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Can popular media aid learning?

Sept. 13, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Can YouTube make you smarter in biology?

Western Michigan University's Dr. John R. Geiser associate professor of biological sciences, has been picked for a yearlong national scholars program to find out if popular media can help students better relate to course subjects. As a 2010 resident in the American Society for Microbiology-National Science Foundation Biology Scholars Program, he and 22 other biology educators from across the country will investigate their theories on student learning and share their results.

Geiser's research topic considers numerous studies that have shown that motivation and relevance can be a strong influence on students. His study will establish whether student outcomes can be improved by providing students with examples of popular media (YouTube videos, Scientific American articles, etc.) that present the content material in such a way as to provide relevance to student lives. The goal is to use non-science or popular literature or media in a pre-lecture environment to allow students an opportunity to see the overall picture related to a specific concept in a context that is simply more interesting for most students.

In the past, changes to lectures to engage students have been made in an introductory biology lecture course for freshman majors. That has not, however, produced substantial improvement in students test scores or engagement in course content.

A WMU team of biological sciences and chemistry faculty and science educators from WMU's Mallinson Institute for Science Education, Office of Faculty Development and University Libraries collaborated to discuss possible options for improving student motivation and performance. Geiser's study is an offshoot of one of those team discussions. He will conduct his research at WMU and present his findings in May at the national ASM conference. Results will be tracked for five years by the organization.

A WMU faculty member since 1999, Geiser began his WMU career as an assistant professor, and he became associate professor in 2005. From 2003 to the present, he also has been a consultant for AureoGen Biosciences Inc. in Kalamazoo. He earned his doctoral degree in biochemistry from the University of Washington and his bachelor's degree in microbiology from the University of Pittsburgh.

For more information, contact Dr. John Geiser at john.geiser@wmich.edu or (269) 387-5392.

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Media contact: Deanne Puca, (269) 387-8400, deanne.puca@wmich.edu

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