Using Video to Understand Experimental Techniques in Cell Biology

  • Biology (Course 7)


Frank Solomon
Adam Martin
Mary Ellen Wiltrout
Sera Thornton

Digital Innovations & Tools: 

  • Simulations & Visualizations


Students need to understand laboratory procedures and the logic and analysis that inform research, so they can fully understand scientific research papers as well as generate and present similarly constructed arguments. Video animations help effect deeper understanding of the experiential and procedural components of biological research.

Biology Visualization - Sera Thornton


Problem: How do we get students in 7.06 (Cell Biology) to understand and apply experimental techniques and experimental design in a lecture-based course when they have not had the experience in a lab?

Solution: With Professors Solomon and Martin, Drs. Wiltrout and Thornton created short video animations designed specifically for 7.06, based on relevant research papers. Hosted on MITx, each video included follow-up questions to gauge comprehension and promote active learning. In addition, students could submit ‘mud slips’ detailing the muddiest (i.e. most confusing) area of any course material. Instructors used popular mud slips as springboards for follow-up clarification in class as well as supplied answers to all mud slip questions on the discussion board. Results:

  • High level of student engagement and approval: 100% of students used the videos and questions, even though they were optional.
  • Student feedback: “The videos and discussion questions help a lot: [with] improved understanding and… the ability to think about experimental design, controls, and how results can be interpreted.”
  • Professors observed increased engagement in scientific thinking in the students as a result of these videos.

Key Take-Aways

Videos provide a media-rich window into scientific procedures and processes. They “impacted… how students look at biological problems. [Students] were thinking like cell biologists.” - Professor Adam Martin. 

If you are interested in using the concepts from this case study in your teaching, please contact MITx Residential to speak with a consultant.

Mary Ellen Wiltrout, Digital Learning Scientist

Sera Thornton, Digital Learning Fellow

Left to Right: Mary Ellen Wiltrout, Digital Learning Specialist, Sera Thornton, Digital Learning Fellow





Explore Biology resources.  MITx Biology Team Receives an Award.