Teaching the Great Diseases: Online Courses for Educators

Teaching the Great Diseases (TGD) is a suite of online mini-courses designed to help you learn the content and pedagogy behind The Great Diseases free high school curriculum.

Courses are 100% asynchronous and self-paced.

Enroll for the fall! Registration is open until November 29th.

Fall courses are offered between September 20th and December 6th.

Click on a course title to view its description and navigate to the enrollment portal.

Course Title Curriculum Alignment Credits

BIED 202: Why should we care about infectious diseases?

This course explores the what infectious diseases are, what factors cause them, the social impact of them, the organisms that cause them, and how the body protects us from them. First, we will discuss what infectious diseases are and how they are unique from other diseases, particularly, how infectious diseases are spread and the major factors that contribute to their spread. You’ll also learn about how human history has been molded by major epidemics and why modern epidemics (such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria) are so difficult to control globally, despite medical advancements. Then, we will discuss the structures of organisms that cause infectious diseases and how those structures directly relate to these organisms' ability to cause infection and disease. Finally, this lesson ends with a brief introduction to the defenses our bodies have used to save us from annihilation.

Pre-requisites: Familiarity with fundamental microbiology and cell biology terms (such as receptor, genome, and microorganism) are recommended.


ID Unit 1 0.5 credits
or 2 CEUs

BIED 206: What does it mean to have an infectious disease?

When new infectious diseases emerge, how do scientist determine which microbe is the cause? This course explores how scientists determine what causes an infectious disease and the challenges they underwent to convinced others (including a scientist who drank a flask of bacteria in order to convince his colleges that bacteria can cause ulcers). We discuss how the original onset of typhoid fever could have been prevented if the general public understood how infectious diseases are spread and how the development of new tools allowed scientific philosophy to evolved to accept the presence of living organisms that are too small to be seen with the naked eye.

Pre-requisites: It is recommended that students have a basic understanding bacterial structures (covered in BIED 201 – Why should we care about infectious diseases?).

Not offered this term

ID Unit 2 N/A

BIED 211: How do microorganisms become pathogens?

Not all microbes are pathogens. In fact, we’re covered in trillions of bacteria that play an important role in keeping us healthy! In this course, we will discuss the strategies microbes use to gain genes that allow them to become pathogens. You’ll learn about how bacteria share their DNA with each other, and how this can lead to the development of pathogens are a resistant to antibiotics.

Pre-requisites: It is recommended that students have a basic understanding of genetics and natural selection (the role of DNA and the effects of mutations).

Not offered this term

ID Unit 3 N/A

BIED 216: How do pathogens make us sick?

Not all pathogens affect us the same way. The lifecycle of the pathogen and the special tools it uses to infect the host has a great effect on how our bodies respond and the diseases they cause. In this course, we will talk about some of the more common pathogens (such as MRSA, E. coli, and Clostridium) and how they make us sick. You will learn about the evolutionary costs and benefits of various tools that help a pathogen become virulent. We’ll also talk about the unique hurdles of viruses undergo to facilitate their spread, including an enzyme HIV uses that is shared by no living organism.

Pre-requisites: It is recommended that students have an understanding what an infectious disease is and what causes it (covered in BIED 201 – Why should we care about infectious diseases?)

Not offered this term

ID Unit 4 0.5 credits
or 2 CEUs

BIED 222: How do we get better from infectious diseases?

In this mini-course, we will investigate the network of tools the body deploys to protect the body from pathogens. You will learn about the complex barriers that are responsible for keeping pathogens outside the body. Then, we will discuss to how the two branches of the immune system work together to eliminate any invader that manages to break through those barriers. First, we'll discuss the innate immune system, which can quickly react to any invading pathogen and stops most pathogens before they can establish an infection. Then, we will explore the adaptive immune system, which grants long term immunity.

Pre-requisites: It is recommended that students have a general understanding of cell biology (how cells use receptors to sense their environment and communicate) and microbiology (general bacterial structure and virulence factors). "BIED201: Why should we care about infectious disease?" is recommended but not required.


