Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Interactive Biotechnique Tutorials

Ok, who’s the molecular biologist in the group? (*silence… nothing but the sound of distant crickets chirping*) Hmm. Ok, well, I’ll ask the question differently. Who would like to be a forensic investigator like those hot shots on CSI! (*dozens on hands go up*) Ok that’s better. (*smile*)

If you would like to try your hands at safe and fun interactive tutorials on how to conduct some standard molecular biology techniques then you will want to visit Genetics Learning Center of the University of Utah. I spent a couple of hours last night reviewing their website. Particularly interactive was their Biotechniques Virtual Laboratory where I conducted three experiments virtually.
  1. I extracted DNA from cheek cells of a person.

  2. I separated DNA species using gel electrophoresis.

  3. I used a fancy technique called DNA Microarray to show that cancer cells express different proteins than normal non-cancer cells.

I did all that stuff and had fun doing it. I found that the material presented in these Flash animations was excellent. Clearly these tutorials were well thought out. There is a good balance between underlying biochemical theory and laboratory practice; motion was used in the animation to show microscopic zooming and to give users a feel for operating scientific equipment; audio is used to augment the motion in the animations and to supply authentic sounds of scientific equipment; the combination of useful motion, audio and interactive tasks for the user gives these tutorial a game-based feel which clearly makes them fun; and the DNA Microarray tutorial even had some self-assessment questions at the end of it to ensure that users correctly understood how to interpret the results of their experiment.

Apart from the three excellent tutorials in the Biotechniques Virtual Laboratory, there are a plethora of other learning and teaching resources on this same website, including full lesson plans for modules on hot topics such as cloning, gene therapy, pharmacogenetics and stem cell research. (Note: primarily targeted for the K-12 demographic.)

If you are a rabid CSI fan or closet molecular biologist, you’ll want to bookmark this website!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Remote Controlled African Webcam

Q. What do remote control robotics, streaming webcam technology and Africa have in common?

A. Nothing I think.

However, when you mix the three together what you get is this very interesting webcam. It is a streaming live webcam to a water hole in South Africa. More precisely, as described on their website:

“Nkorho Pan is a natural water hole in the prestigious Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, in South Africa. Nkorho pan is named after Nkorho bush Lodge which gets it name from the Shangaan derivative for the call of the yellow-billed hornbill, a common and unusual looking bird from this area.”

A webcam is mounted here on a large termite mound. The camera is remote controlled by an operator. It has almost 360o panning capability, it can tilt up/down, it can zoom up to 18x, and it is even equipped with an infrared light for nighttime viewing. The aparatus is also fully wired for sound capture.

If you are teaching a unit on robotics, webcam technology or Africa, this addictive webcam should be on your list of resources!

There a lot more webcams websites out there these days (Just google search to your hearts content for them) but I was really impressed by this one due to the large number of features the camera has as well as the clarity of the feed. Very nice!

If you know of any other technologically avdanced webcam setups that you would like to share with the readership of this blog, please enter a comment below. Thanks!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Podcast usage in post-secondary settings is growing!

Do you work in post-secondary education? Are you an educator, teacher, instructor, teaching assistant, professor, subject matter expert, or instructional designer? Are you interested in Podcasts?

If you've answered Yes to any of the questions above, you need to send a thank you card to the people who author the Productive Strategies blog. If you go visit their site you'll see that one of there most popular postings is one where they list a whopping 134 sites containing academic podcasts. These are especially interesting and useful because each item on the list represents an entire academic term's worth of podcasts in one course. I think this is AWESOME! For example, pretend you are a professor that teaches a third year intro to biochemistry course. If you are interested in seeing exactly how they teach a similar course at University of California Berkeley then you now have easy access to podcasts of all 38 lectures in their course: General Biochemistry and Molecular Biology - MCB 110. Very useful indeed!!! Long live the Internet!