Twenty-five lectures in virology

Virology lecturesHave you always wanted to better understand viruses, but did not know where to start? I have the solution for you – my undergraduate virology course. The 2016 version has just ended, and all the lectures are available as videos, either on YouTube or here at virology blog (where you can also find lecture slides and study questions).

It will take some time for you to watch all the videos – each is about 70 minutes long – but the effort will be worth it. In the end you will know more virology than most of the world. With new viruses emerging annually, don’t you want to understand how they work? Go ahead, dive in.

Lecture 1: What is a virus?
Lecture 2: The infectious cycle
Lecture 3: Genomes and genetics
Lecture 4: Structure
Lecture 5: Attachment and entry
Lecture 6: RNA directed RNA synthesis
Lecture 7: Transcription and RNA processing
Lecture 8: DNA replication
Lecture 9: Reverse transcription and integration
Lecture 10: Translation
Lecture 11: Assembly
Lecture 12: Infection basics
Lecture 13: Intrinsic and innate defenses
Lecture 14: Adaptive immunity
Lecture 15: Mechanisms of pathogenesis
Lecture 16: Acute infections
Lecture 17: Persistent infections
Lecture 18: Transformation and oncogenesis
Lecture 19: Vaccines
Lecture 20: Antivirals
Lecture 21: Evolution
Lecture 22: Emerging viruses
Lecture 23: Unusual infectious agents
Lecture 24: HIV and AIDS
Lecture 25: Viral gene therapy

Understanding viruses

Virology lecturesIf you want to understand life on Earth, you need to know about viruses.

We have reached the halfway point in my 2016 Columbia University undergraduate virology course. So far we have learned the basics of virus replication: how viruses enter cells, how the genome is reproduced, and how proteins are made and assembled into new virus particles. In the second half of the course, we will consider how viruses cause disease, how immune responses prevent infection, vaccines, antivirals, emergence of new viruses, and much more.

All of my lectures are recorded as videos and available freely on YouTube. Below is a list of the first thirteen lectures, with links to the YouTube videos. You can also subscribe to the videos at iTunes University. If you would like copies of the lecture slides and study questions, go to virology.ws/course.

Lecture 1: What is a virus?
Lecture 2: The infectious cycle
Lecture 3: Genomes and genetics
Lecture 4: Structure
Lecture 5: Attachment and entry
Lecture 6: RNA directed RNA synthesis
Lecture 7: Transcription and RNA processing
Lecture 8: DNA replication
Lecture 9: Reverse transcription and integration
Lecture 10: Translation
Lecture 11: Assembly
Lecture 12: Infection basics
Lecture 13: Intrinsic and innate defenses

 

Earth’s virology course for 2016

Do you want to learn virology? Every spring I teach a virology course at Columbia University, and this year’s version has just started. I record every lecture and put the videos on YouTube. Here is a link to the playlist: Virology Lectures 2016. Lecture #1, What is a Virus, is embedded below as a teaser.

I strongly believe that the best approach to teaching introductory virology is by emphasizing shared principles. Studying the phases of the viral reproductive cycle, illustrated with a set of representative viruses, provides an overview of the steps required to maintain these infectious agents in nature. Such knowledge cannot be acquired by learning a collection of facts about individual viruses. Consequently, the major goal of my virology course is to define and illustrate the basic principles of animal virus biology.

You can find the complete course syllabus, pdf files of the slides, and reading at virology.ws/course.

My goal is to be Earth’s virology professor, and this is my virology course for the planet.

Virology for planet Earth

Virology 2015It is the first week in May, which means that the spring semester has just ended at Columbia University, and my annual virology course is over.

Each year I teach an introductory undergraduate virology course that is organized around basic principles, including how virus particles are built, how they replicate, how they cause disease, and how to prevent infections. Some feel that it’s best to teach virology by virus: a lecture on influenza, herpesvirus, HIV, and on and on. But this approach is all wrong: you can’t learn virology by listening to lectures on a dozen different viruses. In the end all you will have is a list of facts but you won’t understand virology.

I record every one of my 26 introductory lectures as a videocast, and these are available on the course website, or on YouTube. If you have listened to my lectures before, you might be wondering what is new. I change about 10% of each lecture every year, updating the information and adding new figures. This year I’ve also added two new lectures, on on Ebolavirus and one on viral gene therapy.

Once you have taken my introductory course, then you will be ready for an advanced course on Viruses. A course in which we go into great detail on the replication, pathogenesis, and control of individual viruses. I am working on such a course and when it’s ready I’ll share it with everyone.

I want to be Earth’s virology professor, and this is my introductory virology course for the planet.

Ten years of virology blog

Vincent Racaniello

Photo by Chris Suspect

Ten years ago this month I wrote the first post at virology blog, entitled Are viruses living? Thanks to EE Giorgi for pointing out the ten year anniversary, and also for publishing an interview with me at her blog, Chimeras.