ID Unit 5 1 credit
or 3 CEUs
Course Title Curriculum Alignment Credits

BIED 301: Introduction to the nervous system

Right now complex patterns of photons of light are leaving this computer screen and hitting a thin piece of tissue at the back of your eye. Not only are you detecting those complex light patterns, but you are also interpreting their meaning. Based on that meaning, you will soon decide to move your hand to guide the computer cursor to click on the “enroll” button. How is all this possible? How does your body detect external stimuli, derive meaning from them, and let you make decisions and interact with the world? This course will begin to unravel this mystery. Here you will learn the fundamentals of the human nervous system and basics of how the nervous system resounds to external stimuli. You will learn everything needed to teach the sheep brain dissection and sensory and perception labs of the Great Diseases high school curriculum.

Pre-requisites: Basic fundamentals of animal biology (cell theory, evolution, genetics) recommended.


ND Unit 1 0.5 credits
or 2 CEUs

BIED 306: How do we study the brain?

This course explores the various ways scientists have attempted to study the brain. It explores the history of neuroscience research, and explains how neuroscientists use patient case studies, animal models, and imaging techniques to understand how the brain works. Not only will you learn about how the brain is studied, you will also hear about examples of things we’ve learned from those types of studies, such as the different types of memory, or how we learn things.

Pre-requisites: Having taken a college biology course is highly recommended. ‘Introduction to the nervous system’ is also recommended, but not required.


ND Unit 1
Lesson 3 of ND Unit 5
0.5 credits
or 2 CEUs

BIED 312: Cells of the nervous system and Alzheimer’s Disease

This course explores the structure and functions of neurons and glia—the cells that make up our nervous system. Alongside this, we explore how the function (or dysfunction) of these cells contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. During this course, we’ll discuss how neurons and glial cells are specialized for their functions, including how glial cells are able to insulate our neurons to increase their signaling speeds, and how neurons are able to keep themselves healthy despite their unusual shapes. Importantly, we’ll also investigate what can go wrong when the functions of neurons and glial cells are compromised by injury or disease.

Pre-requisites: Students should understand the basic fundamentals of animal biology (cell theory, genetics, molecular biology). ‘Introduction to the nervous system’ recommended but not required. This course can be taken alone, or in conjunction with the course ‘Using neural signaling to understand pain,’ which describes how neurons communicate with each other.

Not Offered This Term

ND Unit 2 0.75 credits
or 2 CEUs

BIED 316: Using neural signaling to understand pain

This course investigates how neurons are able to communicate with each other, through both chemical and electrical signals. The course will focus on two main components of neuronal signaling: the action potential (electrical signals) and synaptic transmission (chemical signals). Neuronal signaling enables neurons to send signals from one part of the nervous system to another and ultimately controls all of our behaviors. This course uses the experience of pain (something we can all relate to) as the framework to investigate how action potentials and synaptic transmission works.


This course can be taken alone, or in conjunction with the mini-course: ‘Cells of the Nervous System’, which describes the structure and function of our neurons. Students should have a basic understanding of the structure and function of neurons and organization of the nervous system before taking this course. A background in basic biology concepts (such as cell theory, molecular biology, diffusion, and electrostatic potential) is strongly recommended.


ND Unit 2
ND Unit 3
1 credit
or 3 CEUs

BIED 322: The neurobiology of sleep

In this course, we’ll expand on our knowledge of neural communication to examine how neurons work together in neural circuits to control behaviors. One of the best understood neural circuits is the one that controls our sleep-wake cycles, so we’ll use that circuit, and the experience of sleep, to explore how neurons work together in circuits to control behaviors.

Pre-requisites: This course can be taken alone, or in conjunction with ‘Cells of the Nervous System’ and ‘Using neural signaling to understand pain’ which describe the cells of our system and how they communicate. ‘Introduction to the nervous system’ recommended.

Not Offered This Term

ND Unit 4 0.75 credits
or 2 CEUs

BIED 326: The neurobiology of addiction

In this course you’ll get an evidenced-based look at the parts of the brain responsible for addiction, the changes in the brain that occur during addiction, the risk factors for addiction, and an overview of how different drugs affect the brain. We’ll also explore the neurobiology and evidence for behavioral addictions such as food addiction and gambling addiction, and take a look at how addiction can be treated.

Pre-requisites: This course integrates several concepts explored in earlier courses. it can be taken on its own, but we recommend students have working knowledge of these concepts: Basic structure of the brain (covered in BIED 301: ‘Introduction to the nervous system’), Neuron structure and function (covered in BIED 311: ‘Cells of the nervous system’), Neural signaling, especially synaptic transmission (covered in BIED 316: ‘Using neural signaling to understand pain’), Neural circuits (covered in BIED 321:‘The neurobiology of sleep’), How rodents are used as models in neuroscience research (covered in BIED 306: ‘How do we study the brain?’).


