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There have been many calls to make research experiences available to more undergraduate students. One way to do this is to provide course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs), but providing these on a scale large enough to accommodate many students can be a daunting undertaking. Indeed, other researchers have identified time to develop materials and course size as significant barriers to widespread implementation of CUREs. Based on our own experiences implementing CUREs at a large research university, we present a flexible framework that we have adapted to multiple research projects, share class materials and rubrics we have developed, and suggest logistical strategies to lower these implementation barriers.
The AAAS “Vision and Change” report (2011) has been inspiring undergraduate biology educators nationwide to rethink their educational approach, favoring active-learning strategies to better prepare today's students for a complex, data-rich future. Here, we consider the history of the movement, its place in the greater arena of STEM education, and the reasons why this new approach has never been more critical. We encourage all biology educators to consider becoming agents of change, and we focus on helpful resources and practical suggestions to help ABT readers take the plunge into (or at least get their feet wet in) the welcoming waters of Vision and Change.
Instructors in two- and four-year undergraduate institutions face a variety of challenges in designing and delivering high-quality courses for their students and in creating accurate assessments of student learning. Traditional course planning (a linear, start-to-finish process based on the knowledge and perspective of the instructor) can lead to lack of clarity of learning objectives for students, uncertainty about course priorities for both instructor and students, and poor alignment between course material and assessments. To address these issues, Understanding by Design (UbD), a course-planning protocol widely used in K—12 education, was implemented to redesign a one-semester, nonmajors “Sensation & Perception” course at a four-year liberal arts college. This implementation improved the instructor's understanding of desired student learning outcomes, allowed core concepts and science competencies to be prioritized as recommended by the “Vision and Change” reform initiative, and led to decreased lecture time in favor of greater lab and student-driven discussion time. In addition, this process allowed components of evidence-based reasoning and scientific process to be incorporated authentically into assessments. Despite the increasing rigor of assessments, there was a statistically significant increase in students earning an A or B on the final exam after UbD implementation.
Active learning is known to be a key component of student engagement and content mastery. Flipped learning is a pedagogical approach that moves passive, initial instruction out of the classroom (usually as recorded videos) and reserves class time for active-learning exercises that fortify learning. Reports have demonstrated the success of flipped learning, but it is unclear whether that success is due to students watching videos at home (i.e., the “flipped” structure of the flipped classroom) or to the active learning that takes place in class. I sought to answer that question by comparing two sections of sophomore-level college genetics. One section was flipped and the other taught traditionally, but with extensive active learning included as homework. Student satisfaction, performance on quizzes and exams, and overall achievement of course learning goals were compared. Interestingly, after taking into account the diversity of academic strength in both sections, there was no difference between the sections for any of the measured parameters. Although flipped learning may offer no additional benefit over other forms of active learning, it is far easier and more efficient to embed and integrate active learning into a flipped classroom.
Students often struggle to understand the complex molecular systems and processes presented in introductory biology courses. These include the Calvin cycle, the Krebs cycle, transcription and translation, and DNA replication, among others. Traditionally, these systems and processes are taught using textbook readings and PowerPoint slides as lecture aids; video animations have also become popular in recent years. Students tend to be passive observers in many of these methods of instruction, relying heavily on “memorization” learning techniques. To address this, I developed an active-learning intervention called “molecular sculpting” in which students construct two-dimensional or three-dimensional versions of an assigned molecular system or process, complete with representations of proteins, chromosomes, electrons, protons, and other molecules (depending on the system). The value of this learning activity was measured in five class sessions in an introductory biology course during the 2014–2015 academic year. Pre- and postclass written assignments showed that students were often able to describe course concepts more completely after sessions in which sculpting was used, compared with sessions without sculpting. Molecular sculpting is a unique, hands-on activity that appears to have significant learning gains associated with it; it can be adapted for use in a variety of K—14 biology courses.
This article features a four-step pedagogical framework that can be used to transform the undergraduate biology laboratory into an authentic research experience. The framework utilizes a four-step scaffolding structure that not only guides students through the process of science and helps them gain mastery of relevant scientific practices, but also simplifies and streamlines the instructor's process of designing and implementing an authentic research experience in a biology lab course. We used this pedagogical framework to design an authentic research experience in which students investigated various factors affecting the growth and viability of a mammalian cell line, Vero cells isolated from kidney epithelial cells extracted from an African green monkey. Although this particular lab was designed for a cell and molecular biology course for university sophomores, the flexibility built into the pedagogical framework allows it to be used to design research experiences that can be implemented within a wide variety of lab courses at varying levels, effectively increasing the amount of authentic research experiences in biology lab courses nationwide.
This article features an authentic research-lab experience developed for use in a freshman-level general biology course for nonmajors at a two-year college. Students work in groups to select and investigate factors affecting microalgal cell growth and relate their findings to a real-life application of social significance. This lab experience was designed using a four-step pedagogical framework originally developed at a four-year university in a sophomorelevel molecular and cell biology course. The creators of the pedagogical framework at the four-year university mentored the instructor at the twoyear college through the process of using the pedagogical framework to design and implement the authentic research lab experience described in this article. This example shows that adaptation of successful pedagogical models, particularly within mentoring partnerships, can greatly increase the implementation of authentic research experiences in biology lab courses at varying levels of study.
We present a simple strategy that professors and research students can use to coordinate scientific education-outreach programs in the wider community. The focal points of this strategy are the use of preexisting community networks and the development of a simple but engaging educational program. Employing this straightforward model can help reduce the activation barrier for lab members who are interested in becoming involved in scientific outreach.
All teachers hope that students learn to apply and analyze, rather than simply memorize or parrot back, the teacher's words. One method of encouraging the development of students' higher-level thinking skills is to give learners practice in identifying appropriate analogies for biological concepts, and in forming their own. Analogies focus on the larger concepts we are trying to teach, rather than specific biological details or actual biological examples. They are fun to practice in class, and this practice prepares students for similar test questions.
This lesson is designed to facilitate student understanding of the molecular structure of DNA, the cellular processes involved in DNA replication, and how these principles were applied to develop a method to determine the nucleotide sequence of DNA. The lesson employs an active and cooperative learning approach accomplished via a modified jigsaw exercise. The specific replication/sequencing process in this lesson is Sanger's dideoxy method of DNA sequencing. In conjunction with related lessons in lecture and lab, students read the relevant section of an appropriate introductory biology textbook and/or view videos explaining how Sanger's dideoxy chain-termination sequencing method works. Students working in four teams (A, C, G, and T) then use green, blue, brown, and red M&M's as nucleotides to build a model of the process. Plain M&M's represent deoxynucleotide triphosphates (dNTPs), while peanut M&M's represent the “terminator” dideoxynucleotide triphosphates (ddNTPs). The lesson addresses Next Generation Science Standards and learning goals typically found in college biology courses at introductory and advanced levels.