MEDEA Awards 2012

Evolution of life

MEDEA European Collaboration Award 2010 Winner

MEDEA European Collaboration Award 2010

Evolution of life is a website created in 2009 by LMU Munich in Germany and CNDP (Centre national de documentation pédagogique) in France, offering original teaching materials about the evolution of life. Evolutionary concepts and evolutionary biology as a modern and relevant science are explained and shown through animation movies (the origin of life as seen by the water molecule Piccolina), documentaries (the effect of human actions on the evolution of animals) and simulations (the states of water, the movement of tectonic plates, ...). These teaching resources are meant for biology teachers but they are available in 3 languages (English, French and German) and can be accessed by everyone who wishes to learn more about evolution.

The showcase video of Evolution of Life, including an interview with Yannick Mahé

These resources should help teachers to design an attractive course about evolutionary concepts and stimulate students to become active learners by introducing the topic for example by a movie and then starting a discussion or going deeper using an interactive animation. Using the movies and simulations, students should understand the principles of evolution of life: that all living beings have a common origin and that evolution is the result of changes (mutations in genetic material) submitted to natural selection. Over long periods of time this perpetual search for equilibrium in the living world within its environment leads to biodiversity.

They also use the simulations to let students learn autonomously and carry out virtual experiments, in combination with resources from the new section "Teach", to which quizzes, print-outs and supplementary information for teachers will be added at the end of 2010.

What the judges said about this entry

Evolution of life was described by the judging panel as being an excellent media application that appeals to almost all age groups or education levels with simple explanations, pleasant use of media where the content is explained and presented with layers of intensity and depth. They found the total package to be of a high pedagogic quality, with images, animation, witnesses, real video and graphs all being used in a relevant and appropriate manner, with a very good balance between seriousness and lightness or even subtle bits of humour that can be appreciated across cultures and which are nice for children.

The judges appreciated the very simple and user-friendly navigation as well as the very good user manual that accompanies this entry. The website shows good use of subtitling and accompanying text materials, multilinguality is also very well implemented. They noted the good animation, camerawork and editing, and also good compression. In general terms, the panel found this to be an excellent entry that is extremely well designed and put together with sound pedagogical design and excellent media quality.

About the creation of Evolution of Life

Dr Yannick Mahé on the background of Evolution of Life: “In 2009, Charles Darwin was celebrated for two reasons: the bicentenary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of his famous publication 'On the origin of species'. Although the theory of evolution is a commonly known term, many people do not really know much about its basic principles, so we (CNDP and LMU Munich) decided to offer this to the public. The project was awarded and mainly financed by the Volkswagen Foundation which made it possible to produce and offer for free the quality-rich teaching resources.

Evolutionary biology is not a very practical topic in school: the origin of life or the making of a protein from a DNA sequence cannot be repeated in a classroom, so one way to allow interactive learning is by using simulations. Our educational simulations are tools that allow users to interact and change parameters and observe the results like a researcher. Such documents are great for teaching science in a classroom, for use in a museum or for use through the internet.

Pleuni Pennings from the LMU Munich in Germany and I, as project leaders, have a strong background in science which was essential to the scriptwriting and cooperation with several scientists, with whom we worked closely to ensure high scientific quality. For each resource on which they were consulted, these scientists are presented on the respective web page of the resource, which is important for the educational community as it is more and more difficult to evaluate the quality of documents found on the web.

Experience in film making and multimedia technology was also fundamental to the conception of the material, as we were working with a website, video and animations. The website includes documentary movies, which are excellent foro showing modern research, animation movies provide a fun way of telling the history of science and to represent dynamic biological processes that are invisible to our eyes, and also flash animations that allow the learner design interactive experiments. We developed a video player that allows subtitling of the movies in order to respect web-accessibility standards and all resources are freely available online and can be downloaded for use in class and at home.”

The documentary 'Evolution before our eyes' won the prize 'Educational videos for the web' at Vedere la Scienza Festival 2010. Furthermore, the animation movies were screened in many museums and one of them, 'O as origin', was broadcast on French TV in the summer of 2010.

About Dr Yannick Mahé

Yannick Mahé

Dr Yannick Mahé

After my studies of biology at the University in Stuttgart (Germany), I worked for several years as molecular and cellular biologist. My research on the molecular mechanisms of cancer led me to work in different countries such as Belgium (University of Louvain-la-Neuve), the United States of America (University of Iowa), Austria (Vienna Biocenter) and France (Ecole Normale Supérieure & Institut Curie).

Basic research is a very fascinating and international activity, nevertheless I felt that scientists are not enough engaged in public understanding of science. So I decided in 1999 to have a complementary training in 2D/3D animation (Centre National de la Bande Dessinée et de l’Image) in order to make movies to explain scientific issues to a broad audience.

My professional activity is very diverse as I have to search for documentation, extract the essential information, imagine an original scenario, identify and coordinate the team of illustrators, animators, musicians, technicians… - to end up with a movie that is creative, scientifically correct and pedagogically efficient.

In the frame of my current activity as multimedia author and filmmaker at the CNDP (Centre national de documentation pédagogique), and together with Pleuni Pennings from the LMU Munich, I initiated the “Evolution-of-Life” project.

Our intention was to offer creative educational resources to help implement an innovative way to learn more about the evolution of life. With the help of many talented collaborators (film crews, web team…), we produced the web site offering exciting movies and animations explaining evolutionary concepts.

Yannick, who represented the winning entry, received a MEDEA medal and an Adobe eLearning Suite 2 Licence, sponsored by Adobe Systems. She talked about her entry in further detail during a presentation at the Media & Learning Conference 2010 Brussels.

Project website (EN-FR-DE)

EC Education and Culture