About this project
Thanks to our amazing backers from around the world, we have reached our goal! Every dollar we raise now will go towards expanding our experimental community of citizen scientists. If we hit 20k we can DOUBLE our pilot group!
Help us reach our goal so we can enable a global group of at least 100 citizen scientists to conduct neuroscience experiments at home. $10,000 will allow us to give this pilot group of MCB80x students 100 SpikerBoxes, "bioamplifiers" that allow them to hear and see spikes (i.e. action potentials) of real living neurons in invertebrates (like worms), at home. We want to bring experimentation that would usually happen in closed laboratories, at great cost, into the hands of many! We will provide a place for our experimental group of citizen scientists to ask questions, conduct experiments collaboratively and engage with the public on mcb80x.org, our HarvardX course website. Can an online course have a hands-on, real-world lab component? Yes!
If you're simply interested buying a SpikerBox for yourself, you can via BackyardBrains. Only If you give at a high enough level will you get a SpikerBox reward as well as other goodies from our artist friends. Our Kickstarter is about building a community, and providing them with tools for science!
Kickstart Citizen Science!
MCB80x is an open-source, free Neuroscience course that is launching as part of HarvardX -- an initiative to put Harvard courses online, augmented by the latest technology that the web has to offer, free for the world to explore. Part of our course is DIY science experimentation. We’ve partnered with Backyard Brains, who create open-source hardware kits for neuroscience experiments, to be able to provide as many students as possible with SpikerBox kits in preparation for the course launching in October. We use the SpikerBox kits in our course to demonstrate fundamental concepts and we invite students to join in. All of the money we raise on Kickstarter will go towards buying kits for as many registered MCB80x online students (or groups of students) from around the world as possible. Our goal is simply this: we want to create a community of citizen scientists with you and engage the public with scientific methods and practice.
Turning a course like Fundamentals of Neuroscience into a innovative and engaging MOOC is expensive, and we have done everything we can to keep the course free for all users. We wish we had an endless supply of money to provide free SpikerBox kits to all of our students, but we don’t, so this is an experiment! This Kickstarter campaign is our attempt to engage the wider public in issues of access. We want to be able to provide SpikerBox kits to students in a way that also engages the public in a DIY, reflexive and individually responsible fashion: that's where your support comes into play. You will be a fundamental, essential part of this course by contributing to this Kickstarter. You are creating the community and can be a part of it as well! It's a community that includes you, your neighbor or your neighbor somewhere around the globe.
We have some fantastic rewards which will be made for you by artists collaborating with us and working on MCB80x. Check out the work of Daniela Sherer, our animator; the work of Matteo Farinella, neuroscientist and illustrator; and the work of Oswald Skillbard, our composer!
Why is your online course so different from all of the other online courses out there?
Humans have a natural desire to contribute. With MCB80x, we will invite students to conduct their own experiments at home and in their own schools, using DIY hardware from Backyard Brains. In addition to experiencing real experiments firsthand, students will be invited to film and contribute back their experiments.
In MCB80x, we're also piloting a style of instruction that we call "Guided Interactivity," where interactive simulations are seamlessly woven into the flow of instruction. We will walk you through the process of building up a neuron, piece by piece, allowing you to dynamically explore the function of the nervous system.
And here’s another reason: while lectures are tied to the physical environment of the lecture hall, the internet has no limitations. With the internet, we can bring you into the laboratory, or to a museum, or to a doctor's office. Neuroscience happens in the world, and we want to take you to see it firsthand.
The Big Picture
Let's face it: MOOCs promise disruption, and yet most of them to date deliver an extremely traditional learning experience. Basically, it's the big-lecture-hall format, with an internet-sized lecture hall. However, many of us in higher education never were happy about the big-lecture-hall format in the first place. Lecturing to an audience of hundreds is an impersonal experience for all involved; the interaction is usually almost completely unidirectional, and the material must be lowered to the lowest common denominator.
Make no mistake: there are many professors who are masters of this format, who can inspire mass audiences. However, we would wager that most of them still wish they could engage with their students in a smaller format. The big-hall lecture is a practical necessity, but it is in no way ideal. In many ways, the big lecture is academia's dirty laundry; many of the most memorable experiences in a Harvard education come from smaller seminar experiences, not to mention interactions with peers.
Our goal is to reboot the MOOC and leverage the advantages of the internet, rather than just shoveling the same old lecture format onto the web. It's going to be a long journey, and we're almost certainly not going to get it right the first time, but we're excited about the possibilities. We invite you to join us in this experiment and we welcome your feedback and help in making a MOOC that lives up to the hype.
Risks and challenges
How will we distribute the SpikerBoxes fairly?
Upon registration, students will be required to fill out a short questionnaire about their background and access to science facilities and education. We will make a determination based on need and how many SpikerBoxes we can purchase in bulk at a extremely reduced cost from our partners, Backyard Brains.
Can you participate in the online course?
We would love if you participated in our course! You can register for the course at www.edx.org or at www.mcb80x.org and join in! If you want to buy a SpikerBox, you can back our project at specific reward levels and get one as a reward! You can always buy a SpikerBox or any of the cool DIY neuroscience kits at regular price from the Backyard Brains website.
What about the ethics of using worms and cockroaches?
All of our lab protocols involve strict guidelines for the ethical treatment of the invertebrate animals we use. The invertebrates are anesthetized so that they don’t feel pain from the procedure, and if done right, they survive the experiment no worse for the wear. Backyard Brains have an ethical statement regarding invertebrate experiments at: http://ethics.backyardbrains.comLearn about accountability on Kickstarter
No! We want to clarify that you don't need to have a SpikerBox in order to register for MCB80x or to take the class. We just think science is more fun and educational if you can get your hands dirty. If you are interested in building a box yourself, Backyard Brains has all of the documentation you need to do so for all of their hardware, on their website!
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