The 7.00x course was particularly unique; from the start, Professor Lander envisioned a wide variety of new assessment problem types, and insisted on the edX platform being shaped and adopted to fit his vision. As a result, students taking the course were able to experience nine new kinds of interactive problems (this doubled the number of types of problems available on the edX platform, as of the Fall of 2012). These new kinds of problems included:
- Drag-and-drop: Students given an image or diagram with empty boxes to be filled, and asked to drag icons from a list, and drop the icons into the boxes, to correctly answer a question. For example, the diagram to the right represents the heredity of humans with students asked to drag the appropriate genotype onto the empty boxes.
- Molecule Editor: Students are presented an interactive editor with which students can draw molecule structures. Students are asked to edit a given molecular diagram, and change it so that the molecule has specified desired properties. For example, a dopamine molecule is shown to the right, and students are asked to change the molecule so it can make ionic bonds. Correctness of the diagram is evaluated by python code written by the course team, executed by the edX platform.
- The ProtEx protein structure builder: Developed by Professor Brian White, Students are taught rules by which amino acids fold into different shaped structures, when put into solution. A set of amino acids is presented to students, together with a target shape. Students are asked to give an amino acid sequence such that the folded shape is the target shape.
- Virtual Genetics Lab: A core idea of genetics is the pathway by which traits are inherited, with some traits being dominant and others being recessive, and some being sex-linked, and others not. Students are given a virtual laboratory in which experiments can be performed to study inheritance pathways, with virtual organisms (e.g. fruit flies) selected by the student being allowed to breed and express traits through successive generations of breeding. Professor Brian White at UMass Boston developed this sophisticated virtual laboratory.
- Explore-a-protein: This tool presents a three- dimensional rendering of a protein molecule to students (using “jsmol”), who may interact with the model using computer mouse movements to rotate and zoom in on the protein, and click on its atoms to observe characteristics. Students are asked questions about the protein, with the molecule and questions selected at random from a large library.
- Explore-a-gene: Students are given an “Integrative Genome Viewer” tool, which allows a user to zoom in on a selected section of a genome, and interactively explore the sequence of DNA base-pairs. This tool enables problems that help students understand eukaryotic gene structure, expression, and mutation. The IGV is a custom version of a research tool developed at the Broad Institute and used by researchers worldwide.
- Loupe and lightbox: A common challenge in biology is depicting the entirety of a complex system, while allowing access to its details. The loupe and lightbox tool allows students to zoom in on large diagrams, e.g. biochemical pathways, to access detailed information which is normally invisible on the large diagram, while also seeing the large diagram for perspective. This enables many kinds of exploration problems, e.g. about the synthesis of amino acids and function of enzymes within a depicted complex biochemical system.
- Foldit: Foldit is a game where students fold simulated proteins in three dimensions. Points are earned for folding structures that properly take into account the many forces governing protein structure. Students used Foldit as part of one problem set and high scores were posted to a 7.00x Leader Board. Foldit was developed by the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington and customized for 7.00x.
- GeneX: A simulation of gene expression where students are asked to make mutations with desired effects and design a functional gene “from scratch”. The simulation expresses their gene and determines if the goal has been achieved. Student used GeneX in a graded problem set and one of the exams. Professor Brian White developed GeneX.
In addition to these nine new problem types, 7.00x employed “Deep Dives” and “Lab” video segments that presented a discussion of a concept, explanation of problem solving, or a demonstration of basic lab experiments. Many of the deep dive videos were presented by MIT graduate students from the Biology department, offering a very personable connection to students, from students.
Throughout 7.00x, the course team put in special effort to keep student motivation high, offering various “Easter egg” videos, treasure chests of supplemental course resources and readings (e.g. from the New York Times, with recent news connected to course topics), and a segment on “Meet the Biology Faculty at MIT,” with a focus on diversity. In addition, the course offered a collaboration with the National Science Teachers Association, to facilitate practical classroom application of the courseware. And as a final touch, the course invited all of the students who qualified for a certificate to contribute their photo to a “DNA Mosiac,” as a joint product from the students and the course team.