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 grew up in Wisconsin and got a B.A. in Biology from Carleton College in 1978. After working in environmental education and international conservation for six years, I went to graduate school in zoology at the University of Washington and received a PhD in 1991. My dissertation work was on the molecular systematics and morphological evolution of blackbirds. I had a Sloan Fellowship in molecular evolution to support a post-doc in the Biology Department at Princeton University, then returned to the University of Washington as Director of Public Programs at the Burke Museum.
Since the mid-1990s my focus has been on textbook writing and teaching. I co-author a book for upper-division evolution courses called Evolutionary Analysis with Jon Herron, now in its 4th edition. I also write a text for introductory major's courses called Biological Science; the 4th edition published in early 2010. I teach part-time in the introductory biology series for majors at the UW and have been conducting research on the impact of active learning techniques on student performance.