Thursday, October 30, 2008

UGA Researchers Receive $ 1.3 Million NIH Grant to Develop 3D Animated Biological Science Lessons for High School Students

After using 3-dimensional models and animation successfully for years to help veterinary students understand complicated biological processes, University of Georgia researchers now want to take the user-friendly lessons to Georgia high school students.

J. Steve Oliver, associate department head of science and math education in UGA’s College of Education, is principal investigator of the project, which received a 5-year $ 1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Science Education Partnership Program. Oliver and several other UGA researchers and state partners will create and evaluate 3D animated biology lessons for high school students in hopes of enticing more of them to choose careers in science. The grant is funded by the National Center for Research Resources, a part of the NIH.

“We’re deeply concerned about the general lack of interest in science among young people in our country,” said Oliver. “We believe at least part of the reason is that many don’t understand the relevance of science to their lives. The animated lessons will help them to see biology as ‘real,’ and not just a list of facts and terms.”

Oliver’s UGA co-PIs on the project include Jim Moore, Cindi Ward, and Scott Brown, professors in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Four other professors from vet med, Gaylen Edwards, David Hurley, Oliver Li and Tom Robertson, along with Randall Tackett, a professor in the College of Pharmacy, and Mike Hussey, an associate professor of dramatic media, will help create the 3D animations. Al Cohen and Sara Templin in the College of Education will coordinate the evaluation efforts when the new materials are used in schools. Other partners include faculty at Augusta State University, high school science teachers and the Biological Science Curriculum Study Organization., a group in Colorado Springs, Colorado that has been developing biology curricula for middle and high school students across the nation for more than 50 years. The BSCS will guide aspects of the biology curriculum and oversee national distribution upon completion of the project.

Researchers will create and then evaluate the effectiveness of the lessons, which present five vital biological processes—filtration, passive and active transport, blood pressure and glucose homeostasis in the body. The 3D animations will compare the function and structure of a healthy kidney to one affected by diabetes. Students will examine each of the biological processes in the normal kidney, and then investigate how they are altered in the diseased kidney, subconsciously learning the material while enjoying the experience.

“The typical student doesn’t appreciate the potentially damaging effects on their cells and organs of lifestyle choices they make every day,” said Jim Moore, who teaches UGA veterinary students. “For example, the incidence of diabetes is increasing in pet animals the same way it is in the human population—and perhaps for the same reasons: a lack of exercise and obesity. We believe that some high school students will be better able to explore the consequences of the disease in a pet animal than might be possible with a disease they believe only affects humans.”

To introduce high school students to the clinical reality of diabetes in humans and pet animals, the researchers will host visits to UGA’s Colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy. During the visits, students will see animals with diabetes, learn how veterinarians and physicians evaluate kidney function in humans and animals, and see how clinical trials are performed to evaluate the effectiveness of new treatments.

“By coupling this unique learning method with on-site visits, we believe students will be far more receptive to choosing a science-based career path, be it as a scientist or a science teacher,” said Oliver.

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