ND Unit 5 1 credit
or 3 CEUs
Course Title Curriculum Alignment Credits

BIED 252: What’s in your food?

In this course, we will take a look at the industrialized food system and learn about the steps in the journey food takes from the farm to your plate. Along the way, we will explore ways in which our food is altered—with additives, through genetic engineering, by antibiotics or by contamination—and the potential impacts of these alterations on personal and public health. Finally, we will learn about regulatory steps taken—and steps we can take at home—to keep our food safe. This course is intended for high school science instructors as part of the Teaching the Great Diseases program.

Pre-requisites: There are no prerequisites for this course.


MD Unit 1 0.5 credits
or 2 CEUs

BIED 257: How does your body digest food?

In this course, we will explore the components of our diet that provide energy and form the structural building blocks of our cells and tissues—macro and micro nutrients. We will discover how these nutrients are broken down as they pass through the digestive system. We will investigate the relative nutritive value of various foods and learn why all calories are not created equal. Finally, we will discuss what happens when the digestive process goes awry leading to common digestive disorders. This course is intended for high school science instructors as part of the Teaching the Great Diseases program.

Pre-requisites: There are no prerequisites for this course.

Not Offered This Term

MD Unit 1
MD Unit 2
0.75 credits
or 2 CEUs

BIED 261: How do cells use nutrients?

How do cells derive energy from the food we eat? How does the body continue to function after we have stopped eating or when we are hungry? In this course, we will explore the processes by which the nutrients from the food we eat are absorbed and utilized by the body. We will discover how and where nutrients are shuttled into and out of storage in different tissues to maintain adequate glucose levels and preserve the vital functions that keep us alive. Finally, we will look at the big picture: how our lifestyle choices affect the biochemical processes in our cells.

Pre-requisites: It is recommended (but not required) that students have a basic understanding of macronutrient structures (covered in BIED 256 “How does your body digest food?”).


MD Unit 2 1 credit
or 3 CEUs

BIED 266: Obesity: Causes and Challenges

In this course, we will answer the question “how does obesity develop?” We will begin by examining obesity in the context of public health—how and why the rate of development of obesity has changed over the past few decades both in the United States and around the world. We will define and investigate the metabolic parameters and physiological causes of obesity. We will discover how obesity relates (and can contribute) to the development of diseases like diabetes and atherosclerosis. This course will also highlight relatively new findings that impact our current understanding of obesity: the microbiome and epigenetics.

Pre-requisites: It is recommended that students have a basic understanding of the biochemical pathways that harness energy from the nutrients we eat and how those pathways are controlled. This information is covered in BIED 261, “How do cells use nutrients to make energy?”


MD Unit 3 0.75 credits
or 2 CEUs
Course Title Curriculum Alignment Credits

BIED 352: What is cancer and why should we care?

Why should your students care about cancer? This course shows how we are all personally impacted by cancer. Throughout several lessons we will see how major questions in the cancer field have shifted over time, and how our current understanding impacts our ability to treat cancer successfully. We will begin to introduce the idea of DNA damage and see how substances that are potentially damaging can be tested. This course introduces important terms in cancer biology, medicine and epidemiology, including concepts of causation and correlation, risk and exposure.

Pre-requisites: There are no pre-requisites for this mini-course. This is a good starting place if you have not taken a course in cancer biology.


CA Unit 1 0.75 credits
or 2 CEUs

BIED 356: What does it mean to be a “normal” cell?

In order to learn how cancer cells act abnormally, we must first learn how a normal cell functions. In this course, we will explore the organization of cells in tissues and organs, and how cells "talk" to one another and are a part of a community. Throughout its lifetime a normal cell divides, performs its functions, communicates with other cells, and dies. We will see how each of these steps is regulated.

Pre-requisites: It is recommended that students have a basic understanding of cell structure, function and cell division (mitosis).


CA Unit 2 1 credit
or 3 CEUs

BIED 361: Is our genome unchanging?

