With SEPA funding, Cold Spring Harbor’s DNA Learning Center developed Inside Cancer, a multimedia guide to the molecular genetic basis of cancer. The site is a resource for students, teachers and the general public who want authoritative information on the workings of a cancer cell. Animations and video interviews with cancer researchers and other experts help people understand the complex science and issues of cancer.
On a biological level, the site takes users inside the cell to explore the molecular and genetic roots of cancer. On a sociological level, it provides the insider’s perspective of the world of cancer research.
One objective is to help users understand how modern concepts from molecular and cellular genetics are being integrated into ideas about cancer diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. Another objective is to allow students to learn modern biology in the same way as basic cancer researchers—by meeting scientists, seeing how experiments are done, and by visualizing the unseen world of genes and molecules.
After 5 years of development, the site was launched in January 2006. The four modules—Hallmarks of Cancer, Causes and Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment, and Pathways to Cancer—include videos, animations, images, and text items. Inside Cancer also includes teacher lesson plans and student activities, a blog, and a newsfeed. Since launch, Inside Cancer has received 2,272,325 visits. The most popular items are within the Hallmarks of Cancer and Causes sections of the site.
The Internet has seen an explosive growth in the past few years and masses of information on cancer are readily available to anyone with a live connection. Unfortunately the vast majority of this information is presented in long test passages with few illustrations and non multi-media elements to increase user interest. Absent are materials that help people appreciate how basic research in cancer genetics is being rapidly translated into new options for diagnosis treatment and prevention. We seek support to create an extensive WWW site Inside Cancer which literally will take people into the workings of the cancer cell and into the laboratories of scientists who are revolutionizing cancer research.
Building upon the project staff’s strong experience in building multimedia WWW sites Inside Cancer will make use of the most up-to-date technology to merge animation and video into a visually stimulating experience. At the same time the project draws scientific authority from a world-renowned research institute and advisors who have played important roles in the development of modern cancer research. Five modules will be developed.
What is Cancer? quickly answers this and other related questions in short animations and prepares more curious visitors for the next modules.
Cancer in the Laboratory features researchers explaining animated sequences of their own experiments which laid the foundation for understanding cancer at the molecular level.
Cancer Causes and Prevention animates the molecular events triggered by carcinogens such as tobacco smoke and diet and emphasizes how lifestyle changes can reduce cancer risk.
Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment lets visitors shadow doctors making a cancer diagnosis showing the connections between cancer cell alterations and new treatment options.
Pathways to Cancer takes visitors on a 3-dimensional tour of a cell and its signaling pathways then allows them to see downstream effects of mutations and their relation to cancer development. As new findings and therapies are discovered we will update the modules to keep Inside Cancer current.
General use of the Internet site
Inside Cancer visitation rose quickly from launch in January 2006, to a peak of around 22,000 visitors a month, with visitation mirroring the academic year. Use of the Teacher Center follows a similar cycle.
Students comprise the largest user group—40.2%, with nearly equal proportions of precollege (48.7%) and college/postgraduate (44.5%). Students report using the site mainly for classes in general biology (45.7% of high school students, 39.7% of college students), or for AP biology (30.9% of precollege students). Teachers are the next largest user group (31.4%), followed by science or medical professionals (17.8%) and the general public (10.5%).
Effects of workshop participation
A longitudinal study tracked faculty workshop participants over time, with online surveys immediately before (n=428) and after (n=273) attendance at workshops, and 9–12 months later (n=135).
Open-ended responses indicated that teachers appreciated the flexibility provided by multiple representations of content, navigational options, and levels at which content can be explored in Inside Cancer.
- “High school students will be able to use and understand much of the information. It is also in-depth enough to allow for further investigation.”
- “There is a rich array of information on cancer. The use of animation and interviews is particularly valuable.”
- “I like the way content is broken up into four different sections, with additional links inside the individual sections. The animations are extremely helpful in conveying many of the ideas.”
On follow-up, 9–12 months after the workshop, 97.4% of respondents had used Inside Cancer with one or more classes—including general biology (49.6%), honors or AP Biology (33.8%), anatomy and physiology (19.5%), and genetics (13.5%). Most respondents (81.6%) had used the website as a source of new teaching materials—for teaching directly in the classroom (44.7%), as a source for student projects (36.8%), homework assignments (28.9%), and to print lesson plans from Teacher Center (15.8%).
Comments from workshop participants included:
- “I find Inside Cancer to be easily applied towards many of my classes. I find the relevancy to students’ lives very appealing, and I am impressed with the quality of its animations and pedagogy. I believe that my students learn better from the applied aspect of the biological principles that are embedded in this courseware.”
- “I find the info very informative. It is a great source of information to pass on to people who are willing to self learn. I have recommended it to local oncologists as a patient education tool.”
Summative evaluation: Study of student effects
We evaluated how effectively Inside Cancer can support biology and health instruction with a crossed, repeated measures design, which controls for student effects by having each student participate in experiment and control phases of the study. In this study, a teacher presented “Topic 1” to two classes, using the Inside Cancer website with “Class A” and using a different resource (such as textbook or lecture) with “Class B.” The roles switched for Topic 2, with “Class B” using the Inside Cancer website and “Class A” using other resources. Students completed a quiz after each topic, allowing comparison of learning gains for each student with and without the website enhancement. Students also completed online pre- and post-surveys to gauge changes in genetics literacy, cancer biology, knowledge of the scientific process, and attitudes towards science. In practical terms, using Inside Cancer increased students’ scores by an average of one letter grade. There was also a significant increase in knowledge of the scientific process.
Evaluation results were published in Science.
Associated SEPA Project(s)
Nationwide Dissemination of Inside Cancer: A SEPA-Funded Internet Site for Teachers
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