The MSU CCT is a university-wide certification but a college-based program. The specific program offered by the College of Natural Science is the Certification in Teaching College Science and Mathematics (program details).
MMG 425 - Microbial Ecology
Dr. Ashley Shade (Spring 2019 & Fall 2019)
Analyzed student exam scores aligned to learning objectives, identified areas of under-performance, developed an active learning exercise to complement the course material, iteratively improved the activity over multiple semesters, analyzed student performance data and demonstrated significant improvement in multiple areas. Report and Mentor Evaluation. (Manuscript in Preparation)
MMG 302 - Introductory Laboratory for General and Allied Health Microbiology
Dr. Terrence Marsh (Spring 2017)
Presented lab lectures; managed lab materials; supervised student experiments; held weekly office hours; graded lab notebooks, final reports, and technical competencies.
PLP 847 - Advanced Mycology
Dr. Gregory Bonito (Fall 2016)
Prepared lab materials and assisted with class assignments; gave a lecture on fungal plant endophytes.
BS 171 - Cell & Molecular Biology Lab
Dr. John Urbance (Fall 2015)
Presented weekly lab lecture; supervised lab exercises; created and graded lab quizzes; graded lab reports, course assignments, and exams; held weekly office hrs; supervised an undergraduate learning assistant who graded pre-labs and helped conduct lab exercises.
Summary of BS171 Student Evaluations
1. Discipline Related Teaching Strategies &
2. Effective Learning Environments
Collegiate biology education in the 21st century faces two main challenges: the increasing undergraduate student diversity and the rapid advancement of biological knowledge. Student diversity necessitates a less detail-oriented, more broadly applicable and engaging course. However, the pace at which biological knowledge advances requires ever more prerequisite knowledge to understand current breakthroughs.
Student diversity comes in many forms: social, economic, ethnic, and educational backgrounds and career trajectories. As our collective knowledge of individual fields of study has matured, advancements have begun to focus on the intersections of multiple disciplines. As such students may approach biology with a wide variety of existing knowledge and previous experiences of the subject. It can be challenging for an instructor to establish a baseline of prerequisite knowledge upon which to construct their course without unintentionally discriminating against one or more student sub-populations. However, survey courses that are “a mile wide and an inch deep” are often overwhelming and boring, since students never get to engage with a deeper understanding in a particularly interesting subject and are left with a sense of dissatisfaction and boredom. Moreover, knowledge that is not connected to their own experience or which students are self-motivated to understand is mentally isolated and quickly lost.
Student diversity affects potential learning in multiple ways, including language barriers, educational history, personal & career interests, and experiences of educational environments. Moreover, the diversity of college students extends beyond their personal history. Other possible barriers to effective learning could include learning disabilities (e.g., auditory, visual, cognitive, or mobility) and course/work schedules.
All of us who teach undergraduates, therefore, need to find a balance between providing the depth of coverage required to promote appropriate student conceptual understanding while still providing needed factual knowledge. To meet this challenge, we can no longer rely solely on trying to cover a syllabus packed with topics to be covered in lecture and guided laboratory sessions—an approach that can be counterproductive and can often leave students with a misguided and, possibly, negative impression of biology. Rather, we all need to rethink what we teach—what has been historically significant in biology, what key research is being carried out today, and what implications that research may have in the future—while meeting the needs of an ever more diverse student population.” – Brewer, C. A., & Smith, D. (2011)
New course designs are student-centered and employ problem-based active learning to engage students and facilitate knowledge transfer/integration with other disciplines (Gijbels et al., 2005). Inclusion of data analysis and model development develop student critical thinking and require real engagement with the material, rather than memorization. Moreover, these practices also give students a framework for applying the facts and vocabulary that must simply be memorized. Fortunately, biology is a perfect subject for these teaching strategies, as for most any topic one can identify case studies and real-life examples personally relatable to most humans, regardless of background. Once the fundamental principles have been grasped in one system, it is easy to show students how this directly translates to another that is less immediately understandable. Within each lesson of a course, teaching strategies often include a semi-flipped style, beginning class with a discussion of the pre-class activity, and cycling through a very short lecture, group discussion/activity, and class discussion of group responses. The pre-class activity is often meant to engage and excite students, while providing a shared starting point and prompting student questions or awareness of knowledge gaps. The mini-lectures provide new knowledge and reinforce vocabulary/memorization, then group and class discussion provides opportunity for peer explanation/instruction, knowledge synthesis, and practice applying the new knowledge from the short lecture. These short cycles can be repeated several times within each class meeting.