Here is how this blog got started: in June 2004 the second edition of our virology textbook, Principles of Virology, had just been published. While the textbook had so far done well, its audience was limited, and I wanted to find ways to better spread information about viruses. At the time I had a hosting account that I used to publish a website for our cub scout pack, and while visiting the administration page, I noticed an option to install blogging software. The idea then came to me to start blogging about viruses, so I looked for a good domain name. All of the virology names were taken except for virology.ws, so I bought that, and set up the blog. An artist made the logo, using an image of poliovirus bound to its cellular receptor; this structure was the product of a collaboration between my lab and those of Jim Hogle and Alasdair Steven. Then I wrote my first post. Discussing whether or not viruses are living seemed like a good introductory topic, and I used some ideas that had been published in our textbook.

To my surprise, after a few months the post began to attract comments, and to this day it remains one of the most commented posts on virology blog. My views on whether or not viruses are living have certainly evolved; a more accurate summary of my thoughts on this subject would be The virus and the virion.

I like to think that blogging has been a pathway to all of my other efforts to communicate information about viruses. Blogging brought me into the world of social media, leading me to start accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus. Four years after virology blog, I started my first podcast, This Week in Virology, which is approaching one million downloads each year (we now have four science shows, including This Week in Parasitism, This Week in Microbiology, and Urban Agriculture). I began teaching an undergraduate virology course at Columbia University in 2010, and I have used video recordings of my lectures to teach virology at iTunes University and Coursera. I have had wonderful opportunities to interview virologists at colleges and scientific meetings; some of these can be found at my YouTube channel. I believe that I have shown that scientists can effectively communicate their field to the general public, and I hope I have inspired some of my colleagues to emulate my efforts.

For the first 20 years of my career I taught virology to roughly 200 students every year, for a total reach of four thousand people. My blogging, podcasting, and online teaching now reach millions in over 170 countries. It all started with a blog.

I have been lucky to reach so many people, in different ways, with information about viruses. But I still love blogging, and I will be writing about viruses here as long as I my brain and body permit. My sincere thanks to everyone who has visited virology blog and has been part of this engaged and excited community.

Twenty-six lectures in virology

Virology class 2014In the spring of each year I teach a virology course to undergraduates and masters students at Columbia University. I produce video recordings of all my lectures not only for students in the course, but for anyone else who is interested in learning about viruses.

You can find my virology lectures in several locations: at this blog and at iTunes University, where lecture slides are also available as pdf files, or at YouTube.

This is the fifth year that I have taught my virology course (current class is in the photo), and every version is different. This year, in addition to updating the material, I’ve added a new lecture on viral gene therapy, and include new lectures on immune defenses, viral virulence, acute and persistent infections.

The goal of my virology course is to provide an understanding of how viruses are built, how they replicate and evolve, how they cause disease, and how to prevent infection. The first half of the course explores the viral replication cycle, including attachment and entry, genome replication, protein synthesis, and assembly. In the second half of the course we explore viral pathogenesis: how viruses cause disease, defenses against infection, antivirals, vaccines, and much more. After taking the course, some students might want to become virologists. The course will also provide the knowledge required to make informed decisions about health issues such as immunization against viral infections.

If you have read this blog in the past you know that it is my goal to be Earth’s virology professor. I also teach two virology courses at Coursera (these are completed but the material is still accessible), and my colleagues in Mexico have translated my 2012 lectures into Spanish. Next year I plan to each a new virology course, focused on individual viruses, which will build upon knowledge obtained in my first offering – and of course you will be able to find the lectures online.

How to give a great lecture

Virology class 2013There are many elements that go into making a great lecture, but the most important one is to lose the notes.

If you are giving lectures in a course at any level, the worst practice you can engage in is to rely on notes. This behavior is problematic for several reasons. You will not properly know the material, necessitating frequent glances at your notes. The students will notice this and consider you to be unengaged and not knowledgeable. Requiring notes will more or less tie you to the lectern, or to some kind of platform at the front of the room. If you carry the notes around the room as you talk you will be perceived as confused and not authoritative with respect to the subject. Get rid of the notes.

Not relying on notes will have huge benefits for your lectures. You will be able to speak conversationally instead of in a stilted manner necessitated by looking at an outline. You can move around the room. There is no better practice than to move away from the lectern directly in front of the students. You can look them in the eye as you speak, and engage them. They will feel that you have moved among them, rather than hiding behind the lectern. Let’s face it, the lectern is a crutch – it’s a good place to hide behind if you are nervous, and clutching the sides of the podium provides false confidence. Forget about all that. I use the lectern to hold my laptop and then stay away from it for the entire lecture.

