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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.
Alison Crowe received a B.A. in Biology and French Literature from UC Santa Barbara in 1987. She was awarded her Ph.D. from the Microbiology Department at State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1993. She completed 2 postdoctoral fellowships, the first in the Department of Biology at University of Calgary studying seed gene regulation and the second focused on chromatin regulation of gene expression at the University of Cincinnati in the Department of Molecular Genetics, Biochemistry and Microbiology. She joined the Department of Zoology at the University of Washington in 2000 and was promoted to Principal Lecturer in the Department of Biology in 2006.