An introductory undergraduate biology course may be the only exposure many students have to the life sciences, and it often serves as the best opportunity to interest them in careers related to scientific research.
To transform undergraduate education in biology research and improve learning for all West Virginia University students, three faculty members have been named National Academies Education Fellows in the Life Sciences and are integrating math and physical sciences concepts in a variety of biology courses that will impact science education across the university.
The Fellows are:
Jane Caldwell, clinical assistant professor and coordinator of the Department of Biology
Katrina Stewart, academic laboratory manager in the Department of Biology
Jonathan Cumming, assistant vice president for graduate education
Caldwell and Stewart are from WVU s Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. The group was chosen based on their selection and participation in the 2008 National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education in Biology last summer at the University of Wisconsin.
As recommended by the National Research Council, the Summer Institute emerged from the 2003 report,Bio2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists,which called for faculty development efforts that engage members at research-intensive institutions to take greater responsibility for high-quality undergraduate education.
By sending a team to the National Academies Summer Institute, WVU is at the forefront of education reform that is so essential for educating both future scientists and scientifically-literate citizens,said Ralph Cicerone, chairman of the National Research Council.
A diverse group of administrators and professors from all levels teamed with 22 research institutions from across the country to develop a series ofteachable tidbitsto be used in introductory courses. Teams pledged to assess studentslearning levels and create a mentoring seminar to enhance the abilities of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and undergraduate mentors.
Caldwell has refined many of her own units. During an assessment of her students, she noticed that they are noticeably bored on days when class is occupied by lectures instead of active learning. Shes also more aware of diversity and has reworked her lectures, questions and group activities to include use of other senses, like the smell of flowers and texture of leaves.
In a lesson focused on speciation, she presented a fictitious wolf pack that was separated by a flood into two populations and later formed two species. Students created their own examples of reproductive isolating mechanisms to explain why the two species would not interbreed, which resulted in discussion specific to speciation that Caldwell usually does not have time to mention in introductory courses.
Stewart has implemented the themes of scientific teaching into an introductory biology lab course to train graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) who instruct students to develop an understanding of topics by asking questions, forming hypotheses, participating in experiments and communicating results.
The Summer Institute training gave her scientific teaching strategies she now uses to train GTAs in order to gain practical classroom skills for future teaching positions
Cumming is using what he learned at the Summer Institute to implement scientific teaching events that foster training for graduate students. In August 2008, he presented a workshop, titledEffective Teaching Strategies,during New Student Orientation for 250 new graduate students that focused on peer and group learning, concept mapping, minute quizzes, and in-class discussion to increase student learning across the curriculum.
Currently, he is establishing a Graduate Academy that will provide training for a Graduate Certificate in Interdisciplinary College Teaching.
For more information, contact Jonathan Cumming at (304) 293-8285 or Jonathan.Cumming@mail.wvu.edu .