Life Sciences (Departments of Botany, Microbiology & Immunology, Zoology)

CWSEI-Funded Research:

Use of Scientific literature across the Biology Program: Life Sciences STLFs N. Schimpf, T. Rodela have undertaken a program-level project examining how scientific literature is used in Biology courses. Surveys are being developed to collect perspectives from both a faculty and students.

Characterizing Active Classrooms and Student Learning: Laura Weir, Lisa McDonnell, Megan Barker, Natalie Schimpf, and Tammy Rodela are conducting a department-wide study examining whether a relationship exists between levels of active learning in classrooms (characterized through COPUS observations) and student learning (pre-post test CI scores). Data collection and analysis is completed and a manuscript is in preparation. PDFPoster: UBC Science Ed Open House 2016.

Three stage online homework model: providing timely feedback to students in large enrollment courses: Tammy Rodela is measuring how a required homework assignment with a reflection stage helps students interact with course materials. Data collection is complete and analysis is underway.

Effects of jargon on conceptual understanding: Megan Barker and Lisa McDonnell conducted a pilot project to assess the effects of jargon on learning new concepts in first year biology. Paper: McDonnell, L., Barker, M. K. and Wieman, C. (2016), Concepts first, jargon second improves student articulation of understanding. Biochem. Mol. Biol. Educ., 44: 12–19. doi:10.1002/bmb.20922..

Study skills workshops to improve student performance: Laura Weir, in collaboration with Ashley Welsh, Sara Harris, Costanza Piccolo, Sandra Merchant, and Jackie Stewart, has been running workshops in BIOL 121 to help students understand how the course learning objectives can be linked to exam questions. Next steps toward improving the effectiveness of these workshops are underway.

Pre-reading Study: Mandy Banet collaborated with Cynthia Heiner (former STLF in Physics) to study the implementation of directed pre-readings in across disciplines. PDFPaper (2014): Preparing students for class: How to get 80% of students reading the textbook before class.

Problem Solving in Genetics: Lisa McDonnell conducted a study to investigate how students solve problems in genetics, and how to modify course activities to improve student ability at problem solving in genetics. Student interviews and tests continue to be collected to assess the effectiveness of changes to the way we teach problem solving. Posters (PDFCWSEI EOY 2014; PDFSABER 2014: Beyond the content: Improving student problem-solving in genetics). Manuscript prepared for submission.

Retention of conceptual and procedural knowledge in genetics: Lisa McDonnell is measuring the degree of retention of conceptual understanding and procedural knowledge (how to solve problems) in genetics. Students from summer, fall, and spring terms are recruited approximately 2.5 months after course completion to write a previously-written conceptual inventory and exam questions. Data collection and analysis is complete and a manuscript is in preparation. PDF Poster (CWSEI EOY 2013): Comparing post-course retention of conceptual and procedural knowledge in genetics.

Two-stage Collaborative Test Study: Bridgette Clarkston collaborated with Brett Gilley (STLF in EOAS) to study the effects of testing students in groups vs. individually on student learning. PDFTheir paper: Collaborative Testing: Evidence of Learning in a Controlled In-Class Study of Undergraduate Students was published in the Journal of College Science Teaching (Vol. 43, No. 3, 2014).

Constructing logical arguments: Laura Weir is examining the effectiveness of repeated practice with feedback on the construction of logical arguments on open-ended essay type examinations.

Biology Attitudinal Survey: Gulnur Birol and Malin Hansen have completed a study that compares student attitudes in first and fourth year courses. The CLASS pre and post biology attitude surveys have been used in several first and fourth year courses between 2009-2013. This is part of a longitudinal study where we investigate shifts in students’ attitudes towards biology from first to fourth year. Paper (CBE-LSE 2014): Longitudinal Study of Student Attitudes in a Biology Program.

Evidence-Based approach to teach genetic linkage and recombination: Lesson and tutorial activities developed by Lisa McDonnell and Jennifer Klenz. Activities used and tested (via clicker questions and post-test) in 200 level genetics class. Poster (SABER 2014): Exploring ways to overcome misconceptions about genetic linkage and molecular markers, article accepted for publication (CourseSource,

Learning Activities/Case Studies: Malin Hansen studied the effectiveness of in-class activities in BIOL 121 and BIOL 230 using a concept inventory in population and community ecology.

