Within the framework of Physiology and Pathology, I am developing instructional exercises to promote observation of an existing system, evaluation of mechanisms by which that system functions and predictions for alteration of that system's function. Current clinical case reports, light microscopy, physiologic parameters of normal function and dysfunction are all vehicles by which the scientific skills may be modeled. In introductory Biology, we focus on observation of a system at the cellular, organ or whole system level. I am interested in instructional techniques that optimize orderly storage of new data for the students; so that they may learn to predict, analyze and apply principles to new data sets.
UW- Biology Education Research Group
My research interests focus on how to help students learn Biology. The 2001 findings of the National Research Council on How People Learn, indicated that three areas are critical to student learning; confronting misconceptions students hold about the discipline, creating a framework to organize facts of the discipline, and enhancing student metacognition (monitoring their learning).
To help students build more robust and mechanistic understanding of physiology, I have integrated the use of General Models (GM) (Modell 2001)into all my classes. My initial research shows that students who use GM when answering exam questions provide more robust answers that earn more points. I also have students create Summary Sheets, a pictorial form of concept map, to help them form connections between the various parts of each physiological system.
To encourage metacogniton, I have students do weekly reflective paragraphs on what they have learned (not memorized) each week.
My colleagues and I recently developed the Blooming Biology Tool (BBT), an assessment tool based on Bloom
My research interests center on the impact of active learning strategies on student performance in college science courses and phylogenetic analyses of change in blackbird morphology.
I am currently working with colleages in the University of Washington's Department of Biology to determine whether certain types of course designs have a positive impact on achievement by underrepresented minority and economically disadvantaged students. This study is part of a broader effort to evaluate the role of active learning in improving the quality of science education. I also have projects underway to:
1) evaluate hypotheses on the most effective ways to teach introductory students about central concepts in evolution by natural selection, phylogeny inference/tree thinking, experimental design, the Hardy-Weinberg principle, and climate change;
2) evaluate interventions that may help introductory students cope with disappointing results on their first biology exam;
3) meta-analyze the STEM education literature to compare student performance in a traditional lecture versus active learning setting;
4) evaluate data on the frequency of antibiotic resistant bacterial cells collected as part of an undergraduate biology lab.
I am also interested in the evolution of body size, body shape, beak characteristics, coloration, sexual dichromatism, and sexual dimorphism in the blackbirds native to North and South America. The 85 species in this lineage vary in size from 7 gr to over 200 gr, occupy habitats from boreal marshes to tropical rainforests, and exhibit breeding systems ranging from coloniality to polygyny to obligate nest parasitism.
I am a member of the Biology Education Research Group (BERG) at University of Washington and am currently working on two different discipline-based education research projects:
The goals of the first project are to 1) establish the key concepts we want biology majors to understand when they graduate and 2) design a multiple true-false assessment which can measure student progress toward these concepts. Five core "big ideas in biology" were outlined in the NSF-AAAS report, Vision and Change: Evolution, EnergyTransformation, Information Storage and Flow, Structure and Function, and Interacting Systems. We have used these ideas as a starting point to develop a framework of key concepts which span the different areas of biology, from molecules to ecosystems. We are currently obtaining national validation for this framework and beginning to develop questions for the assessment tool. This project is funded through a NSF Transforming Undergraduate Education in the Sciences (TUES II) grant and is part of a collaborative effort with University of Colorado Boulder and University of Maine. The U.W. portion of this project is being led by Sara Brownell, a post-doctoral scholar.
The second project is aimed at understanding what makes active learning approaches more effective than traditional lecturing. Specifically, the goal of this project is to develop and compare the relative effectiveness of alternative Active Learning Modules (ALMs) in teaching three core concepts in introductory cell biology: eukaryotic gene regulation, protein translation and regulation of cell cycle. We have focused on these three fundamental concepts as they are central to understanding how cells function and are near universally taught as part of the college-level introductory cell biology curriculum. Due to their complexity, they also pose significant teaching challenges. Our long-term goal is to develop evidence-based active learning strategies that are effective for a broad spectrum of students and can be successfully implemented in a large-lecture setting. This project is funded by a NSF Transforming Undergraduate Education in the Sciences (TUES I) grant.
In addition to biology education research, I also continue to pursue my interest in the role that epigenetic mechanisms such as chromatin modification, play in environmental adaptation of plants. This research is carried out by undergraduate cell and molecular biology students in a laboratory course which I developed and teach called "Experiments in Molecular Biology". The predominantly sessile nature of plants necessitates an ability to adapt to rapidly changing environmental conditions. The remarkable developmental plasticity that plants exhibit strongly suggest the existence of chromatin-mediated mechanisms for altering established gene expression programs. We have chosen Arabidopsis as a model system to study the role of epigenetic mechanisms in adaptation due to the public availability of transgenic lines harboring targeted disruptions of individual chromatin regulatory genes. Students develop hypotheses and design experiments to examine the relative abilities of Arabidopsis histone acetyl transferase mutants to adapt to artificially-induced abiotic stresses including high salinity and cold temperatures.
Those studying Biology Education make teaching techniques and learning styles a specific area of inquiry and scholarship. These faculty invent novel means of delivering information to students and develop new techniques that enhance student learning. Their innovative approaches to teaching are forging new frontiers in biology education and directly benefiting the many undergraduates taking biology courses.