Over the past year or so, the ODL has been involved in one of the largest and most collaborative projects we’ve had the opportunity to work on to date. In collaboration with Kristen Lewis we were tasked with redefining the way that Introductory Biology was taught at the University. The main idea behind this was creating an anthology of introductory subjects broken into modules, Evolution, Ecology, Genetics, Photosynthesis, and Cells, with each module taught and produced by faculty subject experts. It was captivating to see how each module varied in approach and evolved their own styles, from dramatic storytelling narrations shot on Notre Dame’s soundstage to students presenting misconceptions about Evolution and Darwinism in the style of Jimmy Kimmel’s Celebrities Read Mean Tweets.

For the Ecology Module, we were presented with the opportunity to address the following question– “How do you take a scientific research paper and make it something exciting and engaging to a student who is unfamiliar with receiving information in this format?” It was quite the challenge, indeed. However, what the ODL learned along the way will be evergreen for quite some time.

After a bit of R&D prototyping, it was decided that the most effective design would be a combination of an Adobe Muse Website and an open source HTML5 teaching and learning tool called H5P (thanks to Kevin Abbott in The Kaneb Center for introducing this to us).

ecology-scaleFrom there, the faculty team identified several distinguished research articles to be featured, and under the guidance of ODL Learning Designer Crystal DeJaegher, opportunities for active learning we’re identified. These opportunities were designated for students on the final paper using a highlighted annotation, as though they were looking at the instructor’s personal copy of the paper. When clicked upon, this would create a rollover of pop-up window featuring one or several types of interactive content, including drag and drop,, interactive timelines, videos, or text-based instructor insights. The interactive content types also included assessment-type questions in the form of selected response, true or false, and open response, providing students with simple formative assessments to self-evaluate their understandings.

The purpose of incorporating the interactive elements in this paper is to make the research or topics “come alive” for students.  Reading scientific research papers can be daunting, especially if one is not a practicing scholar nor aspiring to become one.  As different sections of this course target both majors and non-majors, it was important to faculty that research be more accessible to all.  This was our attempt at engaging students by using literature from the field in a more meaningful way than is typical of a reading assignment.  Honing in on key points of a particular study is certainly relevant for comprehension, but we also wanted to facilitate a guided inquiry for students to investigate the broader application of the findings and outcomes of these studies.


As a result, the final interactive paper is something that, as a whole, the ODL team and Biology partners think will be a resounding success for student learning.  We hope to expand the use of this tool to the remaining Biology modules and other areas of learning.  We would like to thank and to congratulate our friends and partners in the Biology department for their time and effort;  these folks, in particular,  were invaluable to the production of these assets for Ecology: Kristin Lewis, Dominic Chaloner, Shaun Lee, T. Mark Olsen, and Stuart Jones.

For more information regarding this project, please feel free to contact me personally. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.