Beyond instructional design, an effective learning environment integral to successful teaching and learning. Peer interaction has been shown to improve individual learning and foster a sense of community rather than competition. Creating a positive environment starts by establishing trust and boundaries between the instructor and students. This can be begun by establishing a clear expectation of communication, mutual accountability, and non-competitive grading structure. On this foundation the instructor can present evidence and justification for policies and expectations of the students. This social contract can foster the necessary peer environment to motivate student participation and interest.
Beyond peer instruction and community, teachers can also design their course materials to employ multiple learning modalities, which also increases the accessibility of the material to those with additional physical challenges. Finally, continually encouraging students to identify and share connections between the course materials and other topics of study or interest can help students retain the material and this “crowd-sourcing” might allow students to make connections or contextualization that the instructor could not, reaching a sub-population that would otherwise have been underserved.
I developed and presented a pre-class engagement activity and prepared a full-length lesson plan to teach symbiosis. These were based on a short research manuscript on the commensal, mutualistic, and antagonistic interactions between plants, nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and other soil organisms. The lesson plan employed basic data analysis and simple modeling of interactions to encourage students to practice these skills.
Symbiosis Lesson Plan & Slides
In the CIRTL workshop “Integrating effective teaching and assessment practices in biology lab courses through case studies”, I studied and practiced developing course materials and lesson plans that integrated these teaching practices in lab courses. At the end of the course, I built a lesson plan on the subject of DNA replication with a pre-class activity focused on DNA sequencing.
CITRL – PCR Lesson Plan
I developed and presented a mini-lecture for my classmates on the topic of symbiosis. I started by engaging students with the occurrence and mortality statistics of mosquito-transmitted malaria. I briefly described the recent discovery of mosquito-endosymbiont induced sexual incompatibility and simultaneous prevention of infection by the malaria parasite. This led to a background discussion of the different types of symbiosis within the context of human interaction, transferred this to animal & plant interspecific interactions, and concluded with an active learning exercise identifying which types of symbiosis were involved in the mosquito-endosymbiont-malaria interaction. This mini-lesson is a small implementation of the course design principles essential to successful undergraduate biology education.
Mosquito Mini-Lecture Plan and Slides
Each of these courses and workshops has reinforced the importance of designing and teaching biology courses with active, problem based learning strategies in a collaborative, constructive learning environment. Moreover, I have learned that these two core competencies are fundamentally intertwined. One cannot describe the course design and pedagogical approaches without knowing the learning environment in which they expect to be operating. And any learning environment initially established will be fundamentally impacted by the materials and pedagogies employed by the instructor throughout the course.
While none of the lesson plans or activities I developed during these courses has been employed in a real course, I have applied the underlying strategies to the development of my mentored teaching project, which was a group activity that relied on student collaboration. In presenting my project to the class, I was very open and honest about it being a new tool still under development and solicited feedback from students. This engaged and empowered the students to feel like they were a valued part of an ongoing effort by the instructor to improve the course. Throughout the activity, groups each discussed the materials and the class was frequently called together to compare how each group had answered various worksheet questions. In addition to experiencing and observing the rapport and environment that my mentor had developed with their students, I also learned from my project mentor specifically when and how to structure solicitations for feedback to maximize productive responses. After the class session, I integrated the student and instructor feedback to reorganize and clarify the worksheet further for implementation in the next semester. From the two semesters of the activity, I also came to appreciate how group size, physical room layout, and even the number of worksheets per group affected the dynamic of the groups and the efficacy of the activity. As I continue throughout my career in curriculum design, I look forward to employing these pedagogical approaches and experiences to developing new materials and tools for motivating, engaging, and teaching biology to undergraduate students.
Brewer, C. A., & Smith, D. (2011). Vision and change in undergraduate biology education: a call to action. American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC.
