning problems and clicker exercises into class time. Following implementation of these online materials in 7.012 and 7.014, Dr. Wiltrout gathered student feedback in the form of feedback surveys. In 7.012, 77% of students accessed the online materials on the MITx site even though it wasn’t required of them and the majority of students thought that the lecture videos were a useful study aid. The use of online course materials to flip portions of the classroom in 7.014 served as an informative experiment. The feedback survey results indicated that only 20% of students watched all of the assigned lecture videos prior to attending class and that only approximately half of the students watched the assigned lecture video on an average day. As a result, the course instructors are working to change their approach to increase the students’ level of preparedness for class in next year’s 7.014 course.

In addition, other MIT biology courses are hosting course components on MITx course websites to support residential learning. In particular, the genetics course in fall 2013 (course 7.03) hosted an online assignment using the genetics experiment simulator, StarGenetics, the cell biology course in spring 2014 (course 7.06) hosted two assignments using the cell and molecular biology experiment simulator, StarCellBio, and the molecular biology course in spring 2014 (course 7.28) hosted practice problems on their respective MITx course websites. In addition, the biology department’s MITx team put a quantitative biology workshop, normally held as an outreach event, on the MITx course platform in January and are also hosting two new courses for residential students on the MITx course platform this summer: Creating Digital Learning Materials for Biology (7.S390) and Quantitative Biology Workshop (7.S391).

Outside of the use of 7.00x online course materials at MIT, the online course materials are only available to a select group of other universities and instructors. The 7.00x online course materials are currently being used at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and in Dr. White’s introductory biology course at UMass Boston. In his introductory biology course at UMass Boston, Dr. White significantly adapted the online content to implement a completely “flipped classroom”. His ultimate goal of flipping the classroom was to use both students’ and the instructor’s time more effectively by having students watch videos, read materials, and/or answer ungraded problems prior to coming to class and implementing active learning exercises, such as iClicker questions during class time. Although Dr. White found that his students performed similarly in the flipped classroom compared to his previously implemented traditional classroom, he found that students definitely liked the new course format and he will re-implement the flipped classroom model in his introductory biology course again in the future.

Speaker Biographies

Brian White is an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston where he teaches General Biology I and II and conducts research in Biology Education. He earned a B.S. in Biology from MIT and a Ph.D. in Biology from Stanford University. For the past 15 years, he has taught the two-semester General Biology course series for Biology majors. His research focuses on the development and evaluation of novel methods for teaching biology. These have included computer simulations; the book A Problems Approach to Introductory Biology; and wet labs. One simulation, Aipotu, won the Science Magazine prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction. Another simulation, the Virtual Genetics Lab, is in use by high schools and colleges around the world. He also worked on the team that developed “7.00x The Secret of Life”, a Massively Open On-line Course in general biology offered through

Mary Ellen Wiltrout completed her Ph.D. thesis studying translesion synthesis in Dr. Graham Walker’s lab at MIT. In the fall of 2009, she began working as the preceptor for MCB 52, the Molecular Biology course at Harvard University with Drs. Rich Losick, Briana Burton, and Tom Torello. As a preceptor, Mary Ellen managed a staff of teaching fellows, oversaw the execution of a discovery-based lab for the students, and gave lectures for the course. She also taught several of her own courses at Harvard’s Extension School including a DNA repair and mutagenesis proseminar that focuses on reading the primary literature and writing. In 2011, she completed the HHMI Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education in Biology and led a group as a facilitator in 2012. In 2013, Mary Ellen moved to the Broad Institute to be part of the core group with Dr. Michelle Mischke and Dr. Brian White to create Dr. Eric Lander’s course, 7.00x Introduction to Biology – The Secret of Life. Mary Ellen now oversees all residential and world-wide bound MITx projects for the MIT Department of Biology.