Fostering productive participation in the critique and discussion of scientific literature at the postsecondary level

by Pallabi Mustafi

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Constructing and criticizing an idea are essential parts of ‘science as a practice’. This practice should be nurtured in university science classrooms through reading and discussing primary scientific literature. There have been several instructional approaches for teaching undergraduate students to read primary scientific literature for different goals, but very few approaches foster discussions through critique. Jablonski and Grinath’s (2023) recent work elegantly put forward various ways in which students can participate in the critique of scientific literature.

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Poor mental health amongst graduate and professional students in 2020

by Kelsey Jesser

Stressed out studentGetting a graduate or professional degree is stressful. This seemingly obvious statement is backed up by a substantial body of research demonstrating that graduate and medical students, particularly those from underrepresented groups, have higher than average rates of depression and anxiety. Graduate and professional students (myself included!) can experience long work hours, high pressure to produce and perform, influential and sometimes unsupportive relationships with mentors, a precarious financial situation, and uncertain future employment. These and other challenges that contribute to poor mental health outcomes were exacerbated in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a dramatic increase in social isolation and incidences of anti-Asian violence. The stress and fear surrounding the emergence of a novel virus was exacerbated by police and vigilante killings of Black Americans and the increasing awareness and protests around the persistent racial violence in the United States. Continue reading

The PULSE Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Rubric

by Anzela Niraula

While the drive to address and tackle the structural barriers facing DEI is palpable in higher education, it is often difficult to know where and how to approach this enormous topic. The PULSE DEI rubric, developed by Brancaccio-Taras and colleagues, seeks to specifically empower departments to advance DEI at their institutions. This rubric is the sixth and newest addition to PULSE’s preexisting rubrics from which it derives its framework.

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Crafting an ideologically aware curriculum

by Orlando de Lange

In their recent paper “Teaching the Tough Topics: Fostering Ideological Awareness through the Inclusion of Societally Impactful Topics in Introductory Biology” (Beatty et al. 2021) a team of researchers at Auburn university developed and taught a science in society curriculum, and analyzed student reactions and perceptions through surveys.

I help to run a community biology lab space ( I used to give monthly talks about the societal implications of plant science, and since 2021, in a strange twist, I have found myself in a new research lab studying the sociology of technology. So I figure that if there’s one thing that should be very firmly in my wheelhouse it’s “Science and Society”. And yet, it’s been a real challenge to teach a STEP-WISE course that has a large science and society component. I’m very grateful to be working through it with my co-instructors and mentor, and very keen to learn more about evidence-based approaches for teaching what the AAAS 2011 Vision and Change report outlines as one of the six core competencies for biology undergraduates.

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Learning and teaching in STEM fields using “authentic problems”

by Peter D. Huck

In STEP-WISE, my co-instructors and I sought to leverage our experience with computer programming to instruct fourth year biology students in what type of analysis was possible with the aid of open-source computational resources, like Python. We sought to teach students how to think about and approach problems relevant in our research. Little did we know that we were adhering to an approach that the education literature calls teaching with “authentic problems”.

A perennial concern in higher education is how to ensure that recent college graduates can solve real-world problems they encounter, despite having completed a program of rigorous course work. Price and coworkers (2021) address this concern. They hypothesize that the ability to solve problems is assessed by challenging exercises with well-defined answers reached by straightforward analysis, but do not require the use of judgement to make decisions based on limited or incomplete information. Therefore, to improve students’ ability to solve problems, instructors should offer problems that are more unstructured, lacking a clear solution path or that are not certain to have any solution at all, to come closer to real world situations. These are the problems that, according to Price et al. are authentic.

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Rethinking the Share in the Think-Pair-Share

By Joseph Groom

Cooper KM, Schinske JN, and Tanner KD. Reconsidering the Share of a Think-Pair-Share: Emerging Limitations, Alternatives, and Opportunities for Research. CBE Life Sciences Education (2021). Vol. 20: fe1. doi: 10.1187/cbe.20-08-0200

Random Call Anxiety

In their article in the March 2021 issue of CBE Life Sciences Education, K.M. Cooper et al. use recent studies to make a case for altering or abolishing the “share” portion of the widely used Think-Pair-Share method. The Think-Pair-Share is a popular active learning technique that allows students to come up with ideas on their own, bounce those ideas off of a classmate, hear a variety of student voices, and refine and articulate their own ideas by sharing them with the whole class. Cooper et al. succinctly explain how the “share” portion in particular can lead to inequities in learning, how certain assumptions about benefits of the “share” are not necessarily true, and how to effectively modify or remove the “share”.

