Power of the Internet to
Facilitate Science Education and
Networking: The Supercourse
Organized by: Gilbert S. Omenn, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Ronald LaPorte, University of Pittsburgh, PA
Historically, translation of research to world’s classrooms has been a time consuming process. A new model for information sharing is needed to bring
together scientists from different disciplines. The SuperCourse (www.pitt.edu/~super1) is a free, open source library on global health that has grown
to 3,300 PowerPoint lectures, created during the past 10 years by 1,200 faculties and shared by 42,000 scientists from 171 countries. Many lectures
are among the highest rated in Google Search. Among lecture authors are 9 Nobel Laureates, 33 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences,
29 members of the Institute of Medicine, the director of the National Institutes of Health, and a former director of the National Science Foundation.
The goal of the Supercourse is rapid sharing of the best science of global health across disciplines to scientists and educators in multiple languages.
The proximate aim is to improve scientific education by empowering teachers with highly credible template lectures readily adapted to their circumstances.
Its features are ease of usage, minimal cost, and high-quality content. The Supercourse, established at the University of Pittsburgh with a webmaster in
Novosibirsk and 42 mirror server sites, now plans to expand beyond global health into a broad Scientific Supercourse, accelerating the dissemination of
scientific developments to the world’s researchers and classrooms. This symposium will highlight the use of the Supercourse model for interdisciplinary
research and education, with specific input from several AAAS sections and international partners.
Pathways Toward Building a Supercourse of Science
Gilbert Omenn, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
A close relationship between higher education and advanced research is a hallmark of economically-advanced countries. In recent decades there has been simultaneous specialization
of individual research and a widely-recognized need for multidisciplinary team research. The result is a fraying of the teaching and learning fabric, opening the way for
new ways of learning and especially new ways of international interaction and collaboration. Students and faculty often comment about a spectacular lecturer that it would be
wonderful if everyone could hear or see her/him. Quality lectures in a survey course of 30 sessions are a daunting task. Journal articles are increasingly dense and often soon out dated. The Epidemiology and Prevention Super Courses have demonstrated an impressive willingness of prominent, active scientists to share their PowerPoint lectures (now 3500 lectures), and teachers around the world (45,000 of them) have downloaded these lectures from the Internet, studied the material, and adapted the slides and concepts to their own lecture needs. It is a remarkably lively, and low-cost process. When Ron Laporte
invited Nobel Laureates, National Academy of Sciences members, and National Institutes of Health leaders to contribute lectures toward a broader SuperCourse of Science, many did so promptly. Many SuperCourse lectures have very high Google rankings. We can imagine tapping lecturers at the AAAS Annual Meeting to participate in sharing their AAAS lecture or similar lectures; given the effort made to make lectures understandable to broader audiences, these lecturers and their lectures on multidisciplinary topics may be particularly useful.
Supercourse: Revolution of Scientific Communications
Ronald LaPorte, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
There has been a breakdown in the marriage of science and education. It often takes 4-5 years for new knowledge to appear in classrooms. In addition, it is impossible to teach a
state of the art overview course of 30 topics as scientist-educator can only be knowledgeable in 1-2 topics. Developing countries are suffering from luck of access to new scientific
publications. Finally, we rarely do research or teach outside our scientific silos. The Supercourse model was developed as new means to attack these problems. The concept of the
Supercourse is simple, the first step is to connect everyone involved in prevention science world wide. We have accomplished this by networking over 45,000 faculty in 174 countries.
The second component is to extract the best PowerPoint lectures from the network to build a free global open source library of PowerPoint lectures. The Supercourse Sharing
model facilitates interdisciplinary research and teaching. The goal is to empower teachers by providing state easily usable content. For the experienced scientist educator preparation
time is reduced 15 hours per lecture, with better quality. For the new teacher, instead of preparing poor lectures from scratch, they can “Stand on the shoulders of Giants” by using
the lectures of experts. For developing countries, education is vastly improved due to fresh and current content. There has been an outpouring of interest with 3383 lectures, including
15 from Nobel Prize winners, 71 from NAS members, the head of the NIH, and former heads of CDC and the Surgeon General. Our page rankings are some of the highest in health, e.g. 1
and 2 out of 18 million for global health. Last year this simple model taught over 18 million students at a cost of a penny each. This is a model that can be applied to much of science.
