MOOC Seeks Kickstarter Funds for Neuroscience Experiments at Home

A Harvard University Professor is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for devices that will be used in a DIY science massive open online course (MOOC) by a global group of at least 100 citizen scientists to conduct neuroscience experiments at home.

David Cox, an Assistant Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and of Computer Science, is seeking $10,000 for MCB80x, a neuroscience MOOC being offered through educational non-profit edX. The course will use special devices to help ordinary people monitor the brain, according to Lauren Hockenson of GigaOm.

Cox is a member of the Center for Brain Science at Harvard University. He completed his Ph.D. in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT with a specialization in computational neuroscience.

The course will be free and offer open enrollment. It will allow students to perform DIY neuroscience experiments on invertebrates with open source hardware. The money will be used to purchase a neuron bioamplifier called SpikerBox for doing experiments. The SpikerBox, developed by neurological education outreach company Backyard Brains, costs $100 on the company's website and allows the user to monitor the neurons of a live animal.

The SpikerBoxes will be distributed to students in a pilot class, provided the student fills out a questionnaire about materials and resource availability. Cox plans to buy SpikerBoxes in a bulk pricing deal with Backyard Brains, and the number of SpikerBox units distributed will be determined by the number of students that sign up.

Backers of the project aren't automatically involved in the MOOC (instead they get updates on the course's progress), but can back to purchase their own SpikerBox and sign up when the course is available. Of course, that also means that anyone interested in signing up for the MOOC can purchase their own SpikerBox directly, leaving the Kickstarter-obtained ones to other students.

The SpikerBoxes will allow students to conduct home experiments on cockroaches and worms. Students are required to follow strict ethical guidelines and ensure the safety of the animals. After the course is over, the students will be able to keep the SpikerBoxes that are distributed.

This opportunity for DIY Science takes MOOCs in a new direction, offering field experience in addition to online courses. The avenue for open online education has widened, especially in recent months as companies like Amplify and NovoEd have embraced the platform for educational outreach. And, with new activities that give online students a way to apply their curriculum to IRL experiences, more exciting offerings could finally trigger a positive feedback loop that motivates more people to seek education in their free time.

09 15, 2013
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