An Education Group for Innovation in Undergraduate Biology Education
Summary: Graham Walker’s HHMI education research group will allow him to develop new tools and curricula for undergraduate biology while training young scientists to become educators. The group’s graduate student and postdoctoral members will participate in a variety of teaching and educational projects, and play leadership roles in the continuing development and dissemination of student-friendly software programs like StarBiochem and StarGenetics.
During my 2002 HHMI professor grant, we launched the HHMI education research group where postdocs interested in becoming educators received training and mentoring and collaborated on designing, refining, and evaluating new tools and curricula for undergraduate biology. The group, modeled after my scientific research team, carried out a variety of activities designed to excite graduate students and postdoctoral fellows about science education at an early stage of their careers. These activities revolved around group meetings where education research was presented and members of the university community could attend.
The education group collaborated with software developers in MIT’s Office of Education Innovation and Technology to develop StarBiochem, a freely-available, 3-dimensional protein viewer that enables students to learn key concepts in structural biology in an interactive manner. Our work on this software laid the groundwork for StarGenetics, which allows students to perform simulated genetic experiments. The STAR software has been used by more than 3,500 undergraduate and high school students at MIT, Brandeis, and the Broad Institute. StarBiochem received more than 15,000 visits from 700 cities in 70 countries.
During our education group discussions, we decided that one of the biggest barriers to student understanding is the difficulty separating central and enduring scientific concepts from details. To help, we created the Biology Concept Framework (BCF), a document that organizes the content of the MIT introductory biology courses around the key concepts that are important for students to retain. We published two papers about the design of the BCF and its use in planning curriculum and in diagnosing and eradicating scientific misconceptions. We were invited to make a presentation about the BCF to the National Science Foundation committee charged with redesigning the Advanced Placement biology curriculum. We also used the BCF to develop a set of introductory biology lectures that have been viewed more than 400,000 times on MIT's OpenCourseWare Web site and YouTube.
Other activities of our original HHMI education research group included developing field trips to MIT for local high school students and helping to establish the National Biology Olympiad. We hosted a summer workshop for high school teachers about the latest developments in biology research that included lectures by MIT faculty and the opportunity to develop new curricula for their classes. We held seminars that encouraged MIT faculty and students to search primary science education literature for new teaching methods that increase students' ability to learn, retain, and integrate new material. An indicator of the education group's success is that many former members have gone on to assume leadership positions at the research/education interface at other institutions.
With our new HHMI grant, we will re-establish an HHMI education research group. We will focus on several projects, starting by developing new STAR software programs and related curriculum for teaching biology. We will develop additional curricular materials to enrich the online courses created during the first HHMI grant and make them publically available through the OpenCourseWare site. We will build on the BCF and enhance its uses in course design and assessment. Finally, we will develop curriculum and teaching materials for a quantitative biology program that will bring students and teachers from minority-serving institutions to MIT for a week to learn how to use MIT’s educational software .
Overall, we would like to extend our accomplishments to the national and international levels by training talented young MIT scientists to incorporate educational innovation into their professional careers. We also plan to teach students from other institutions, especially those serving underrepresented minority/disadvantaged populations, how to use the resources developed by the education research group.
Khodor, J., D.G. Halme, and G.C. Walker. "A Hierarchical Biology Concept Framework: A Tool for Course Design, Assessment, and Revision." Cell Biol. Educ. 3 (2004): 111-121.
Halme, D.G., J. Khodor, R. Mitchell, and G.C. Walker. "Small-Scale Concept-Based Laboratory Component: The Best of Both Worlds." Cell Biol. Educ. 3 (2006): 111-121.
As of May 30, 2012