When I lecture, I move along the front and sides of the classroom, looking at the students as I talk. I only look at each slide initially to receive my cue about what I will be saying. Do not to speak to the slide – it’s the audience you are interested in. Of course there might be times when you have to walk through a complicated pathway with your laser pointer. I always look at the class while I am pointing, rather than turning to the slide and forgetting the students.

Please do not complain that you cannot remember all of the material without relying on notes. You should either study the material until you know it by heart, or do not give the lecture at all. And do not make your slides a surrogate for notes. Even  worse than relying on notes is showing the class slides full of text and simply reading them. Keep the text to an absolute minimum. Use simple images and let them trigger what you have to say. You must know the material well enough to do this, otherwise you are wasting the students’ time.

It’s very important to focus on the audience; by doing so they will sense that you have a command of the material and that you are interested in teaching them. Look at them as you speak. An added benefit is that you will get many more questions this way than if you stand with your back to the audience and hide in the slides. And there is no better supplement to a great lecture than fielding questions from the audience.

There are many other elements to a great lecture, of course, such as proper delivery, having a genuine passion for the material, and arranging the elements to give a compelling story arc. No matter how hard you work on those elements, you lectures will suffer unless you lose the notes.

Virology at Coursera

Virology2One of my goals as a science communicator is to be Earth’s virology professor. To do this I teach an undergraduate virology course at Columbia University and at iTunes University. This past summer I ported my undergraduate virology course to Coursera.org where I reached 26,000 students. My next virology course at Coursera, How viruses cause disease, begins on 9 January 2014.

How viruses cause disease explores the interplay between viruses and their host organisms. The course begins with an overview of how infection is established in a host, then moves to a virologist’s view of immune defenses.  Next we consider how the replication strategy and the host response determine the outcome of infection, such that some are short and others are of long duration. The mechanisms by which virus infections transform cells in culture are explored, a process that may lead to tumor formation in animals. We then move to a discussion of how viral infections are controlled by vaccines and antiviral drugs. After an introduction to viral evolution, we discuss the principles learned from zoonotic infections, emerging infections, and humankind’s experiences with epidemic and pandemic viral infections. The course ends with an exploration of unusual infectious agents such as viroids, satellites, and prions, followed by a discussion of the causative agent of the most serious current worldwide epidemic, HIV-1.

To create the Coursera courses, I divide the lecture videos from my undergraduate offering into 10-20 minute segments. I add annotations to indicate parts of the illustrations that I highlight during each lecture. Questions are also inserted in the videos to ensure that students are learning the desired principles. Weekly quizzes, a final exam, and discussion forums round out the Coursera experience.

Because others might benefit from the shorter videos, I have also made them available at YouTube. These videos are annotated, but do not have the built-in questions which are only available on Coursera. I would be pleased to learn how to add questions to YouTube videos.

Earth’s virology course

Virology class 2013The spring semester has just ended at Columbia University, which means that my annual virology course has also concluded.

The course met twice weekly, during which time we discussed the basic principles of virology, including how virions are built, how they replicate, and how they cause disease. For the last two lectures of the course we discussed viruses in the public eye, namely XMRV and influenza H5N1.

Each lecture in my virology course was recorded as a videocast and is available at the course website, at iTunes University, or on YouTube. One hundred and eighty-five Columbia University undergraduates registered for the virology course in 2013, but nearly 100,000 individuals have subscribed to the course through iTunes University. I strongly believe that the general public must understand as much as possible about viruses, so they can participate in the debate about issues that impact them, such as vaccination, H7N9, and the new coronavirus CoV-MERS. As I have said before, it is my goal to be Earth’s virology professor, and this is my virology course for the planet.

In August, my Virology course will become the fourth course from Columbia University to be offered as a MOOC (massive open online course) via Coursera. Below is a short video which explains that offering. Click here to register for part I of my Coursera virology course.

How I record my lectures

Each year as I teach my undergraduate virology course, I record each lecture and put them online where they are freely accessible. You can find the 2013 lectures here at virology blog and on iTunes U. The complete 2012 course lectures are also available (virology blog and iTunes). And don’t forget Virologia en Español, a translation of my 2012 lectures. Apple announced Thursday that over 1 billion lectures have been downloaded from iTunes U, and I’m pleased to have contributed – my 2012 virology course has over 75,000 subscribers!

A student in my virology course approached me recently to thank me for making the lectures available online, and wondered why other professors did not so the same. To help out my teaching colleagues, I have prepared a brief video tutorial on how I record my lectures. As always I am happy to respond to questions: vincent@virology.ws.

I believe that professors should share their courses online free of charge. Such distribution is not likely to impact enrollment – indeed if the courses are great, it will encourage enrollment – and will help educate everyone, which is always a good outcome. So check out my video and start recording!