StarGenetics provides a set of tools for analyzing genetic traits. This software simulates mating experiments between organisms that are genetically different across a range of traits and allows students to analyze the nature of the traits in question.
History, Genesis and Educational Need
The teaching of genetics lends itself readily to problem-based or laboratory-based learning. Ideally, in the laboratory portion of a genetics course, students are asked to design, perform and analyze data collected from their own genetic experiments. However, limitations in space, time, and resources represent important obstacles to the incorporation of these important experimental exercises in many genetics courses. Instead, faculty usually employ written genetic problems to re-emphasize the concepts taught during lecture and to encourage the development of critical thinking skills. Such exercises do not really recapitulate the thinking and process of actual genetics experiments in which data acquired from serial experiments is used to generate additional hypotheses and to guide further experimental design.
To address the limitations that traditional teaching methods pose for teaching genetics, the OEIT team worked in collaboration with Professor Chris Kaiser to design StarGenetics, an interactive genetics teaching software tool. StarGenetics, is a genetic cross simulator that allows students to perform simulated genetic experiments. Using StarGenetics, students can re-create the experience of collecting and analyzing data over time, with sequential experimental planning and analysis based on experimental observations.
Unlike other available online genetic tools, StarGenetics allows for customization of the experiment presented to students. In StarGenetics, faculty can specify genotypes, epistatic relationships between alleles, chromosomal location for alleles, phenotypes and other genetic characteristics of the organisms provided to the students. Therefore, StarGenetics provides faculty with an opportunity to translate their written exercises into interactive genetics exercises without a significant time commitment. StarGenetics provides an opportunity to conduct low-cost, time-effective genetic experiments in the classroom or in labs.
StarGenetics was first implemented in MIT’s Genetics course (7.03) in the Spring of 2009. StarGenetics has also been implemented at Suffolk and Tufts University and Boston Public Schools. As of Fall 2009 usage statistics show nearly 6000 website visits in 215 cities and 41 countries.
StarGenetics is part of the freely available STAR suite of visualization tools. To download and get started using existing curriculum materials visit the StarGenetics website.
Click below for a demonstration.