LEARN GENETICS

Interactive learning application for learning gene cloning concepts in Genetics.


BACHELOR'S THESIS PROJECT

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Context

As part of my Bachelor’s Thesis Project, I designed a learning tool for Gene Cloning in Genetics. I wanted to leverage my knowledge in Biotechnology to create a useful product for students that helps learn genetic concepts and terms with limited prior knowledge of the subject. The topic of gene cloning was chosen after extensive research about the topics in Genetics that are difficult for students. 

 

Duration:

August 2016 - April 2017

Tools used:

Adobe Illustrator, Sketch, InVision

Work setting:

Individual project, under supervision of Dr. Prasad Bokil, Asst. Prof., IIT Guwahati and Dr. Rakhi Chaturvedi, Prof., IIT Guwahati

Goals: 

  • Address learning gap in Genetics with focus on gene cloning through E- learning

  • Simplify content and supplement it with experiments and activities

  • Contribute to learning resources available online

  • Focus on concept clarity rather than memorization

  • Clear misconceptions (Confusion in similar sounding terms, processes etc.)


Target users:

Experts or advanced learners in the field of Genetics such as professors, researchers, graduates, and postgraduates are already well versed with the core topics in Genetics. Apart from them, it is the student demographic that most frequently encounters Genetics as a part of the education curriculum.

  • Primary users: Genetics is usually introduced after 9th grade, so the primary user group for this product is the age group of 15- 21 years, i.e. high-school students and undergraduates.

  • Secondary users: This tool can also be used by anyone who is interested in learning about Gene Cloning. Prerequisite knowledge of Genetics is desired, but not mandatory.


Background

Students often have preconceived notions about Biology that results in poor motivation to understand it (Chu, 2008). Resources involving detailed explanations of genetic processes are available both on the internet and in print but there is a lack of relevant study material that is presented in a concise and simplified way. There is also a lack of self-assessment activities that cater to people who are not well versed in Biology. I reviewed successful education models such as those of Finland, South Korea and Japan. I also looked at schools and initiatives in India which have unconventional teaching methods such as Rishi Valley School, Shri Mahatma Gandhi Satya International School, Arvind Gupta’s initiative, and the Tridha foundation.


Literature Research

I conducted literature review on education systems, mobile learning, e-learning and learning theories in Psychology, such as the Working memory theory, which states that learning new words (memorization) fills up restricted space, and leaves lesser room for understanding. I also studied topics of difficulties for students in Biology and Genetics from different parts of the world. Genetics was identified as one of the problematic topics in Biology because of multiple reasons, a few of which particularly stood out to me:

  • Fact and memorization based learning

  • Similar topics in Genetics taught simultaneously cause misconceptions

  • Mathematical equations and exact definitions are difficult for students to memorise

  • Some topics are too advanced for average mental capability of students

  • More terms and jargon than practical or experimental knowledge

Difficult topics in Genetics
Some topics listed as most difficult in Genetics are Nature and structure of genetic material, Transmission, Gene expression, Gene regulation, Evolution, Genetics and society, Mutations, Genetic diseases, Gene transfer mechanisms, Gene cloning, Patterns of inheritance, Genetic variation, Genetic Engineering.


Comparative analysis

There are a lot of resources for learning Genetics already available on the internet. To identify a Unique Selling Point and to study the quality of resources, I performed comparative analysis on various mobile applications and websites.

Websites:

  • Coursera, Learn Genetics, Genengnews, Science Daily and Skillshare

Mobile applications:

  • Direct competitors: Genetics and genetics engineering, Genetic engineering 101, Genetics engineering 101, Genetic engineering, FCS Molecular Genetics

    All these applications have long texts with boring, repetitive content. There are no experiments or supporting examples and no interactive content to engage the users.

  Mobile applications (a) Genetics and genetic engineering (b) Genetic engineering (c) Genetics Engineering 101

Mobile applications (a) Genetics and genetic engineering (b) Genetic engineering (c) Genetics Engineering 101

  • Indirect competitors: Duolingo, Tinycards, Magoosh, Memrise and Primer (not directly related to Biology but are popular learning apps)
    These applications have activity based, intuitive learning experiences, with short content presented in an interactive manner.

