Tuesday, 22 October 2013 08:37

Pioneer Sites in Online Science Videos Merge to Form iBiology.org

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Schekman ibio 2 2013 Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, Randy Schekman,
gives a lecture for iBiology.org
Two pioneering online biology video sites, iBioSeminars and iBioMagazine, have undergone another step in their evolution and been merged to create a new website, iBiology.org. Following the model of its predecessors, iBiology.org will continue to offer videos by world-class biologists for free.

The new site, which is supported by the ASCB, aims to appeal to a broad audience, says Sarah Goodwin, Director of iBiology.org, including the scientists, graduate students, and biology majors who avidly follow the research talks on iBioSeminars, as well as the viewers who enjoy the short discovery talks and scientist profiles on iBioMagazine. The newly merged site will also offer an exciting new stream of content in an "iBioEducation" section. iBioEducation features two microscopy courses, a completely new lecture series, including a talk by the 2013 Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, Randy Schekman, and over 350 short video clips excerpted from the seminar series. There are also numerous assessments and educator resources, which will be free to registered teachers.

With the launch of iBiology.org, the iBio team hopes to continue the trend of increasing the audience for its free videos. The iBioSeminar/iBioMagazine viewership has increased exponentially, from just 21,000 views in 2009 to over 1.4 million total views to date. A total of 4,200 people subscribe to the iBio newsletter, 6,078 subscribe to the YouTube channel, and over 5,600 follow on social media. Viewers are from over 180 countries with about half of the audience in the United States.

The original idea for iBioSeminars was the result of a lecture trip to India in 2006 by University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Professor Ron Vale. Vale visited several prestigious universities and institutes throughout India but his seminars were heard by only about 100 scientists and students. During the long flight home, Vale reflected that there had to be a better way to preserve the intimacy and energy of a lecture by a leading scientist and yet reach a mass audience. The Internet was the obvious solution.

Typical online lectures at that time, however, were filmed from the back of the classroom with highly variable audio and visual quality. Vale wanted to do something different and he realized that the "green screen" technology used by TV weather forecasters was the answer. He returned to UCSF and set up the original iBioSeminars green screen studio. Vale recruited Julie Theriot from Stanford, Baldemero "Toto" Olivera from the University of Utah, and Joe DeRisi from UCSF to join him as the first speakers to step out from behind the podium and give iBioSeminar green screen talks in late 2006.

The number of iBioSeminars grew slowly until 2009 when Version 2.0 of the website was launched, featuring 40 seminars across many fields of biology. In 2010, iBioMagazine was born as a forum for short talks about famous discoveries, policy, education, and advice. iBiology.org remains based at UCSF with administrative support from the ASCB and funding from the National Science Foundation, the NIH National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Unlike the growing wave of massive online open courses or MOOCs, iBiology.org will stay away from the university model of registering students, assigning homework, giving exams, and awarding academic credits, says Goodwin. The idea is to take modern biology anywhere in the world where there is a computer or smart phone in the hands of someone curious about the science of life. Curiosity is what drives iBiology.org, says Goodwin.

Check out this sampler of what iBiology.org has to offer:

Microscopy Courses
New Lectures including:
Randy Schekman: Mysterious Membranes
Bonnie Bassler: Tiny Conspiracies 
Nancy Knowlton: Coral Reefs and Climate Change 
Jeremy Nathans: One Second in your Brain 

John Fleischman

John is ASCB Senior Science Writer and the author among other things of two nonfiction books for older children, "Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science" and "Black & White Airmen," both from Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt, Boston.

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