DIP: Collaborative Research: Taking Hands-on Experimentation to the Cloud: Comparing Physical and Virtual Models in Biology on a Massive Scale

PIs: Ingmar Hans Riedel-Kruse, Paulo Blikstein
Stanford University
Award Details

In this Cyberlearning: Transforming Education DIP project, the PIs are building and evaluating a technological and curricular infrastructure to empower scalable, low-cost experimentations for undergraduates and K-12 students in the life sciences. The infrastructure exploits two technologies that have been developed by the PIs: biotic systems, which enable low-cost remote experimentation in biology, and bifocal modeling, which motivates students to engage in deep scientific inquiry by comparing physical and virtual models in real time. Using a low-cost local or remote Biological Printing Unit (BPU), learners will ‘print’ organisms into petri dishes and run experiments with live materials. Each learner will have control over the empirical apparatus for as long as needed, due to the low cost and scalability of the system. The living material itself has a small footprint, and ever-advancing high-throughput technologies, such as automated microscopy and DNA sequencing, enable cost-effective, automated multiplexing of massive numbers of simple, learner-guided experiments, allowing learners to each personally carry out successions of experiments. The second innovation is juxtaposition, in real time, of the physical experimentation with computer modeling, known as Bifocal Modeling, allowing students to observe and explore the real-world growth, interactions, and characteristics of their organisms in parallel with observing outcomes of models representing their understanding of the biological phenomena underlying organism activity and subsequently refine their explanations and understanding. Research focuses on cognitive affordances and constraints of this new bifocal epistemic form, the supports needed by learners to handle the complexities of this potentially powerful approach, and the progressions in student proficiency in design and execution of experiments when they have both real and virtual models available.

The PIs are addressing the significant challenge of how to bring modern bioscience into classrooms and informal learning environments, at low cost and with substantial variety. The platform they are creating, which integrates Biological Printing Devices with Bifocal Modeling, provides for more open exploration and realism in what learners can experience than is possible simply with simulations and virtual experiments. Schools and universities will be able to integrate more advanced biology experiments into their lab curricula as a result of this investigation, broadening exposure of all students, especially the less privileged, to the life sciences.

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