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More than a Picture: Helping Undergraduates Learn to Communicate through Scientific Images
This essay describes the curriculum two Davidson College faculty members created to teach students in a developmental biology class how to communicate science effectively using images. Their thesis: Undergraduates rarely learn the imaging skills that most development biologists routinely use when they compare normal versus abnormal development and communicate their results. To give undergraduates a comparable set of skills, the educators developed an image training curriculum that included a series of portfolio assignments, workshops, research projects whose results were presented orally in poster format, and evaluation. The essay, which discusses the authors’ experiences teaching undergraduates the basic criteria involved in generating images that communicate scientific content, provides a road map for integrating the curriculum into any upper-level biology laboratory course. The authors write that, after incorporating image creation and analysis exercises into the curriculum, the students started their research projects with a “greater understanding, familiarity, and confidence in using microscopes to collect and communicate their experimental data.” They conclude that learning to communicate by using images is a “powerful skill that is an essential component of a developmental biologist’s toolkit and is also transferable to many other areas of communication and science.” The article, which contains color photographs of student work, including an example of a research project final poster, first appeared in the spring 2008 issue of CBE—Life Sciences Education, Vol. 7, pages 27–35.
Program Director: Verna Miller Case, Ph.D.
Award Years: 1988, 1996, 2004, 2008
Summary: Davidson College is a private baccalaureate institution in Davidson, North Carolina. Its HHMI-funded initiatives include:
- The use of multiple strategies to engage students in the biomedical sciences, including the creation of a community of mentors and peers to carry students beyond the gateway year;
- An intensive summer laboratory “bridge” experience for rising high school seniors from underrepresented groups that prepares them for the challenges of college introductory biology courses by teaching them basic laboratory techniques and scientific methodology; and
- Support for the collaborative Genomic Consortium for Active Teaching (GCAT), which has helped produce new cadres of student researchers, primarily by introducing powerful DNA microarray methodology into the undergraduate curriculum at more than 160 institutions in the United States and Canada.