Research Projects

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: How do students solve biochemistry problems?
Research Mentor: Paula Lemons
Project Description: Only a few research studies in biology education research have investigated the problem-solving approaches of undergraduate biology students, and these studies are limited to genetics and evolution. Understanding the thinking processes of students while they solve problems is needed to develop targeted course interventions that facilitate student success in science degree programs. My research group is investigating and comparing the problem-solving steps of beginning and advanced biology students in the area of protein structure and function and metabolism. Through this research we are pinpointing students’ correct and incorrect ideas and isolating key problem-solving steps that support or detract from students’ problem-solving skills. This work will yield testable hypotheses about the growth, or lack thereof, in problem-solving skills as students move from beginning to advanced levels.

The undergraduate who works on this project will collaborate with lab members to systematically and qualitatively analyze data from interviews with students about their solutions to biochemistry problems. The undergraduate will learn about efforts to improve learning in the undergraduate science classroom and the complex issues related to making progress in these efforts.

Project Title: Mentoring of undergraduate life science researchers
Research Mentor:
Erin Dolan
Project Description:
Many life science majors participate in research internships with mentorship from a graduate student or postdoctoral associate rather than or in addition to mentorship from faculty members. Yet, little research has been done to understand the benefits and constraints of having different kinds of mentors. This project involves examining a national dataset from 2,000+ undergraduate life science researchers to determine how different factors related to mentors and mentoring affect the outcomes of undergraduate researchers. The student working on this project will learn research and theory related to undergraduate research experiences and mentoring and will develop skills in quantitative data analyses, especially linear regression.

Project Title: Metacognitive Development to Enhance Learning and Performance in Biology
Research Mentor: Julie Stanton
Project Description:  Strong metacognition skills are associated with learning outcomes and student performance. Metacognition is awareness and control of thinking for the purpose of learning. We targeted metacognitive regulation by guiding students through self-evaluation assignments following the first and second exams in an introductory biology course. We found that nearly all students were willing to take a different approach to studying, but showed varying abilities to evaluate and plan their learning strategies. Although many students were able to outline a study plan for the second exam that could effectively address issues they identified in preparing for the first exam, only half reported that they followed their plan. Our data suggest that prompting students to use metacognitive regulation skills is effective for some students, but others need help with metacognitive knowledge in order to execute the learning strategies they selected. In order to learn how we can help students develop metacognition, we have expanded our study to include upper-division biology students, who we hypothesize will have more advanced metacognitive skills.

We are looking for an undergraduate researcher to collaborate on qualitative analysis of students’ written responses to self-evaluation assignments and interview questions. This will involve coding the data to identify themes related to metacognition. This study is expected to help us more effectively target metacognitive development in undergraduate biology students.

Project Title: Exploring the professional development of STEM faculty who teach undergraduates
Research Mentor: Julie Luft
Project Description: Our project looks at how STEM faculty change over the course of one year as they are involved in one of four different professional development programs. The faculty in this study are involved in either: faculty learning communities in SCALE-UP classrooms, learning assistant programs, mentoring programs, or department-based programs. The data consists of observations and interviews with faculty, and this data will be analyzed qualitatively and quantitatively. Over the summer, an undergraduate student will be involved in research discussions about related published research, the analysis of existing data, and the conceptualization of the data for a presentation. The undergraduate student will work with faculty, as well as post-doctoral and graduate student 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: Facilitating Critical Thinking in Undergraduate Biology Classes
Research Mentor: Kathrin Stanger-Hall
Project Description:   My science education research focuses on how to facilitate active learning and critical thinking in undergraduate biology classes. The first step towards student learning is to engage students and capture their interest. Once their interest is captured, effective teaching builds upon students’ existing knowledge and allows them to integrate new knowledge and skills into that context. Especially for critical thinking skills (e.g. application, analysis, evaluation, synthesis) targeted practice and feedback are needed. We have several ongoing research projects along this learning trajectory, which are ready for data analysis, summary, and write-up: Project 1: What gets non-biology majors excited about biology? We asked non-biology majors which connections between biology and their own lives they are interested in and to provide resources and an explanation. Project 2: How environmentally literate are biology majors? We asked biology majors about their knowledge and attitude towards biodiversity-related issues. Project 3: What do biology students know about the biology of pregnancy prevention and planning? We collected pre- and post-test data for a learning exercise on how to calculate the most fertile period in the female reproductive cycle. Project 4: Can we improve student learning by helping them analyze their previous exam? We asked students to do an exam analysis (with respect to lower and higher thinking skills) and make a study plan for the next exam. Project 5: How can we improve the thinking skills of biology majors? We implemented a “how to study” workshop that asked students to evaluate an argument.

Project Title: Lifelong Learning Skills and Introductory Biochemistry Teaching Strategies
Research Mentor:
Amy Medlock
Project Description: 
My research interests are in understanding if and how teaching strategies and learning climates enhance and develop characteristics of lifelong learners.  Skills associated with lifelong learners include setting learning goals, applying pre-existing knowledge, engaging with cognitive dissidence, finding and retrieving information, and adaptation of one’s learning strategies.  The importance of these skills in science education and the role of instructors in enhancing these skills in post secondary educations are essential for creating a competitive workforce to handle the changing times. These are necessary skills to be an independent learner over the course of one’s life.

Our long-term goal is to develop educational strategies and learning environments which promote lifelong learning skills and to help students to succeed in STEM subjects. The objective here to is determine if certain teaching strategies in a large introductory biochemistry course will enhance lifelong learning skills including self-regulated learning, adaptation of learning strategies and aspects of metacognition. We will compare a case based section of the course to other lecture based and hybrid sections of the course. We will use a lifelong learning scale given pre- and post-course to determine is these characteristics of the learners change over the duration of one semester.  In addition, we will inquire of the learning climate of each class via the learning climate questionnaire. Lastly, we will investigate correlations between characteristics associated with lifelong learning and other information including GPA, course grade, year of study and study abroad experience. As a member of this research team you will be involved in data analysis as well as manuscript and grant preparation

Project Title: What are the benefits of collaborative learning in the introductory college classroom?
Research Mentor: 
Peggy Brickman
Project Description: 
Check back in January 2017!