Research Projects

Project Title: How do college biology faculty learn to use innovative teaching practices?

Research Mentors: Paula Lemons and Patricia Zagallo

Project Description: An ever-growing body of evidence from education research reveals many learning benefits when college faculty use student-centered pedagogies. Student-centered pedagogies benefit instructors because student-centered classrooms enable instructors to see what students are thinking. In turn, this benefits students because faculty can adapt their instruction to students’ learning needs. Unfortunately, most college faculty have not been trained to teach in student-centered ways, but teaching professional development (TPD) can help. The Automated Analysis of Constructed Response (AACR) project provides TPD for college faculty. AACR provides college faculty with computer-based analytics for examining students’ answers to constructed-response questions. In essence, the questions make student thinking visible. Then faculty can use these data to modify their teaching. Currently, 31 faculty at seven institutions across the country are engaged in AACR TPD. The TPD helps faculty learn to (1) use AACR to uncover student thinking and (2) incorporate what they learn about student thinking into their teaching routines. We have collected data from these faculty since 2014, including recordings of their discussions in AACR TPD meetings, individual yearly interviews, and classroom observations. We are using these data to probe the research question: What is the impact of AACR TPD on faculty teaching practices and ideas?

The UBER undergraduate fellow who works on this project will participate in analyzing these data. The fellow will gain experience in qualitative data analysis using standard procedures and software common to the field. The fellow will also have opportunities to read and synthesize literature related to TPD and to interact with members of the AACR research team.


Project Title: Mentoring of undergraduate life science researchers

Research Mentor: Erin Dolan & Lisa Limeri

Project Description: Undergraduate research experiences benefit undergraduates in many ways, including aiding professional development and fostering interest in science and research. Studies have shown that mentoring by a graduate student, postdoctoral associate and/or faculty is an important component of research experiences. However, like any interpersonal interaction, mentoring is not always perfect. To date, research has emphasized the positive effects of research mentoring, leaving us blind the what kinds of negative mentoring experiences occur and how they affect the undergraduate researchers.

This research team will collect and analyze qualitative data about undergraduate researchers’ negative mentoring experiences. The student working on this project will learn research and theory related to undergraduate research experiences and mentoring and will develop skills in qualitative data analyses.


Project Title: Students’ development of implicit theories of intelligence

Research Mentor: Lisa Limeri

Project Description: Attrition from higher education, especially from STEM programs, is a national concern. In many cases, students may drop out because they were unable to overcome academic difficulties. How well students respond to academic difficulties is influenced by their beliefs about intelligence, specifically, whether intelligence is a fixed, stable trait, or is a changeable trait that can be improved. This study seeks to understand how experiences in difficult college courses affect the development of these beliefs about intelligence, called mindsets. This knowledge could potentially be leveraged to design interventions with the goal of increasing student retention.

This research team will analyze survey and interview data that will be collected during the spring 2018 semester. The student working on this project will develop skills in both qualitative and quantitative data analysis, especially (qualitative) and factor analyses and regressions (quantitative).


Project Title: What do college biology faculty need to effectively engage students in class and help them learn?

Research Mentor: Tessa Andrews

Project Description:  This project focuses on improving undergraduate biology education by better supporting instructors to teach effectively, especially instructors of large classes (with 100+ students). We are examining the the knowledge, or expertise, that instructors need to be able to teach effectively using strategies that actively engage students in class. For example, research suggests that simply knowing the course content really well is NOT enough to be an effective teacher. We also study how professional identity affects college instructors, especially whether a faculty member sees themselves as a teacher (as opposed to just seeing themselves as a researcher). This project involves analyzing data collected through surveys and interviews.


Project Title: How do students learn topics in evolution and how do instructors facilitate their learning?

Research Mentor: Tessa Andrews

Project Description: This project focuses on college-level evolution instruction. We are investigating what is known about helping students learn different topics in evolution. Once we have identified what is already known and what requires additional investigation, we will design studies to investigate student thinking. We will also investigate the knowledge that college instructors need to help students learn specific topics. For example, there are common difficulties students have in learning some topics. Do instructors need to know about these to teach effectively? If so, is it common for instructors to possess this important knowledge? If not, how can we help them develop knowledge and skills so they can more effectively help students?


Project Title: Examining explanations and determining student understanding

Research Mentor: Julie Luft

Project: This project will have two parts. The first part involves the examination of explanations of science phenomena by undergraduates in a science class. This data reveals if students advance their understanding of concepts through the use of claims, evidence, and reasoning (explanation framework) and by working individually or collectively. The student explanations connect to various biological concepts. From the data in this study, the explanation frameworks will be assessed, and revised or restructured. New learning experiences that use this explanation framework will also be developed. This project will be interdisciplinary in the areas of chemistry and biology. Dr. Luft will lead this project, along with doctoral students.


Project Title: Learning Biology using Animations and Inquiry

Research Mentor: Georgia Hodges

Project Description:  Our research team, using funding from the National Institutes of Health, has created a set of computer-based modules in which high school students study basic cellular processes (i.e., osmosis, diffusion, filtration, homeostasis) through an immersive computer environment that uses a game-type representation of the inner workings of the cell. Over the past three years, we have studied how these modules are used by high school biology teachers to promote student learning within introductory biology classes. During the summer of 2014, our team will be conducting analyses of the data collected to date. Two major sources of data are being analyzed. We have collected data with regard to student knowledge of the biology concepts taught within the modules using a formal assessment as a pre- and post-test measure. Within each of the modules, students respond to questions of both an open-ended and forced choice nature as they proceed through the experience. We are attempting to understand how specific learning within the modules, as evidenced by the responses to these embedded items is related to overall gains in the pre- and post-test measures. In addition to participating in the analysis of the data described above, additional projects can be created to suit the needs of project participants. As a member of our research team, you will learn about how biology is taught and learned at the introductory high school level, as well as specifically how students learn cellular and molecular concepts of biology using immersive 3-D computer environments.


Project Title: Community Cultural Wealth of Black Science Majors

Research Mentor: Julie Stanton

Project Description: We are using an anti-deficit achievement approach to investigate the strengths of academically successful Black undergraduate science majors. In particular, we are studying the community cultural wealth that Black undergraduate students bring to science. Community cultural wealth consists of the knowledge, skills, abilities, and contacts that students of color can use for educational success, even in the face of subtle or overt racism (Yosso, 2005). The objective of this study is to identify and characterize the community cultural wealth of Black undergraduate science majors who are in their final year of college. This knowledge will be used to develop research-based products that support the persistence of Black students in science.

We are looking for an undergraduate researcher to collaborate on analysis of preliminary qualitative data.  The researcher will also work on revising and retesting interview protocols.  They will also have the opportunity to help with the development other projects in the lab that align with their interests.


Project Title: What are the benefits of collaborative learning in the introductory college classroom?

Research Mentor: Peggy Brickman

Project Description: coming soon!