Information Sharing in the Developing Countries:
Importance of Information Sharing
Ismail Serageldin, Library of Alexandria, Alexandria, Egypt
Strengthening science teaching in the developing world will not only help prepare the next generation for the knowledge-based society and the technology-driven economy of the
21st century, it will also help promote rationality, openness and pluralism. It will fight the forces of obscurantism, xenophobia and fundamentalism. The key to strengthening the
teaching of science is to empower the teachers throughout the developing world, primarily to empower them with access to the latest science and to give them examples of outstanding
presentations prepared by top specialists that they can use as they see fit. One way of doing that is to put at their fingertips the latest and best science already organized as a
series of PowerPoint presentations, called the Supercourse, which they are free to use as they were arranged by their authors or to use bits and pieces of different presentations to
suit their purposes. This is extremely powerful as it remains demand driven, and supports the role of the local teacher rather than trying to supplant him or her. The Supercourse
is not just a good idea. It exists. The epidemiology course includes over 2600 lectures (some by Nobel laureates) and is used by 30,000 faculties from 150 countries. It is available
on-line for free and our various websites for the Supercourse get over 75 million hits annually. A scientific Supercourse, expanding the scope of the epidemiology course to
cover the whole range of scientific disciplines, would be an enormously powerful tool. It would not only help improve teaching, it would also improve access to the latest scientific
information. These on-line lectures in PowerPoint may be a powerful means to share scientific knowledge across countries and across time. The Bibliotheca Alexandria (BA), the
new library of Alexandria, is a unique institution dedicated to information sharing and promoting rationality, openness to the other, learning, dialogue, and understanding. It is
equipped with excellent ICT facilities and is committed to the promotion of science. The BA is eager to serve as a point of communication between scientists of east and west, and
throughout the developing countries.
Themes that Cut Across Disciplines: Quality Control and
Faina Linkov, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
We live in the times when various disciplines are becoming more interconnected and dependent on each other. Scientists are using similar tools to conduct their research. Increases in
computing power are fueling the use of computers to solve fundamental problems across physical, chemical, biological, engineering, medical and social sciences. In the past decade,
The Internet has penetrated science like no other tool ever before. We are witnessing a dramatic growth of scientific PowerPoint lectures and slides on the web. The system for quality control
of these materials has not been well established for the field of global health and for science in general. Without good educational materials, one cannot become a good scientist and a
good teacher. In the time of the Internet, quality control of the educational materials is becoming a very important concern. All of us are familiar with the process of peer review, which has
been used extensively for the quality control of scientific publications, abstracts, and grants. Although peer review has been criticized for its biases, inefficiency, and low throughput, it is
still being used in the quality control of research work. There is virtually no information about peer review of PowerPoint materials on the web. I the Supercourse, we are scientifically examining
different approaches for QC for PowerPoint lectures online using approaches taken from industry such as SQC, continuous quality improvement, as well as web approaches that are
used with Amazon and E-Bay. Instead of relying on the expertise of 2-3 reviewers, we are opening the peer review system to the entire network of 45000 Supercourse users. Our preliminary
results indicate that Supercourse lectures are viewed very positively in both developing and developed world. New approaches for QC are important for PowerPoint libraries and for on-line
educational materials in general. Specifically, we are evaluating the use of consumer reviews, similar to Amazon.com system and consumer reports, traditional per review, statistical quality
control, and several other approaches. It is important to establish an interdisciplinary system for Continuous Quality Control of lectures on the web.