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Using Genetics Podcasts to Make Time for Active Learning
This curriculum unit for college biology asks undergraduates to view a series of podcasts on the basic principles of genetics before coming to class—a strategy that makes class time free for active learning and group problem-solving. The podcasts (mini-lectures with PowerPoint slides) cover four topics—mitosis, meiosis, recombination, and quantitative genetics—that are critical for forming a foundation in genetics but are notoriously difficult for students to understand. In addition to the podcasts, the unit contains corresponding worksheets that students complete in class by working in groups with help from the instructor and teaching assistants. The worksheets serve as formative assessments: Faculty can identify students’ misconceptions and assess whether learning goals have been achieved. Developed by participants in the Teaching Fellows Program of the Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching, the unit employs scientific teaching—an approach that encourages students to actively seek, interpret, and synthesize information rather than to passively memorize facts. The developers note that the podcasts appeal to a diversity of learners and learning styles. For example, podcasts are particularly useful for students who speak English as a second language because they give students the chance to watch sections over again. Other curriculum units in the areas of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and molecular biology are also available from the Scientific Teaching Program’s digital library.
HHMI Professor: Jo Handelsman, Ph.D.
Award Years: 2002, 2006
Summary: Jo Handelsman, Ph.D., is an HHMI Professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who studies the communications networks of microbial communities. Her HHMI-funded initiatives include:
- The Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching, which trains scientists to bring the same creativity and rigor to their teaching as they bring to their research through two initiatives:
- The HHMI Teaching Fellows Program, which gives graduate students and postdoctoral fellows opportunities to learn the principles of scientific teaching and mentoring through course work, practical experience, and the development of curricula; and
- The annual HHMI-National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education in Biology, which selects some 40 faculty to participate in a five-day workshop in which they develop instructional materials for introductory biology courses.
- The HHMI Undergraduate Research Scholars program, which improves the research experience for students from groups underrepresented in the sciences. The students, selected from a national pool to work in labs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, meet weekly with Dr. Handelsman to discuss their research, interactions with mentors, and careers in biology.
- The creation of a course on the influence of human diversity on the way students learn and are treated by their instructors. The goal is to educate future teachers about the role diversity plays in the classroom and to create teaching materials to help instructors address diversity issues in biology courses.
- The development of a “cohort model” for summer research programs that will attempt to ease the transition of undergraduates who are members of minority groups to graduate school at predominantly majority-serving universities; and
- The creation of materials for a capstone undergraduate seminar, Science and Technology in Society.