Online Resources in Biochemistry Enhance Learning & Well-being

Biology (Course 7)
Michael Yaffe
Darcy Gordon
Mary Ellen Wiltrout
Monika Avello
Digital Innovations & Tools
Active Learning
Online Assessments & Rapid Feedback
Simulations & Visualizations

The Need for Digital Resources in Biochemistry

Although biochemistry is a foundational subject and a requirement for acceptance to medical school, there were no online materials available for 7.05 biochemistry, and thus a clear need for digital resources. The MITx Biology team worked with Professor Michael Yaffe in the biology department to create digital resources integrated into residential and MOOC offerings, using an iterative design process informed by evidence-based research on learning.

The team did not implement the project all at once, but instead over the course of several semesters. Gradually the team incorporated more digital resources into the residential course, while concurrently monitoring student response to the additions. Student responses were encouraging and the collaborating faculty are excited about continuing the project.

Digital Tools

  • 3D visualizations connected assignments to real-life applications. PyMOL, an open source, molecular visualization software, introduced a tool that biochemists use in their research. Professor Yaffe’s in-class PyMOL demonstrations provided students with a rich viewing experience using 3D glasses and fostered active learning.
  • Video design followed multi-media learning principles. The brief videos with user controls on speed and replay strategically employed color, text, and motion to reduce cognitive load.
  • Test yourself questions followed each video. These formative assessments tested concepts with immediate feedback that reinforced understanding and elaborated feedback for those in need of further clarification.
  • Problem sets engaged learners with characters and aspects of storytelling while assessing a range of learning objective levels as given in Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  • Handouts immediately followed the unit’s goals and objectives, visually summarized important concepts, and included questions that encouraged self-explanation, guiding students to a deeper awareness of their own knowledge construction.

Multiple Benefits to Students

  • Useful. All of these materials comprised the MOOC (7.05x Biochemistry: Biomolecules, Methods, and Mechanisms). MIT students (7.05) also had all of the digital materials created with a mix of required and supplemental aspects. The majority of MIT students surveyed reported the MITx digital resources as useful or very useful.
  • Lowering stress. Almost all MIT 7.05 students responding to the survey reported that the MITx digital learning materials contributed toward lowering stress.

MOOC Data Used for Incremental Improvements

The team gathered data from MOOC learners to feed back into the next cycle of course refinement to benefit both residential and MOOC learners. This process fostered productive “crosstalk” between the MOOC and the residential experience.

To learn more, watch Dr. Darcy Gordon, Digital Learning Lab Fellow in Biology, describe her work in detail in the above video.