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Multimedia teaching tools for neuroscience


Neuroscience for high schoolers? Why not, says Cornell University neurobiologist Ron Hoy. To prove his point that the subject can be exciting for young people to study, Hoy and a Cornell development team of colleagues and undergraduates have developed a suite of novel, interdisciplinary multimedia teaching tools.

The teaching aids, with descriptive names like Koé (Japanese for "voice") and Fruitfly, take neuroscience out of the realm of the just plain technical and difficult and instead present the field as encompassing everything from cognition, behavior and neurogenetics to communication, engineering and music.

Hoy, in collaboration with undergraduates at Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y., has developed the tools not only for university students but also for high schools. Hoy will discuss and demonstrate his novel tools for teaching biology at 10:30 a.m. today (Feb. 20) during a seminar at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel, Washington, D.C.

Koé is a CD-ROM that explores sound, allowing the student to build a virtual audio studio from simpler instruments and then use the studio to explore the physics and psychoacoustics of sound, speech and music. Fruitfly, also a CD-ROM, explores neurogenetics -- the relationship between brain and behavior -- using the familiar fruitfly, Drosophila melanogaster , as the experimental model. Modern research has shown that a remarkable number of genes that are linked to human behavioral disorders have their counterparts in the fruitfly, and the CD-ROM explores this relationship.

Hoy is developing Koé with a team of Cornell computer science undergraduates, led by Nicholas Burlett and Darius Samerotte. "It can capture a sound -- such as speech, song, music or animal sounds -- portray a visual representation of the sound, allow you to manipulate it using a virtual studio with sound analysis and synthesis instruments and then incorporate it into a lab notebook, a musical composition or put it in an audio album the same as a photo album," says Hoy, who is the David and Dorothy Merksamer Professor of Biology at Cornell and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor.

Koé works in real time, allowing the user, for example, to see what happens to sound if the high frequencies are removed from speech, which tends to occur as people age, Hoy says. "Like a conversation, acoustic scenes can be looped and relooped," he explains. "In other words, it’s a transformative tool that can be used to understand or analyze sounds, to recognize acoustic signatures, such as the songs of birds or crickets, or to alter and synthesize new sounds creatively that can be mixed into a favorite song by U2 or by Mozart."
Koé, Hoy says, will be a powerful teaching tool for a course that has anything to do with sound, such as speech, music, animal behavior, audiology, neuroscience, psychology linguistics or speech pathology. "It should also appeal to young students who live their lives accompanied by a soundtrack, whether in their minds or directly into their ears from an iPod. With Koé, kids will learn what sound is by morphing it into new sounds -- this is the best kind of informal learning, learning by doing and having a little fun at the same time," Hoy says.

Fruitfly tackles how genes not only affect physiology and anatomy but also the brain and behavior, such as the role of genetics in neurological diseases, disorders of the senses such as blindness and deafness, as well as problems with learning, memory or susceptibility to recreational drugs. The CD-ROM is modeled on Hoy’s successful Project Crawdad, a commercial multimedia CD-ROM that is a lab manual for teaching neurophysiology by using the common crayfish as a model. Fruitfly encourages geneticists to teach neurobehavioral subject matter and neurobiologists to teach about neurogenetics, Hoy says. Hoy’s team includes Cornell research associates Bob Wyttenbach, Pat Rivlin and Bruce Johnson, who also worked on Crawdad.

"We hope that the resources we are developing will fill a gap for teachers and students with multimedia materials because there are few resources out there to teach teachers about brain and behavior, as opposed to the mountains of material on topics such as cell and molecular biology," says Hoy, whose research focuses on neural systems and behavior, especially communication behavior and sensory neurobiology.

The development of the CD-ROMs is funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Susan S. Lang | EurekAlert!
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