Agriculture and Natural Resources
Biotechnology: Science and Socioeconomic Issues

Macromedia Flash

Biotech Lesson

Lesa Griffiths

Sherry Kitto
May 30, 2001

Lesa Griffiths & Sherry Kitto

Students and Instructors Learning Together

Cartoons created for a college biotechnology course? The image may seem as farfetched as Fred and Barney at a conference on cold fusion techniques. But before you draw conclusions, visit the on-line site for “Biotechnology: Science and Socioeconomic Issues.” What you will find is a animated film that step-by-step explains genetic engineering—the process by which scientists cut and paste snippets of DNA from one strand of DNA to another. Dr. Lesa Griffiths, associate dean for academic programs, and Dr. Sherry Kitto, professor of horticulture at the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, developed "Mr. Gene" and the lively, online lesson as a teaching tool for their course on perspectives on biotechnology. In addition to examining biotechnology as it relates to the social sciences, media and consumers, the course curriculum requires a few lessons in biology, including recombinant DNA technology.

The idea for a computer animation came from a student who had struggled to learn the details of the technology.

"When we handed out a mid-year evaluation on how we could improve the course, one student suggested that a cartoon on recombinant DNA technology would make it easier to understand.

"It sounded like a fun idea and the timing was perfect," says Griffiths. "The University had just announced the availability of student technology assistant grants through the PRESENT, UD's teaching, learning and technology center, so we thought we might be able to get some support."

Christina Williams, a senior at the time and now a graduate student in plant molecular biology at UD, offered to help with the project. Williams says she spent 20 hours a week over Winter Session 2000 working on the project, doing library research, drawing diagrams and adding text, before meeting with Kitto and PRESENT staff member Becky Kinney, an animator experienced at creating educational software.

“It’s difficult to describe my approach to creating the cartoon-like animation,” says Kinney.

“I started with a written script and some static graphics from Christina Williams. The original idea was that I would create interactive computer animations showing how each static graphic ‘became’ the next, synching the action with the narration.”

Griffiths describes the animation project as a collaborative effort, made possible with the help of undergraduate and graduate students and staff at PRESENT and University Media Services. The voiceover recording by journalism professor Ralph Begleiter was captured digitally in the ITV studios.

“So many concepts in science are difficult to teach in a laboratory because you can’t ‘see’ anything,” says Kitto, “so narrated computer animation like this really facilitates learning. We hope this project will be the first in a series.”

The lesson takes about 20 minutes to complete and is available at

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"So many concepts in science are difficult to teach in a laboratory because you can’t ‘see’ anything, so narrated computer animation like this really facilitates learning."

—Sherry Kitto