Gijbels, D., Dochy, F., Van den Bossche, P., & Segers, M. (2005). Effects of problem-based learning: A meta-analysis from the angle of assessment. Review of educational research, 75(1), 27-61.
Linton, D. L., Farmer, J. K., & Peterson, E. (2014). Is peer interaction necessary for optimal active learning? CBE—Life Sciences Education, 13(2), 243-252.
3. Incorporating Technology in Your Teaching
Technology is increasingly prevalent in university classrooms and becoming a platform for teaching outside of a tradition classroom setting (e.g., online courses, hybrid courses, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)). In a traditional setting, “technology” can be Powerpoint slides, online content delivery and/or assessment, digital note-taking, topic-specific software, real-time “iClicker” assessments, or collaborative online documents (e.g., Google Sheets or Google Docs).
While these technologies have the potential to increase the accessibility, efficiency, and efficacy of content delivery, data collection and manipulation, and rapid assessment, it can also be challenging to the instructor to balance the advantages with the distraction. Also, with every piece of technology come technological issues, such as software incompatibility or a technologically “illiterate” for whom using the technology is an unfair burden and distraction. Moreover, use of computers in the classroom increases the likelihood of students becoming distracted by another topic or activity and the activity on their screen distracting even more students seated so as to view the screen. Finally, it is important for an instructor to select only the technology which is appropriate and useful to their specific course/lesson, since learning and switching between too many types of technology can become challenging, expensive, distracting, time-consuming, and overwhelming for students.
When designing a course and establishing the learning environment, a competent instructor will employ the technology that best suits their needs, is accessible to all students, and can be regulated by the instructor to maintain student engagement (e.g., all students put away your phones and laptops at the start of class, one student per group pull out a laptop later to access the necessary content).
I employed several pieces of technology for my Mentored Teaching Project. First, the lecture associated with the activity was provided as an online video lecture, rather than in class. During the activity, student groups used a paper worksheet and small colored pom-poms to conduct a simulation, then a representative of each group recorded the group data in a shared Google Sheet. Throughout the follow-up questions, I used a document scanner/projector to show the entire class the question under discussion and share group responses. At the end of the activity, I used iClicker questions and Post-It notes to collect student feedback on the activity. Finally, some of the midterm exam questions were designed to be answered using a Scantron, which considerably accelerated grading of student responses.
Technology is a tool, the value of which depends heavily on the manner and skill with which it is employed. There are a number of teaching-specific and non-specific technologies that can provide students with an enhanced learning experience, especially those that capture information in multiple forms and make it available and repeatable for study outside class on the student’s own schedule. Most of the classes I have taken used websites to distribute course materials and updates and the instructors used Powerpoint to present their lectures.
4. Understanding the University Context
Depending on the type of university at which one teaches, faculty may face a number of challenges when it comes to teaching and continued development as an instructor, especially as proponents of an active learning format. Many faculty whose appointments are divided between research and teaching are not given the support or resources (time, budget, or teaching assistants) that they would need to revise their course materials or the freedom to revise the content of core courses. Moreover, their performance as instructors is often based primarily on student reviews, so there is often fear of trying new styles or formats that might upset students by suddenly changing expectations.
It is critical for faculty to identify allies and university resources to advocate for the changes that they want to make. Many universities are beginning to compose centers and departments entirely of support staff to help faculty develop or improve aspects of their courses. Faculty mentors are also helpful as third parties to offer constructive feedback on teaching materials and strategies. I have also observed faculty who have opted to make changes to their courses gradually, revising one lecture at a time to spread out that extra labor.
Finally, faculty with research appointments can sometimes frame their extra teaching efforts as teaching-as-research, collecting additional data and making careful, controlled changes to their courses. With the appropriate supporting information, faculty can demonstrate improved student performance and engagement, even going so far as to publish their findings and apply for education-specific grants. Continued education in teaching pedagogy could be accomplished largely by staying current with recent publications and attending workshops and conferences. These efforts and evidence can enable successful teaching in an environment that might otherwise undervalue improving undergraduate education beyond the status quo.