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Curating content to teach concepts

By Mugdha Sathe

When I started my Masters in Biochemistry, I encountered huge biology textbooks. The large content was overwhelming, and I was questioning my decision to enter biochemistry when I had been a chemistry undergrad. But then, over the next two years, I realized I was learning all kinds of concepts along with these new-to-me biology facts.

As instructors, why do we focus on content instead of concepts? Petersen and colleagues address this question in their recent article about “the tyranny of content”. Instructors reported that the ‘Need to cover content’ was one of the barriers that kept them from implementing active learning in their classrooms. Basic courses are often prerequisites for advance course creating a perceived need to cover particular content. These concerns are legitimate. Learning facts does matter. But, still faculty-centered teaching persists despite the effectiveness of student-centred learning practices.

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A quantifiable measure of classroom engagement using skin biosensors

By Michael W. Cashman

In the second whole-group training session, my STEP-WISE colleagues and I learned about active learning techniques, their benefits, and why we should incorporate active pedagogy in the biology seminars we are designing and teaching. Based on personal experience as a student, participating in a flipped classroom learning environment that relies on just-in-time pedagogy works! So, I was surprised to learn that reformed-based teaching and learning practices are only gaining traction among academics responsible for teaching undergraduate STEM courses. The flipped classroom actually works for lots of people: a steadily increasing amount of data support active learning techniques and the positive impacts they can have on student learning.

Enter a group of researchers from Auburn University determined to generate data providing insight about what impact reformed-based teaching and learning practices have on student learning outcomes. Their article, “Biosensors show promise as a measure of student engagement in a large introductory biology course,” published in CBE—Life Sciences Education journal (December 2020) explains a masterfully crafted, meticulously designed, and utterly creative test.

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Training undergraduates through research networks

By Joseph Groom


Jensen-Ryan D, Murren CJ, Rutter MT, and Thompson JJ. Advancing Science while Training Undergraduates: Recommendations from a Collaborative Biology Research Network. CBE – Life Sciences Education (2020). 19: es13. doi: 10.1187/cbe.20-05-0090.

As a postdoc interested in a faculty position at a primarily undergraduate institution, I think a lot about how to effectively mentor students in my lab but also maintain a productive research program. I looked to this article for suggestions from faculty members with extensive experience leading an undergraduate research network.

What it is

Jensen-Ryan et al (2020) highlight a successful undergraduate biology research network (BRN) in CBE-Life Sciences Education. They wanted to synthesize what has been learned about running a BRN by identifying key successes, challenges, and recommendations. So, they interviewed a bunch of faculty members who have been a part of an 8-year BRN, and then coded the transcripts of those interviews.. They found that the BRN diversified access to scientific research, and improved student experiences, scientific outcomes, and faculty professional development. But they also found “goal conflict”: producing data and mentoring students are not necessarily aligned. Nonetheless, while data production was slower than anticipated, the positive student outcomes were very apparent. They recommend that mentors (1) use stringent laboratory protocols that can be modified through student work, (2) have dedicated personnel for management of the project, and (3) choose appropriate collaborators with agreed-upon expectations.

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The “Startup Mindset”: A Model for Pandemic Pedagogies

by Amal Katrib

Schooltime has gained new meaning in today’s world of social distancing, with the educational system pressured to embrace, and accordingly adapt to, the “new norm”. The pandemic’s abrupt onset had left many students trapped in a convoluted maze of uncertainties, having to fly relatively blind through a less familiar learning environment—the virtual classroom. In order to mitigate disruptions to student learning, educators started experimenting with a variety of online resources and technologies. While some focused on assembling a broad menu of solutions to effectively engage students from a distance, others conjured up new pedagogical modalities to best strategize for times ahead. And without the time to dive into research that guides both online and crisis teaching, academic institutions were opting to deploy flexible action plans so they can respond to such unprecedented challenges and pivot, if and when necessary.

This high degree of organizational adaptability is something I used to only associate with startups, failing to realize its prevalence, let alone its importance, in education.

Many early-stage startups emphasize the need to plan(a) ahead, while staying both lean(b) and agile(c) —what I refer to as the “startup mindset”—in order to survive an ever-changing volatile environment. They implement a “build-measure-learn” framework, cycling their ideas through a feedback loop of validated learning and quickly iterating through incremental development to optimize product value and market fit. They also are predominantly led by smaller, multifunctional teams that continue to collaborate across organizational boundaries without restraints. As a result, they are able to readily assess circumstantial changes as they come up, and strategically embrace them to continue driving innovation.

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