Planning a Documentary Film on Developmental Biology

To foster science communication skills, students are asked to propose a plan for a documentary film about an issue in developmental biology. They have to create a film poster and pamphlet that is presented at a class showcase.


(1)   To allow students to put what they learned in the course together to make a big picture.

(2)   To encourage students to think about how to communicate science to the general public.

(3)   To give students a chance to create products that can show their scientific and non-scientific skills and learn storytelling.

(4)   To allow students to delve into specific topics of their interest.

Class: SCRB 90: Classic Experiments in Developmental Biology


Choi designed a final project activity that required students to work in groups to plan a documentary film about an issue in developmental biology that they found interesting. Students were expected to work on the project outside of class and present a poster and film pamphlet at a class showcase. The activity and showcase took place near the end of the semester, meaning students would have read seminal papers in developmental biology by the time the activity was assigned. This activity fosters student creativity, collaboration, and science communication skills


  1. At the beginning of the term, the course instructor should do a short survey to learn which students are proficient in Photoshop or Illustrator.
  2. Two weeks before the showcase, the instructor will give out the instructions to the assignment. At this time, instructor should also divide students into groups of three, making sure that each group has at least one person who is proficient in Photoshop or Illustrator (based on survey results).
  3. Students will have two weeks to work on the project outside of class. Each group will have to up come with
    1. the title of the film,
    2. the synopsis with the big question that the film is addressing,
    3. two people who will be featured in the film (one scientist and one non-scientist),
    4. three interview questions for each interviewee, and
    5. a poster of the film and a film pamphlet
    6. One week after the activity is assigned, students should meet with the course instructors to get feedback on their projects.
    7. After one more week, there will be a showcase, where students present their posters and hand out their pamphlets to peers.
    8. Students will evaluate each other’s work. 


Choi gives the following comments on the activity: “The activity I am proposing here is collaborative and fun. Lots of science courses have in-class exams or writing assignments as their assessment. The activity I described is a group work; through discussions with group members, students would learn how to communicate science and also consolidate what they learned in class. Moreover, this activity asks students to make visual products (posters) as well as written work (pamphlets), which is very different from studying for a three hour-long final exam and writing a 10 page-long research paper. In addition, this activity asks students to be creative. Ironically, there are very few opportunities for students to be creative in science courses. This activity asks students to do more research on the topics that they want to know more about, come up with the story line, and think about how to unfold the story in a way that it is interesting and easy for the general public to understand.”

She recommends giving students a grading rubric ahead of time .


Papers that students have read for the course, students' notes from discussions, lecture materials from the courses that students have taken before, Web, science articles, Youtube videos, etc.