MSU uses grant to help students master scientific mumbo jumbo

December 06, 2012

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Warning: This class will teach students to translate scientific mumbo jumbo into understandable phrases.

Michigan State University's first, free Massive Open Online Course, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also promises to then teach students "to speak mumbo jumbo and amaze your friends."

Tongue-in-cheek humor aside, Foundations of Science is intended to help students improve critical thinking skills and empower them to make intelligent decisions. If they happen to laugh along the way, that's all the better, said Stephen Thomas, MSU assistant professor of zoology and one of the course creators.

"Science isn't just for nerdy people wearing white lab coats; it's useful for everybody," he said. "Results from the traditional course offered by our collaborators Matt Rowe and Marcus Gillespie at Sam Houston State University showed highly significant improvements in students' critical thinking skills as well as their understanding of science."

Thomas and his colleague Julie Libarkin, associate professor of geological sciences, are using a $50,000 Gates Foundation grant to offer the class worldwide beginning May of 2013 with the hopes of attracting a minimum of 10,000 students.

Foundations of Science promises to help students:


  • Think like a scientist. Warning: This may shift your worldview.
  • See like a scientist: Learn to decode those crazy graphs and charts scientists are always using.

  • Thomas teaches from the perspective that science can be intimidating, and a little humor can go a long way in helping people realize that they too can engage with and understand science.

    The course will offer multiple types of media and exercises to give students experience applying critical thinking to different scenarios involving pseudoscience, such as psychics, homeopathy and ghosts. Students also will be able to participate in group discussions, compete for badges and interact with members of the scientific community.
    -end-
    Additional funding has been provided by Desire 2 Learn.

    Interested students can register at www.foundations-of-science.zoology.msu.edu.

    Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

    For MSU news on the Web, go to MSUToday. Follow MSU News on Twitter at twitter.com/MSUnews.

    Michigan State University

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