We want to change the way biology is taught at research universities. Our strategy is to provide current and future faculty with tested tools that will help them be outstanding teachers. The program derives its cohesion from the concept of “scientific teaching.” This means approaching teaching with the same rigor, spirit of experimentation, and creativity that scientists bring to research. The core practices of scientific teaching are using active-learning techniques (e.g., problem-solving, group discussion, interactive projects), revising teaching strategies based on assessment, and enhancing classroom dynamics by using a diversity of teaching techniques to reach a broad group of learners.
With our first two HHMI professor grants in 2002 and 2006, we aimed to spread scientific teaching through two programs: the HHMI Teaching Fellows Program for University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate students and postdocs, and the National Academies Summer Institute for Undergraduate Education in Biology for faculty nationwide. Both programs promote skills in classroom teaching and include a seminar on good practices for mentoring in the research laboratory. Program assessment indicates that the participants learn the theory and employ the practices of scientific teaching in their own classrooms.
Through the Fellows Program and the Summer Institute, we have developed a large group of enthusiastic ambassadors who have or plan to extend the principles of scientific teaching to their communities. We have trained 88 teaching fellows, who have developed a total of 48 teaching modules for biology classes and taught 17 courses to over 2,200 undergraduates. The Summer Institute has hosted more than 260 faculty from approximately 90 institutions; they currently teach about 100,000 undergraduates in biology annually. "Scientific teaching" is now part of the lexicon in higher education. Our book, Entering Mentoring, provides a script for the mentoring seminar and is used by instructors across the country. The seminar is now spreading: new instructors are found in each class of faculty who are trained.
The goal of the next phase of the HHMI professor project is to make the classroom teaching portion of the training also self-sustaining. To this end, we will create the materials needed for others to teach the HHMI Teaching Fellows program and the Summer Institute so these programs can be replicated extensively. The goal is to generate wholesale change in way biology—and science, generally—is taught in colleges and universities.
The keystone of this effort is the Scientific Teaching Toolbox, a Web site that will contain guidebooks, video clips, Powerpoint presentations, and instructional materials for teaching biology. Each tool will address a common challenge confronted by those who teach and implement scientific teaching. The toolbox will include:
- Video clips that capture challenging moments in undergraduate classrooms. Examples of challenges include inducing students to talk in large classrooms, handling students’ incorrect answers to questions in class, and midcourse corrections in response to assessment results.
- Plays about race and diversity. To establish a more welcoming environment for students from groups underrepresented in the sciences, we aim to help instructors and students talk about diversity issues through nontraditional, but tested and effective, means. We will work with members of the schools of drama at the Wisconsin and Yale University to conceive and perform short plays that dramatize issues of diversity in the classroom provoke discussion and reflection about the experiences of others.
- Manual for group facilitators. We will develop a training manual for facilitators who guide groups in the Summer Institute and similar training opportunities. The manual will cover issues of group dynamics, maintaining structure while encouraging creative digression, and enhancing group productivity.
- Teachable units. Materials developed by past teaching fellows and Summer Institute participants will be made available on the website. Instructions for implementation will make the materials useful with or without the training.
- Controversies course materials. We will develop a new set of classroom materials based on the Controversies in Science and Technology book series. The materials will be developed and tested at Yale and Wisconsin, revised based on reviews from students and instructors, and added to the toolbox.
The result will be a robust set of materials that will enable many instructors to share the principles and practices of scientific teaching. By enlarging the group of educators who train others in scientific teaching, we will amplify the impact of this grant. Moreover, further dissemination and expansion of our impact will be effected by my move to Yale University, where these programs will also be implemented.
My lab studies the communication networks within microbial communities and between microbial communities and their host organisms. The soil community, historically the richest source of antibiotics used in human medicine, is of particular interest because of its chemical diversity. But the vast majority (greater than 99 percent) of soil bacteria are resistant to culturing, and their antibiotics remain inaccessible by traditional means. Believing that the uncultured bacteria of the soil contain a treasure trove of medicinal chemistry, my lab applies an approach we call metagenomics, which provides access to the chemistry of uncultured bacteria. Metagenomics is the analysis of the collective genomes of uncultured organisms, accomplished by extracting DNA directly from the soil and cloning it into a culturable organism. Analysis of metagenomic libraries has led to the discovery of new genes, proteins, and small molecules, including new antibiotics and signal molecules.
In addition, we study the structure and function of the microbial community that resides in the caterpillar gut. This simple community is an excellent model for more complex gut microbiota because the insect gut can be readily manipulated and the community contains fewer than 10 species. We have shown that members of the gut microbiota can undergo a dramatic shift from commensal organisms to deadly pathogens, and we are exploring conditions that favor or prevent this event. We are also exploring what makes a community robust or resistant to invasion and what makes an invader able to breach the community barrier.