Tutorial vs. in-class activities: Malin Hansen compared student learning from using separate tutorials in addition to traditional lectures vs. in-class activities using a concept inventory in population ecology.

Use of analogies to teach ecology: Malin Hansen studied the effectiveness of using analogies when teaching ecology using optional tutorials in BIOL 230/304 in the fall of 2011.

Invention Activities: Jared Taylor, George Spiegelman and Karen Smith conducted a study of the effectiveness of invention activities in developing students’ reasoning/problem solving skills and ability to transfer knowledge to novel situations.
PDFPaper (Winter 2010): Using Invention to Change How Students Tackle Problems — Jared L. Taylor, Karen M. Smith, Adrian P. van Stolk, and George Spiegelman (CBE—Life Sciences Education)
An Instructor's Guide and accompanying materials for Invention Activities in Cell Biology (11 MB zip file) - prepared by Jared L. Taylor and George B. Spiegelman in Life Sciences.

Learning Objectives: Jared Taylor in collaboration with Beth Simon, former STLF in Computer Science, conducted a study of student and faculty perceptions of the usefulness of learning goals. Their paper on this work is published in the Journal of College Science Teaching (Nov/Dec 2009). What is the Value of Course-Specific Learning Goals?

Student Satisfaction Survey: Harald Yurk and Gülnur Birol investigated student satisfaction within the biology program. In April 09, 2009 student responses were collected in fourteen forth year biology courses.

Writing Assignment Study: Rosie Redfield and Tamara Kelly conducted a study on the effect of different types of assignments on student's writing and clarity of thought (January – April 2008).

Characterising Active Classrooms and Student Learning: Laura Weir, Lisa McDonnell, Megan Barker and Natalie Schimpf are conducting a department-wide study examining whether a relationship exists between levels of active learning in classrooms (characterized through COPUS observations) and student learning (pre-post test CI scores).

Visual communication of classroom practices data: a design study for instructors, researchers, and institutions. In conjunction with Jessica Dawson (STLF from Computer Science). An investigation of the potential uses for COPUS data among the diversity of end-users, and design of appropriate visuals to aid interpretation and impact.

Collaboratively-funded Research:

Spin-off projects with funding from other resources (e.g. TLEF, Skylight, Faculty/Graduate Student Teaching Certificate Program) in addition to CWSEI funding:

Course Curriculum Mapping in a Multi Section Course: Angie O’Neill, Gülnur Birol and Carol Pollock have submitted a paper on the teaching and assessment of learning outcomes in a multi-section first year biology course.  

Non-majors Biology Course Development: Kathy Nomme and Gülnur Birol are conducting a study on student attitudes and beliefs towards biological sciences in a non-majors first year biology course using focus group interviews, midterm evaluations and attitudinal survey data.
Poster (Oct. 2008): Findings of the Impact of a Non-majors First Year Biology Course on Students’ Attitudes Towards Biological Sciences — Gülnur Birol, Kathy Nomme, Sandra Keerthisinghe, and Jennifer Klenz

Study Habits of Students in a 2nd year Biology Course: Gülnur Birol, Lacey Samuels, Ellen Rosenberg and Joanne Nakonechny are conducting a study on students’ study habits in BIOL 200 using both quantitative and qualitative data collected over a period of three years. 
Poster (Oct. 2008): How Do Cell Biology Students Learn Effectively? — Gülnur Birol, Ellen Rosenberg, Joanne Nakonechny, and Lacey Samuels

Questions for Biology: CWSEI is involved in this collaborative effort to develop concept inventories for biology. People involved are Gϋlnur Birol, Greg Bole, Sunita Chowrira, Brett Couch, Thomas Deane, Malin Hansen, Elizabeth Imrie, Erica Jeffery, Pam Kalas, Jennifer Klenz, Kathy Nomme, Rosemary Oh-McGinnis, Angie O’Neill, Carol Pollock, Karen Smith, George Spiegelman, Jared Taylor, Michelle Tseng (all at University of British Columbia) and Joan Sharp (at Simon Fraser University). PDF Poster (CWSEI EOY 2012): Developing Concept Inventories for Biology

Understanding the impact of jargon within first- and second-year biology to improve student learning: Skylight Development Grant, with matching funds from Biology Dept. People involved are Lisa McDonnell, Megan Barker, Marcia Graves (with additional support from James Cooke and Pam Kalas).