Teaching molecular mechanisms by using 3D visualizing workshops


The course 'HAP31806 - Molecular Regulation of Health and Disease' (MRHD) is experienced by many students as a challenging course (Pace workload Q: 3.5 out of 5). For many students it is the first time that detailed molecular mechanisms have to be learned, and many students have difficulties in understanding and reproducing these mechanisms. At the moment, the only teaching form that is offered to students to learn these mechanisms are lectures. Next to this, students learn to understand and reproduce high-impact journal articles in student presentation/discussion sessions (groups of 35 students). From Pace evaluations and interviews with students, the combination of difficult molecular mechanisms with a lot of presentation/discussion sessions (30% of course), makes many students less engaged and often not actively participating in the sessions. This not only negatively impacts the experienced workload, but also makes the students less likely to learn the detailed molecular mechanisms. The course has around 140 students and student numbers are expected to increase, we aim to engage as many students as possible and have as many active learners as possible.

In this education innovation project we will set-up a group work assignment in which students work on visualizing molecular pathways in 3D. We will follow an iteration and fine-tuning process to design the most optimal teaching strategy, so that students will benefit from this innovation by experiencing less workload, have more and better strategies to learn difficult molecular mechanisms and are more engaged "active" learners. The rough sketch of the new 3D work form will consist of the following aspects: Students will work with head and hands to deepen their understanding at the molecular level. Simple shapes (squares, circles, triangles etc.) build from clay together with other material, like wooden sticks or plastic straws, are the tools that will be used to visualize the mechanisms. A critical learning aspect in the process is that molecular events in a pathway occur in a specific order in time. The tools can be rearranged in time and recorded using either "stop-motion" movies or "full-motion movies". An excellent detailed example of the envisioned output can be found here.


  • Engage students more in actively studying difficult molecular mechanisms
  • Establish more interaction between students and teachers, and increase feedback and dialogue.


  • New interactive tools were developed
  • Student interactions with molecular pathways increased.
  • Interactions with staff increased.
  • Learning environment was enriched


The new work form we incorporated can be easily implemented in other courses, especially molecular biology related courses, please contact Vincent de Boer and/or Jaap Keijer.


We generated a comprehensive set of example movies and scripts. We aimed to put the movies on youtube in an “open” format. However, the movies are not yet open to the public on youtube, since we still have to decide how to deal with privacy issues, since the movies sometimes contains names of the students that produced the movies. Movies could also contain pathways that are not correct, which should possibly be curated by other students or lecturers. However this is time-consuming. Possibly a selection of movies could be open to the public. Fore more information or recommendations, please contact Vincent de Boer and/or Jaap Keijer.