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User study

I distributed a questionnaire based survey and visited a school to talk to target users about their problems with studying Genetics. There were a total of 112 participants (20 Kendriya Vidyalaya school students, 18 first year undergraduates at IIT Guwahati, 20 final year BSBE undergraduates at IIT Guwahati, 38 St. Joseph’s Convent School Bhopal students and 16 Bal Bhavan School Bhopal students). The questions were related to learning preferences, Biology, Genetics and internet usage for learning purposes. I gained insights on why students enjoy a particular subject and why they dislike another one.

 Visual representation of a few survey results

Visual representation of a few survey results

  • 74% users use the internet daily for study purposes

  • 82.35% users prefer practical experiments over theory classes

  • Maximum students believe that Biology is an "interesting but memorization centric subject"

  • Topics of difficulty mentioned by students were: Evolution, gene transfer, genetic engineering, southern blotting technique, Human Genome Project, lac operon, PCR, cloning, cloning vector, recombinant DNA technology, CRISPR, chromosome disorders and DNA fingerprinting.


Takeaways from user research

  • Practical learning is preferred over theoretical classroom learning

  • Research conducted in different parts of the world about topics of difficulty corroborated with my own findings

  • Avoid long passages and memorization based content

  • Use interactive, experiential learning, support content with examples


Finalising medium and content:

Literature research showed that educational mobile applications have an advantage over e-learning websites. I chose to create a mobile application because they provide self-paced, on-the-go learning, are accessible from any place as per one’s availability, can have an offline mode and push notifications, are customizable and often collaborative, and facilitate student-centered learning. This allows users to engage in learning whenever they have free time, and do so with a sense of responsibility and not obligation. I also analysed each of the topics identified as difficult based on depth, results of the user study, need for a learning tool, quantity and quality of already available material. After this filtering and consulting about potential topics with professors in Genetics, I finalised the topic of Gene Cloning with the following sub-topics:  

  • Introduction to basic terms in Genetics

  • What is cloning?

  • Applications of cloning in Genetic Engineering (basics)

  • Process of gene cloning

  • Process of organism cloning

I also focussed on addressing common misconceptions in genetics ( and supplemented the content with examples, short activities and experiments. 


Wireframes and user flow:

Inspired by Google Primer, I decided to use a card-based format for the app. Each topic was sub-divided into card decks with no more than 7 cards per deck. Completing a deck would give a sense of completion and accomplishment. It also reiterates the point that having short succinct content as opposed to long passages is more engaging for the user. Coupled with the interactions that are associated with cards (swiping, expanding etc.) , it would make the experience interactive and pleasurable. 

 
 Initial iterations and explorations through wireframing

Initial iterations and explorations through wireframing

 Final wireframes and user flow

Final wireframes and user flow

 


High fidelity prototypes

The main screens of the app are Home, Topics, Card decks, Expand, Bookmarks

 
 Home screen and Topics screen with card decks

Home screen and Topics screen with card decks

 

This is a sample card deck for the Introduction portion of the application. The first deck consists of 7 cards and a short activity. The progress bar is indicative of how far along the user is within the deck. The short activities after every few cards ensure that the user is grasping the concepts and not just swiping through the deck. 

 
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This is another short activity for the card deck explaining the differences between Genetic Engineering and Cloning. Prior to the activity, there was a brief introduction of the terms and after choosing one of the two options, a short explanation of the answer is provided. 

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Reflection:

I visited schools and talked to a lot of users in the initial stages of the project. The extensive literature research and user research phase provided a lot of insights about mobile learning and content creation for the application. The intersection of design and Biotechnology was also an interesting space to explore, because I was responsible for creating the content as well as designing the experience. I also learnt the importance of writing in user experience, specially in educational applications. I could only choose a few sub-topics of Gene Cloning for the initial prototype due to constraints with time and resources but this could potentially be expanded to include more topics in the future. I would love to revisit this project, add on to it and perform user testing to make improvements.