Multimedia project focuses on teens

Jul 16th, 2009 | By | Category: Uncategorized

To Taylor Johnson, it’s a pretty simple formula: To capture high-school students’ attention and teach them science, start first by capturing science – on video.

“It’s more creative than reading about it in a textbook,” the ninth-grader said. “I think people will get more out of it that way.”

For two weeks in July, Johnson and a handful of other ninth-graders from Omaha put that theory to the test.

They and their teachers worked closely with researchers at UNL and the University of Nebraska Medical Center to learn about virology, or the study of viruses. Then, they produced in-depth multimedia projects aimed to educate other Omaha high schoolers on the subject.

Eventually, the videos produced in July will be used in a new curriculum in Omaha Public Schools – and eventually other schools in Nebraska and the United States – to hammer home the relevance of the science in peoples’ everyday lives.

student shooting video
STUDENT PROJECT – With the assistance of Nebraska Educational Telecommunications’ Gary Hochman (right), Omaha Burke High School student Garrett Sehr films Nithal Kuwa (left), a UNL graduate student and Fulbright scholar, at the Ken Morrison Life Sciences Research Center. Photo by Craig Chandler / University Communications

Officially known as the Omaha Science Media Project, the workshop paired students and teachers with journalists and biomedical researchers at UNL and UNMC to use the techniques of multimedia journalism to teach science.

Two of the eight teams worked at the Morrison Center on East Campus, the main facility of the Nebraska Center for Virology. There, they zoomed in on two major ventures in UNL’s virology research: the work of Charles Wood and staff on HIV/AIDS in Zambia, and Peter Angeletti’s study of human papillomavirus, or HPV.

Wood said recent headlines about another virus, H1N1, brought a unique context to the students’ work.

“(Viruses) affect our daily well-being, and there’s a new virus that is being talked about every year,” he said. “It’s relevant to learn how viruses work and how to deal with them, and these students will be helping to bring that to their classmates.”

Wood and Angeletti both said that eventually, the project could have long-term impacts for their field.

“It’s so important to stimulate children’s interests in this field. It’s an exciting career and it’s our job to inspire the next generation of scientists and virologists,” Wood said. “That’s one of the mandates of the Nebraska Center for Virology, and we take our outreach role very seriously.”

The project grew out of an endeavor called World of Viruses, a five-year educational outreach project funded by the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health through the Science Education Partnership Award.

Judy Diamond, a professor at the University of Nebraska State Museum, coordinated both projects. She said the venture with Omaha schools is unique because a high-school unit of study is being built around using media skills to explore real world experiences with scientists.

If all goes according to plan, the new curriculum featuring videos of UNL and UNMC researchers should debut in at least one Omaha school next spring and expand from there, district officials said.

By immersing themselves into the process of studying and planning a science media story during the July workshop, Diamond said, students and teachers developed key understandings about the specific science of virology.

“No other project is taking this approach,” she said.

The project has many partners. In addition to OPS, UNMC and the Nebraska Virology Center, collaborators include the University of Nebraska State Museum, NET, UNL’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Soundprint Media Center and Northwestern University.

The immediate impact, however, was clear.

“I haven’t been the best science student, but I’m learning a lot,” Johnson said. “I hope that a lot of other people will learn from what we’re doing.”

— By Steve Smith, University Communications

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