Master's Research Project:

Metabolism in Motion

Overview

Biochemical metabolism is a challenging subject for undergraduate students due to its high-volume of information and inherent complexity. Students become too focused on memorization, and struggle to see the big picture of the metabolic pathways and their application to the real world. To address this learning gap, I am developing (1) an educational 3D animation and (2) a web-based clinical case study. 

Read about the progress of my research below.

Primary supervisor: Dr. Derek Ng​.

Secondary committee members: Dr. Jodie Jenkinson, Dr. Andrea Gauthier. 

Content advisors: Dr. Sian Patterson, Dr. Stavroula Andreopoulos.

My roles & responsibilities: Design, 3D Animation, Research & Content Development.

 

Design Process

Undergraduate biochemistry is often a prerequisite for upper-year studies in a variety of life science fields. Metabolism, the study of the body’s production and regulation of energy, is a core subject taught in biochemistry. However, educators at the University of Toronto's Department of Biochemistry found that their students were struggling with this subject. Unsure of the problem and without any tangible solutions in mind, lecturers turned to the Department of Biomedical Communications—this was the conception of my master's research project.

Identifying Problems

After interviewing educators and current biochemistry students, we discovered that one major challenge learners faced was consolidating information into a big picture understanding of biochemical metabolism. An in-depth literature review of biochemical education research supported this finding—students struggled to make connections with existing knowledge and between metabolic pathways. In other words, learners were losing the forest for the trees, which made it difficult to apply their knowledge to the real world. 

It was easy to see how this could be the case after auditing existing resources and visual media (right). Most existing resources featured static 2D illustrations and schematic representations that failed to cue attention and target student learning.

 

University of Toronto lecturers really wanted targeted and dynamic visual media that might help students see connections and understand the "so what?" of metabolism.

From Biochemistry (4th ed.) Reginald H. Garrett, Charles M. Grisham. 2010. 

Proposed Solutions

With the key problems and goals in mind, we developed a two-fold approach to addressing this learning gap:

1.

2.

"Metabolism in Motion"

An educational 3D animation that mixes analogy with real-life examples to introduce and show metabolism in action. The purpose of this animation is to (a) introduce students to the goals of metabolism, (b) identify key players of metabolism, and (c) connect major pathways. 

"Metabolic Mystery"

An end-of-semester case study that tests their comprehension of metabolic connectedness.

 

Content development 

Working with content advisors, I delved into textbooks, lecture material, and external resources to develop a content summary that would guide animation and case study design. Content was focussed on emphasizing pathway goals, key intermediates, and connectivity. 

Animation Design

Script development and storyboarding

Animatics

The animation was originally two shorter videos. View the initial animatics below: 

As development progressed, we decided to combine the two shorter videos into one longer animation. View the animatic for the final animation below:

Final animation

Currently in development. Below are some test renders:

Long-Shirley-Project1.jpg
Long-Shirley-Project2.jpg
 
 

Case Study Design

Instead of a static case study, we will present a case to students using web-based visual storytelling that resembles a webcomic. This narrative places students in the shoes of a physician trying to diagnose a mysterious metabolic condition. For this story, we chose McArdle's Disease - a rare genetic mutation that involves a single protein deficiency for a key metabolic enzyme. By following along with the clinical case, students learn about key pathways while trying to diagnose a metabolic condition. Pages will have scrolling parallax and interactive images.

User path & storyboards for case narrative:

This case study is currently under development.

 © Shirley Long 2019