Bridging the Divide Between Research and Teaching in the Biomedical Sciences
Summary: Diane O'Dowd is identifying new ways to help current and future faculty maintain productive research careers while teaching more effectively in large classrooms and introducing undergraduates to the thrill of original scientific discovery.
Faculty at research institutions teach hundreds of talented undergraduates each year, but they often lack the training and support needed to help their students excel. When instructors create more interactive learning environments, students abandon the role of passive consumer and become partners in the learning process. With our first HHMI professor award, we introduced demonstrations, interactive projects, and other active-learning techniques into several large biology classes at the University of California, Irvine. Faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students embraced these strategies after seeing evidence of improved student attitudes and learning outcomes and institutional support for implementing the changes. To disseminate this information beyond our institution, we have developed Web-accessible resources, given talks and workshops at research universities and conferences, and published our results in peer-reviewed journals.
With the new award, we will continue to promote active learning by building on the success of projects launched with our initial HHMI support. One goal is to create more class time to reinforce scientific concepts by altering the traditional course learning cycle. These revamped courses will include "learn before lecture" modules, online exercises that teach textbook facts and concepts before students come to class. In the classroom, students will apply these concepts to recent scientific discoveries while guided by the professor and teaching assistants. This "hybrid" course offers students access to the prime commodity of a research universitynew knowledge not yet available in textbooks. It also allows them to learn about the process of scientific discovery and develop their critical thinking skills, with guidance from faculty who are actively involved in research. Our preliminary data demonstrate significant learning gains associated with several online modules and related in-class exercises that were piloted in our large introductory class. In the coming years, we will create and assess additional modules, moving toward a class that combines the best of online and in-class learning. We will work with other UC Irvine faculty to create hybrid versions of additional core courses and partner with faculty at the University of California, Davis, to learn whether similar strategies can be implemented at other campuses. To reach national and international audiences, we will continue to maintain a variety of Web resources, offer workshops at conferences and universities, and publish our data in peer-reviewed journals.
Another project in our initial HHMI grant was spurred by doctoral students who expressed interest in teaching, but had little or no access to educational training. We created a formal training program in interactive teaching methods for graduate student teaching assistants (TAs), who lead small discussion sections for large lecture courses. The program's goal is to provide training for TAs while they are teaching and help them develop strategies to balance teaching and research. So far, over 70 graduate students have completed the training program, which translates to more than 7,000 undergraduate students who have participated in these revamped discussion sections. We will continue to refine our TA training program, preparing additional graduate students to excel at both teaching and research. We will write a manualthe In Situ Biology TA Training Handbookthat institutions nationwide can use to guide their own training programs. To supplement the handbook, we will expand our online resources to include short videos of TAs implementing specific types of active-learning exercises (e.g., concept maps, model building), administrative tutorials for faculty, and links to other relevant online educational resources.
We have also explored additional strategies to provide undergraduates access to quality research experiences and to offer training in research mentoring for future faculty. These include participation in research teams including postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates; research study abroad opportunities; and research weekends for freshman students. In the coming year, we will revise the freshman laboratory experience, linking it more closely to our large lecture classes. Faculty and TAs will receive support to design a 2- to 3-hour hands-on exercise in their laboratories, related to course content. As we refine this model, we will expand the program to other institutions, starting with our collaborators at Brown University.
Related HHMI Project Publications
Aguilar-Roca, N., et al. "Two-Minute Training in Class Significantly Increases the Use of Professional Formatting in Student to Faculty Email Correspondence." International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 3 (2009):1-15. http://academics.georgiasouthern.edu/ijsotl/v3n1.html
O'Dowd, D.K., and N. Aguilar-Roca. "Garage Demos: Using Physical Models to Illustrate Dynamic Aspects of Microscopic Processes." Cell Biology Education 8 (2009):118-122.
Gu, H., et al. "Cav2-Type Calcium Channels Encoded by cac Regulate AP-Independent Neurotransmitter Release at Cholinergic Synapses in Adult Drosophila Brain." Journal of Neurophysiology 101 (2009): 42-53.
Hilgenberg, L.G.W, et al. "Regulation of A3 Sodium Potassium ATPase Activity Modulates Cardiac Myocyte Contraction." Journal of Biological Chemistry 284 (2009):16956-65.
Our lab studies the activity of living neurons from the brains of fruit flies, Drosophila melanogaster, and mice. Using the powerful molecular genetic approaches feasible in these model systems, we are exploring the role of specific receptors, ion channels, and signaling cascades in regulating communication between cells in neural circuits that generate complex behaviors.
In one set of studies we are focusing on identifying genes important in regulating neural communication during memory formation in Drosophila. To this end our lab has developed techniques to record from neurons in the brain of the tiny fruit fly. Our recent studies of antennal lobe and mushroom body neurons demonstrate that both calcium currents and gap junction communication regulate activity in the circuit that processes information during olfactory associative learning. We are exploring how distinct channel subtypes regulate activity in the olfactory circuit by assessing the physiological consequences of manipulating expression of these genes in specific cell types. In a second project we are investigating the cellular mechanisms underlying the human disorder Generalized Epilepsy with Febrile Seizures (GEFS+), using a genetically accurate model created in Drosophila through ends-out homologous recombination.