Academics & Faculty

A professor who can 'change your life forever' teaches his first online course

Biologist Bob Goldberg offers 'Genetic Engineering & Society' to anyone in the world

When Newsweek published "In Search of Great Professors," highlighting instructors who can "change your life forever," UCLA life scientist Bob Goldberg was the first one profiled. When the Daily Beast selected "America's 10 Hottest Classes," there he was again, in an article noting that he "has been lauded on many occasions for being one of UCLA's best teachers."
Goldberg, a distinguished professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology, has received many teaching awards, including a Howard Hughes Medical Institute award for improving undergraduate education.
And now you can take his class, no matter where in the world you live, whether you're a student or not.
Starting Aug. 6, Goldberg will teach a remarkable six-week online course titled "Genetic Engineering and Society" through UCLA Summer Sessions. It's a general education course in the UCLA Division of Life Sciences that is designed for non-science majors.
Goldberg admits when he was first approached about the idea, he had no trouble containing his enthusiasm.
"I was very skeptical," he said. "I didn't believe in the online learning experience. Many online courses just film a class and put it online. My view had been that it's 'education on the cheap' if it's not done right."
Then he got to know and work with Raoul O'Connell, the director of TFT Online, a unit of UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television in which filmmakers, programmers and multimedia professionals produce high-quality online courses.
"They're unbelievable, so creative and so committed to educational excellence," Goldberg said. "They're using an online format to make the most engaging, exciting educational experience imaginable. They're masters at this. They're amazingly creative and understand this intersection between education and technology better than anyone I've ever met. The amount of work they've done and the amount of creativity they've put into this is astounding."
Now Goldberg is sold on the idea that students can receive a first-rate educational experience online.
"The integration of science, education, filmmaking, computer programming and animation is extraordinary," he said. "We will bring science alive online. We'll use this technology in a way that is interactive and engaging. We're making this class very interactive. There is nowhere else students can get this. This will be a completely different experience for them."
Goldberg's lectures will be animated with hand-drawn illustrations that highlight the concepts he explains. The class includes videos and tutorial sessions in which Goldberg and his students can see and hear one another, as well as filmed experiments and scientific demonstrations in his laboratory.
The course also includes guest lecturers and will feature interviews Goldberg conducts with experts such as Harry Klann Jr., head of the Los Angeles Police Department's DNA unit, and authorities on stem cells, in vitro fertilization, genetic testing and the genetic engineering of foods in the developing world, among other topics. Goldberg will hold office hours online and in person.
"The invention of genetic engineering sparked a revolution. I call that 'Genetic Engineering 1.0,'" said Goldberg, who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "It started approximately 40 years ago."
Goldberg covers a wide range of genetics and genetic engineering topics, from how genes work, sequencing the human genome, genetic testing and DNA fingerprinting to ethical issues surrounding genetic engineering and how genetic engineering has affected our lives and society.
Showing a visitor a preview of a video from the class, Goldberg said, "Isn't that amazing? The whole class is this way."
"The School of Theater, Film and Television has been a pioneer in developing curricula, technologies and multimedia strategies for making innovative, high-quality online courses with high production values and aesthetic appeal," said TFT Online's O'Connell. "Using the independent filmmaker's approach, we build online courses that go far beyond simple utility. Our Web interfaces are simple and elegant. The lecture videos we produce have beautiful lighting, excellent sound, and are edited in the style of a Ken Burns documentary. We like to think of ourselves as the Mac of online higher education.
"Every professor is a storyteller," he added. "Online or in the classroom, their goal is to communicate and inspire. We try to capture the substance and the spirit of their teaching, using video, animation and Web-based interactivity. We want them to experience what they love about teaching in a totally new way."
O'Connell and his team use carefully conceived animations to make concepts easier to grasp and processes easier to follow.
"The animation makes the material so clear," said Goldberg, whose current teaching is funded by the National Science Foundation's Plant Genome Research Program. "I don't care if you're the best lecturer on the face of the earth, you still can't make the ideas come alive as well as Raoul and his TFT team can. When you see a virus hopping onto a cell, how can you ever forget that?"
TFT Online has created some 20 online courses in the last few years. The response from both students and faculty has been very favorable.
"We've had professors say they want to use the materials they designed for their online course in the classroom," O'Connell said. "They are that effective. And our animations are not simply decorative or for fun. We think they are a serious technology for teaching. Students will never know how hard the material might have been without the animation."
Brian Copenhaver, who holds UCLA's Udvar-Hazy Chair in Philosophy and History and is former provost of the UCLA College of Letters and Science, had a very positive experience working with O'Connell on an online version of his course "Historical Introduction to Philosophy."
"Bob is a brilliant scientist and a world-class teacher. I knew that he would be a great match for Raoul and the TFT team, who are equally dedicated and creative," said Copenhaver, who recommended that Goldberg and O'Connell work together to create an online course. "I had no doubt that both would put students first in designing courses for an online curriculum of the same superb quality that UCLA has always insisted on."
Students can watch the class sessions and do assignments at the time of their choosing, within deadlines. They get to know one another and their professor, O'Connell said. The class can accommodate more than 100 students this summer — and perhaps many more in the future.
Goldberg has taught innovative courses for many years. He uses state-of-the-art video technology to teach an interactive genetic engineering honors course simultaneously to UCLA students and students at UC Davis, some 370 miles away; the students and Goldberg all see and hear one another in real time. He taught the same course with students from Japan's Kyoto University, separated by the Pacific Ocean and a 17-hour time difference, in 2004.
O'Connell's TFT Online team includes co-director Edric Pauk, a computer programmer and technologist; operations manager Kerry Nason; and Megan Green, a full-time course developer. O'Connell also brings in graduate students and recent alumni from the School of Theater, Film and Television to serve as cinematographers, editors and animators.
They have worked with professors to create online courses in many fields, including the departments of English, philosophy and history, as well as UCLA's Anderson School of Management. This year, they expect some 2,000 students to enroll in their online courses, including one on Shakespeare taught by Michael Allen, a distinguished professor emeritus of English. The vast majority of students are UCLA undergraduates, but some are students at other universities, high school students and lifelong learners around the globe.
For more information, visit; the site includes a brief video of Goldberg teaching.
O'Connell praised the TFT dean, Teri Schwartz, and David Unruh, UCLA's former assistant provost for academic program development and former head of UCLA Summer Sessions. Both have played an instrumental role in the growth of innovative online courses at UCLA, he said.
"We plan to make quite a few more courses for next year," he added.
"It's been a tremendous amount of work," Goldberg said. "I've been happy to do it."
UCLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of nearly 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer 337 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Six alumni and five faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.
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