Our research in biology education has several major lines of inquiry that investigate (1) the teaching practices and student performance of postdocs who participated in the FIRST IV professional development program compared with faculty who did not participate; (2) the long-term impacts of a reformed introductory biology curriculum and instruction on student performance in subsequent upper-level biology courses; (3) model-based pedagogy as a strategy to help students conceptualize and reason about complex biological systems; (4) the impact of MSU's liberal learning curriculum on students' scientific reasoning; and (5) the pedagogical content knowledge of instructors in introductory biology course and its influence on instructional design.
FIRST IV Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching: Postdoctoral Scholars
FIRST IV is a national dissemination project designed to reform undergraduate biology education through professional development of 200 postdoctoral scholars. Through two intensive workshops and extensive mentoring by a team of scientists who are expert innovators, teachers, and professional developers, FIRST IV postdocs design learner-centered introductory biology courses that use active, inquiry-based pedagogies. During the academic year following the first workshop, postdocs teach an entire course or a portion of a course and receive mentoring from expert FIRST IV faculty. The research design for evaluating the effect of professional development on postdoctoral fellows' teaching and their students' learning includes a paired-course study of postdocs who are now faculty with peers in their institution, teaching a similar course, who did not participate in FIRST IV. Surveys, direct observations via videos, and class materials are key components of this analytical model. In addition, we are tracking the postdocs through tenure to evaluate the impact of their teaching toward promotion.
Reform of Introductory Biology: BioSci
Biological Sciences (BioSci) is a large introductory biology program at Michigan State
University. We transformed BioSci 110/162, a course focused on populations and organisms, from a passive lecture format to an active, learner-centered course. Research in BioSci includes development of a reform model, implementing active learning pedagogies, and reforming accompanying laboratories to inquiry-based. We are conducting a longitudinal study of student learning and persistence in STEM majors. In subsequent introductory courses – genetics, ecology and evolution – we are comparing students' performance on specific assessments in the reformed BioSci course with those who took other versions of the same course.
Science Practice-Based Pedagogy
Understanding complex systems is fundamental to science and science education, especially in the biological systems. As part of the reform of BioSci toward a learner-centered pedagogy, we incorporated model-based learning to help students conceptualize and reason about complex biological systems and to provide a method for students to conceptualize complex biological systems. We are investigating the development of student modeling skills and their ability to represent and understand complex biological systems. Our research focuses on use of models for analyzing students thinking about biological systems and leads to the question, how do students learn synthesis?
Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK)
This research focuses on documentation of the knowledge that instructors of undergraduate biology courses have about: (a) the content that they teach, (b) how they teach specific biological concepts and why they teach the in a specific way, (c) how they think about common student biological prior knowledge and misconceptions and how to address these in their teaching, and (d) how they think about assessing student knowledge on specific biological concepts. The research in PCK of science instructors in higher education is extremely parse and limited and we will expand upon it to inform and enhance professional development programs.
Graduate Teaching Assistant Professional Development
Graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs) teach a large number of undergraduate biology classes
with little to no professional development specific to teaching college biology. We conducted research on TA professional development as it has always been done in an introductory biology course; results informed the development of a new model of professional development that is learner-centered and active. We are investigating TAs beliefs and classroom practices in response to each professional development model.
Wyse SA, Long TM, Ebert-May D. 2014. Teaching assistant professional development in biology: Designed for and driven by multidimensional data. CBE Life Sci Educ 13:212-223. doi:10.1187/cbe.13-06-0106.