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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Garage demos: using physical models to illustrate dynamic aspects of microscopic biological processes.

  • Author(s): O'Dowd, Diane K
  • Aguilar-Roca, Nancy
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License

Colorful PowerPoint presentations with detailed drawings, micrographs, and short animations have become the standard format for illustrating the fundamental features of cell biology in large introductory classes. In this essay, we describe a low-tech tool that can be included in a standard lecture to help students visualize, understand, and remember the dynamic aspects of microscopic cell biological processes. This approach involves use of common objects, including pipe insulation and a garden hose, to illustrate basic processes such as protein folding and cloning, hence the appellation "garage demos." The demonstrations are short, minimizing displacement of course content, easy to make, and provide an avenue for increasing student-faculty interaction in a large lecture hall. Student feedback over the past 4 years has been overwhelmingly positive. In an anonymous postclass survey in 2007, 90% of the respondents rated garage demos as having been very or somewhat helpful for understanding course concepts. Direct measurements of learning gains on specific concepts illustrated by garage demos are the focus of an ongoing study.

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