Different types of universities and colleges have different student populations and expectations for course styles, teaching loads, and professional focus. When identifying employment opportunities and preparing application materials, it is critical to recognize the distinct context of a job posting. Otherwise, your application materials may not be suitable for the position and not meet the criteria of the search committee or you might find yourself in a job that does not satisfy your professional interests. Alternatively, one might not recognize the type of institution at which they might be happiest, being under the assumption that all academic environments are essentially the same.
Professional development opportunities also vary between different academic institutions. The workshops and seminars described above were excellent examples of such opportunities. In particular, the CIRTL workshops were online courses open to students and faculty from a wide variety of institutions, backgrounds, and interests. In addition to the seminar and workshop presentations, it was really interesting to chat with the other participants and learn about their goals and see those reflected in their draft teaching philosophy statements.
5. Assessing Student Learning
There goal of assessment is to measure whether students have achieved the learning objectives outlined by the instructor. One of the biggest challenges in assessing student learning is keeping assessments fair to all students. This means avoiding bias in the assessment style, accommodating physical student needs, and (often) distributing assessments across the course to ensure that students have multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning and mitigate the effect of a single poor performance due to outside factors. Assessments must be aligned with the learning objectives of the course and also to the actual course material and skills taught in the course. Well-designed assessments require higher cognitive effort than memorized facts and focus instead on application and integration of terms and concepts from across the course materials. They should also include well-written "distractors" or other opportunities for students to confidently demonstrate any misconceptions, rather than being pointed to the correct answer, without actively "tricking" or confusing students into the wrong answer. Finally, assessments must be appropriate to the time available for completion. This is particularly challenging in large cumulative exams, where instructors attempt to assess student learning at a detailed level across a large amount of the course material. In these cases, synthetic questions that combine multiple topics are particularly important, but should have room for students to earn partial credit if they don't remember or understand one of the underlying components.
There are two main categories of assessment, based primarily on the timing and intention of the assessment, rather than the form or style, though some styles are more suited to one category or the other. The first category is Formative Assessments. These are given early in the learning cycle, usually before and/or during the lesson. Formative assessments are mostly meant to interest and engage students with a question that they particularly relate to or may not be able to answer yet. They are also extremely useful for identifying student misconceptions, both for the instructor and for the student. The student may not pay much attention if they think that they know the answer, or attempt to integrate the new knowledge from the lesson on faulty foundational knowledge, and the instructor may not address that misconception if they don't realize it's existence. Formative assessments can also be used to lead students though practicing and developing necessary skills and connections between concepts. Possible type of formative assessments might include: multiple choice questions, simple data analysis, and modeling.
The other category is Summative Assessments. These are given at the end of the learning cycle and are usually the basis for evaluations and grades. These can often be built on, or even direct repeats, of formative assessments. Summative assessments are used to measure how well students met the learning objectives of the course and materials and identify any remaining misconceptions.
The goal of the mentored teaching project was to improve student performance on biogeography exam questions using an active learning exercise. This was accomplished by guiding students through several formative assessments that allowed students to first correct and/or reiterate the underlying vocabulary and core principles and then apply those terms and concepts repeatedly to different aspects of data analysis and modeling.
Mentored Teaching Project
CITRL – PCR Lesson Plan
Symbiosis Lesson Plan
Mosquito Mini Lecture Plan
My mentored teaching project used ungraded formative assessments to foster student learning of lecture material and then summative assessments in the form of questions on the midterm exam several weeks later. The formative assessments included asking for definitions of key vocabulary, data modeling, and then several free-response questions that required students to apply the vocabulary and the lecture concepts in ways that highlighted connections and differences between terms and concepts. The free-response questions built on each other, progressively constructing student's understanding and recognition of key principles and common themes. Each summative assessment targeted a different topic from the lecture and were closely aligned with the key foci of the learning activity. This allows the instructor to assess student learning with fewer questions, as each question calls on multiple smaller pieces of knowledge and comprehension.
The lesson plans developed in other courses and workshops also included formative and summative assessments. Most followed a similar pattern: progressively build up to the main point using formative assessments, then a summative assessment that closely resembles but is a little different from the ultimate formative assessment.