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Stephen Thomas

ISB202: Applications of Environmental and Organismal Biology
Best Fully Online
“Critical thinking and science literacy on a massive scale (MOOC)”
- Stephen Thomas -

In an age where important scientific stories are most often consumed via non-scientific mass media sources, the ability to think critically about what we read and hear is crucial to our understanding of the world around us. This iteration of ISB 202 has three main objectives for students: 1) improvement of critical thinking skills, 2) increase science literacy, and 3) raise the understanding of science as a way of knowing and not just as a collection of facts.

Incorporation of ideas from multiple disciplines

This massively open online course (MOOC) is a product of collaborative and interdisciplinary design. Several campus departments (IT Services Teaching and Learning’s LearnDAT, College of Arts and Letters and the MSU Libraries), as well as graduate students representing an array of disciplines contributed to the creation of the curriculum and content.

Teaching techniques commonly used in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) were incorporated into course activities as a strategy to mediate scientific jargon. Diversity and accessibility were addressed at each step of development, with faculty from Anthropology, and graduate students from the College of Education’s HALE and MAET programs providing feedback on images and activities to ensure that they were universally inclusive. For example, the course introductory video included images of scientists that transformed from the stereotypical older white male to different ethnicities, genders and abilities.

Citizen science podcasts

One of the graduate students responsible for content creation was passionate about citizen science and set about connecting the course learning objectives to online science experiments where the students could participate to collect data. She then developed a series of podcasts that connected module content to these projects. For these projects, students play games that range from helping scientists solve protein folding problems, to counting populations of sea creatures, to quantifying star maps with each packaged neatly with a corresponding podcast and learning objective.

Blending for-credit and non-credit

ISB 202 ran concurrently as a traditional MSU online course, and a massively open online course that was open to the general public. The eighty students enrolled for credit participated in the general pool of 1,250 learners enrolled from 37 U.S. states and 37 countries worldwide. Critical thinking assessments given in the form of pre- and post-tests indicated that students improved their critical thinking skills (t(83)=3.97, p<.001) and that their belief in pseudoscience decreased (t(83)=3.47, p<.001) as a result of their participation in this community generated curriculum.

Technologies included in this course:


Julie Libarkin, Geology, Assessment

Carmen McCallum, CISGS, Project management

Matt Rowe, Zoology, Objective Development

Patti Stewart, IT Services Teaching and Learning, Instructional Designer

Emily Brozovic, IT Services Teaching and Learning, Instructional Designer (social media)

Roger Chance, IT Services Teaching and Learning, Programmer (badges)

Joe Fitzgerald, IT Services Teaching and Learning, Web Developer

Dave Goodrich, IT Services Teaching and Learning, Instructional Designer

Chris Irvin, IT Services Teaching and Learning, Instructional Designer

JoAnn Render, IT Services Teaching and Learning, Web Developer