It was once thought that the genome that we inherit remains constant, and that evolution of the genome is a slow process. However, scientists have been learning more and more about how our genome responds to and is changed by our environment, sometimes rapidly. In this course we will see how these genomic changes may prevent or promote cancer.

Pre-requisites: Students should understand the role of DNA, RNA and protein in a cell’s functioning.


CA Unit 3 0.5 credits
or 2 CEUs

BIED 366: What can go wrong in cancer cells?

How does a cell become cancerous? Is it a slow process, or a quick switch? This course covers how mutations in our DNA are key in the development of cancer. DNA mutations may be the turning point when it comes to cancer development, but what causes DNA to mutate? What genes are critical to the development of cancer when mutated? How do inflammation and aging predispose cells to DNA damage? How do tumors evolve and adapt to their environments? All these questions are covered in this course.

Pre-requisites: It is recommended that you understand how normal cell processes are regulated (covered in BIED 356 – What does it mean to be a normal cell?), as well as understand the central dogma (DNA transcription and translation; covered in BIED 361 – Is our genome unchanging?).

Not offered this term

CA Unit 3 1 credit
or 3 CEUs

BIED 371: How does cancer make us sick?

Cancer is caused by unregulated growth of our own cells. What makes these proliferating cells more harmful than their normal counterparts? How are tumors characterized and why is this important for treatment? We learn how cancer cells exit their primary organ and through the process of metastasis find a secondary organ. We will take a look at the critical role that our immune system plays in fighting cancers, and how the rare percentage of cancers that evade the immune system find ways to do that. In this course we zoom out from looking at cancer as a disease of abnormal cells, to looking at how it causes system-wide disease in a human body.

Pre-requisites: Students should have a general understanding of tissue structure, including the basement membrane and stroma.

Not offered this term

CA Unit 4 1 credit
or 3 CEUs

BIED 377: How do we treat cancer?

This course focuses on how cancer is diagnosed and treated, emphasizing the problems that arise when treating cancers as an organ-based, rather than cell-based disease. We will discuss the current diagnostic techniques and treatments and their strengths and limitations, and look forward to how breakthroughs in DNA sequencing technology can provide us with new information to design more specific cancer drugs for better treatments in the future. After seeing the more conventional ways to treat cancer, we will take a critical look at alternative cancer therapies, and spend some time discussing how, and why, cancer occupies such a prominent place in our society and how our understanding of cancer shapes public policy for the future.

Pre-requisites: Basic knowledge of cell biology and genetics recommended.


CA Unit 5 1 credit
or 3 CEUs


What are the prerequisites?
You must have a BA/BS to take the graduate mini-courses. A BA/BS is not required to take the continuing education mini-courses. Having a basic biology background will help but is not required. If you have questions about the content or level of a mini-course, contact the course director.

Where are these courses held?
Each of the mini-courses – both for graduate credit and for continuing education – are hosted on Canvas LMS. This is a web-based LMS and you do not need to download any software to take these courses.

How do I register for the graduate mini-courses?
Click on the Enroll Now button at the top of the page. This will take you to a page to sign up, submit your transcript, and pay for each mini-course you are interested in.

Policies and Procedures

Refunds and Withdrawal Policy:
Students who wish to withdraw from an online mini-course must do so prior to the start of the course in order to receive a 50% refund. No refunds will be granted after the course begins. Enrolled students may withdraw from a mini-course at any time, however students who withdraw from their course after the 7th day will receive a W on their transcript. The Teaching the Great Diseases program reserves the right to cancel a course. In this case a full refund will be granted to students enrolled.

Tuition and Fees:
Online mini-courses in the Teaching the Great Diseases program are offered $300 per graduate credit or $25 per CEU. For example, a 1 credit mini-course costs $300, and a 2 CEU mini-course costs $50. Teaching the Great Diseases is offered through Tufts University Colleges which charges a $65 registration fee per academic year. Click here for more information on how to register for Tufts University College courses.

Due to the nature of the online mini-course offerings, the Teaching the Great Diseases program does not offer a waitlist at this time. These courses are offered multiple times each year and we hope you can join the next offering.

Students may request an official transcript of the Teaching the Great Diseases mini-courses from the Tufts Registrar’s Office website.

Research Statement

Participants in online courses within the Teaching the Great Diseases program may also participate in research aimed to improve online offerings from the Center for Science Education (CSE) at Tufts School of Medicine. Click here to learn more.