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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Institutions must take responsibility for the mentorship of their trainees

by Meredith CoursePhoto of Dr. Meredith Course

My colleague (an incredible mentor herself!) Dr. Irini Topalidou and I were frustrated to see poor mentorship treated as a failing of individuals, when we felt it was clearly a larger, cultural issue in STEM. We were also galvanized to publish this article when we saw over and over evidence that good mentorship is disproportionately unavailable to underrepresented minorities in STEM, despite the fact that it is particularly beneficial to them. Without structural changes in place, those in mentorship positions would be allowed to mentor as they saw fit, rather than deliberately and with evidence-based practices, similar to those we learn about in STEP-WISE. Improved mentorship skills, we argue, benefits not just trainees, but mentors and institutions as well. Therefore, it behooves the institutions who hire and promote mentors and who admit and confer degrees on trainees to implement effective mentorship incentives, accountability, and training.

Institutions should take responsibility for trainee mentorship


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, and Perusall. Here are the instructions/videos for instructors and students on how to install and use these platforms:

The table below briefly compares 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.

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


Tracking Careers After a PhD

by Tanya Brown

One of the many questions I asked myself during my PhD training was “What kind of job will I get once I graduate?” This is quite a common question with many possible answers. With so many PhDs hitting the job market, where do all of us go?

It can be quite a challenge to figure out how to answer this question. Where do students go once they graduate? What do postdocs do once they are ready to move on? This sort of information would be useful for prospective graduate students and postdocs to know before they tackle academia. Career outcomes can reflect, at least in part, institutional training goals and values. Trainees deserve to know the environment that they are entering before devoting years to graduate school or postdoctoral training. Since this sort of tracking information is required for NIH training grants, it seems like this type of information is collected, at least by some programs, but may be challenging to sort through and organize at departmental and institutional levels. Communicating the results then presents a whole other set of challenges.   Continue reading

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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The importance of mental health support for graduate and medical trainees: You are not alone

By Kristin G. Anderson and Jennifer M. Stinson

When I started graduate school, a friend introduced me to the blog Hyperbole and a Half, a series created by comedian/artist/blogger Allie Brosh. Many of her posts are light-hearted, entertaining stories from various stages of her life:

Dog from Hyperbole and a Half blog Alot from Hyperbole and a Half blog Image from "This why I'll never be an adult"(Images above from: “Dog”, “The Alot is better than you at everything”, and “This is why I’ll never be an adult”)

For me, though, some of her most thought-provoking posts address issues related to mental health. Allie has a greater legacy than her cartoons: her readers feel like they are not alone.

Many of Allie’s stories reference, directly or indirectly, heavy topics, like burnout (“This is why I’ll never be an adult”), mood disorders (“Sneaky hate spiral”), social anxiety (“The awkward situation survival guide”), and depression (“Adventures in Depression” and “Depression Part Two”). She makes the subject matter relatable by weaving in humor. Her fans—including graduate school me—echo her experiences and thank her for reflecting their feelings.

Early and often, peers and mentors in graduate school consistently said “this is going to be hard.” I was prepared to feel tired, stressed, and overwhelmed from time to time, but I wasn’t prepared for anxiety, self-doubt, imposter syndrome, burnout, isolation, and depression. A new study from Nagy and colleagues (Nagy et. al. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 2019) found that 49.3% of biomedical graduate students met criteria for a mental health disorder in the past year, which is about twice the rate in the general population (Kessler et. al. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 2005). This reinforces what has been a growing concern in graduate studies: these issues are relatively widespread in biomedical graduate student education and are linked in part to people leaving graduate school. Continue reading

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

Should I stay or should I go, now?

by M. Wallingford

Author with family at West Seattle“I want to go swim, mom! Let’s go!!” It’s mid January and I’m taking a walk with my four year old son who LOVES the beach.  Instead of saying no, I tell him that I don’t want to swim because it’s too cold. “You can go ahead and take off your socks and shoes and put your toes in, but it’s pretty cold”.  He does – giggles and squeals of excitement emanate through Madrona Park. He runs back, sheepishly telling me that it’s too cold for swimming and puts his socks and shoes back on, but he has a huge grin on his face.  We keep walking and meet my partner who has our baby bundled up in a stroller.  Continue reading