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

Subject

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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Online annotation tools that help students discuss readings

By Sarita Y. Shukla and Rebecca M. Price

Originally published in 2018 on the UWB Digital Learning and Innovation Blog

Engaging with course materials is the quintessential ingredient for student success. We want our students to engage deeply with our reading assignments by taking notes, asking questions, and discussing the text with their peers. Web annotation tools are a new way to promote this kind of student engagement. They offer a way for students to chisel out their intellectual interests while learning deeply and growing mentally.

We’ve had the opportunity to play with two platforms for web annotations, Hypothes.is and Perusall. Here are the instructions/videos for instructors and students on how to install and use these platforms:

The table below briefly compares Hypothes.is and Perusall. After the table, we discuss our experiences with each platform.

We thank our colleagues, Jane Van Galen, Todd Conaway, and Eva Ma for encouraging and supporting our exploration of these platforms.

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Research and Biology Education

Originally published in 2018 on the UWB Digital Learning and Innovation Blog.

by Becca Price

I keep reinventing myself. It’s one of the aspects of academia that I’ve enjoyed the most. I started studying the way different species of sea slugs were related, then I started looking at the history of sea shells that evolved 100s of millions of years ago. And when I came to UWB 12 years ago, I realized how much we, as a community of educators, can do to improve the way students are learning science. My interest in science education—especially around biology—was born. That took me, in turn, to teaching new PhDs how to teach college science.

My interests have broadened again, now with the goal to welcome more people into the vibrant research on biology education. The leading journal in our field, CBE-Life Sciences Education, started a new feature called “Anatomy of an Education Study” that introduces the research methods common within the field. I, along with Clark Coffman from the Iowa State University, are annotating the articles in this feature with five lenses in mind—a format inspired by the lenses that Science uses in their annotations[1]. We highlight the background, pointing readers to classic texts and debates; we offer succinct definitions of the jargon that inevitably creeps into a research area; we explicate the research methods and design that the authors use, annotations that help an audience more used to biological research than the social science of how students learn biology; we highlight the instructional implications of the work that the authors discuss; and, lastly, we offering writing tips, to orient readers to the conventions of articles in this field.

The first two sets of annotations that Clark and I wrote focus on different qualitative methods, in one case for testing whether a survey measures what is intended, and the other for using the knowledge of experienced instructors and researchers to construct a list of teaching strategies that unpack the idea of scientific teaching.

Science education research has changed a lot in the last decade, as researchers become more comfortable navigating the many methods used in this interdisciplinary field. I hope that the “Anatomy of an Education Study” might help you become familiar with the tool…and maybe, you are developing a comparable tool in another field that can orient me the next time I reinvent myself.

https://www.ascb.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/CBE_LSE_BANNER_w1.png

  1. Learning Lens by Science in the Classroom is licensed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.

 

Come One, Come All: Establishing Equity through Structured Elements to Engage All Students

by Bob Kao, Assistant Professor in Biology
Heritage University, Toppenish, WA, homeland of Yakama Nation


Summary Review:

In their recently published CourseSource article Structuring Courses for Equity, Hocker and Vandergrift (2019) provide a guide describing four elements that can increase equity in an introductory non-science majors general education biology courses (100 students), as well as upper division majors human physiology (350 students). These four structured elements include:

  1. Assignments with Transparent Design. Increasing structure of in-class worksheets, student presentations, or science writing assignments helps both faculty and students to enable clear expectations and purpose of each assignment. Furthermore, assignment rubrics help to assess growth of student learning during the course and improve course retention.
  2. Class Time to Engage All Students. Inclusive teaching approaches help to engage all students and develop students’ sense of belonging and community. For example, Schinske and colleagues (2016) developed the Scientist Spotlight to incorporate the scientist’s experiences as a role model for students to enhance science identity, community, as well as equity and diversity in STEM pathways.
  3. Out-of-Class Learning. Learning experiences outside of class discussions can help cultivate collaborative learning communities to enrich through pre-class assignments and quizzes. For example, quizzes can also be used as formative feedback to allow students to practice and recall concepts in biology.
  4. Assessments and Feedback. These assessment tools help instructors to identify and clarify students’ misconceptions on biology concepts through written and verbal feedback for all students. For example, clicker questions in a large course over 100 students could be used to assess students’ grasp of biology concepts. On the other hand, summative assessments, such as cumulative exams, provide an avenue for students’ ability to make predictions, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions. Structured, formative assessments are aligned with course and lab performance goals and learning objectives, and help foster depth of learning.

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We Built an Active Learning Class to Teach Students How to Critically Evaluate Health Claims. Did it Work?

by Jeremy Whitson

Dr. Jeremy Whitson at the UW Teaching and Learning Symposium.

The Fall of 2017 was a tumultuous time for public discourse around science in the US. Phrases like “fake news” and “alternative facts” entered the mainstream vernacular as an administration that cared little for truth, accuracy, or ethics took control of the White House. Science deniers began heading key agencies, gag rules were put into place, and researchers across the country feared how their already diminishing funding might be reallocated. Meanwhile, the internet, once conceptualized as the ultimate tool for disseminating information, was proving itself to be the ultimate tool for misinformation. Long dormant diseases began making a resurgence and commercial brands were using the public’s ignorance to push misleading, or even straight up dangerous, products like raw water, anti-aging creams, and juice cleanses.  Continue reading