Science teaching, science learning

sharing evidence-based practices for undergraduate science faculty 

Brame CJ. Effective educational videos: Principles and guidelines for maximizing student learning from video content. Accepted: CBE--Life Sciences Education. 

Educational videos have become an important part of higher education, providing an important content delivery tool in many flipped, blended, and online classes. Effective use of video as an educational tool is enhanced when instructors consider three elements: how to manage cognitive load of the video; how to maximize student engagement with the video; and how to promote active learning from the video. This essay reviews literature relevant to each of these principles and suggests practical ways instructors can use these principles when using video as an educational tool.  

Biel R** and Brame CJ. Traditional versus online biology courses: Connecting course design and student learning in an online setting. Submitted: Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education. Online courses are a large and growing part of the undergraduate education landscape, but many biology instructors are skeptical about the effectiveness of online instruction. We reviewed studies comparing the effectiveness of online and face-to-face (F2F) undergraduate biology courses. Five studies compared student performance in multiple course sections at community colleges, while eight were smaller scale and compared student performance in particular biology courses at a variety of types of institutions. Of the larger-scale studies, two found that students in F2F sections outperformed students in online sections, and three found no significant difference; it should be noted, however, that these studies reported little information about course design. Of the eight smaller scale studies, six found no significant difference in student performance between the F2F and online sections, while two found that the online sections outperformed the F2F sections. In alignment with general findings about online teaching and learning, these results suggest that well-designed online biology courses can be effective at promoting student learning. Three recommendations for effective online instruction in biology are given: the inclusion of an online orientation to acclimate students to the online classroom; student-instructor and student-student interactions facilitated through synchronous and asynchronous communication; and elements that prompt student reflection and self-assessment. We conclude that well-designed online biology courses can be as effective as their traditional counterparts, but that more research is needed to elucidate specific course elements and structures that can maximize online students’ learning of key biology skills and concepts. 

Green NH*, McMahon D, and Brame CJ. Using online active learning techniques to convey time compensated sun compass orientation in the eastern North American Monarch. Accepted: Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education. A common tool that animals use to navigate in a constant direction is known as “time compensated sun compass orientation”.  This is the process by which animals use the position of the sun along with information from their internal circadian clocks to provide them with a directional heading.  Many circadian scientists and educators use this process as an example of how the internal circadian clock can directly influence animal behavior.  However, due to the multivariable nature of this biological process many students have difficulty grasping this concept.  We have created an online module that utilizes the principles of active learning to help facilitate student comprehension of this process.  This module contains instructional videos, practice problems and an interactive diagram to give students a chance to actively engage in activities to understand this process. We implemented this module in an undergraduate biological clocks class at Vanderbilt University and demonstrated that student use of this module significantly improved students’ understanding of this concept as well as their ability to solve complex problems involving the principles associated with time compensated sun compass orientation.   

Hamrin V, Vick R, Brame CJ, Simmons M, Vanderhoef D, and Smith L. Teaching a Systems Approach: An Innovative Quality Improvement Project. Journal of Nursing Education 55, 209-214, 2016

Healthcare systems in the United States (U.S.) are fragmented and complex to navigate. It is pertinent that advanced practice nurses (APNs) understand the complexities of healthcare systems and have the knowledge and skills to effect change. Providing care at the individual and population level is essential. Master’s level educational programs are poised to educate nurses to transform the healthcare system and improve quality by engaging students in projects that require advocacy within systems, in an effort to graduate students who are skilled to make system level changes. We designed an assignment consisting of a quality improvement project (QI) to provide students an opportunity to develop high-level thinking skills about patients, populations, and healthcare systems. This paper describes the objectives of the QI project in a master's level PMHNP curriculum and addresses common student challenges encountered with the implementation of a QI project in the student’s clinical setting. After implementing the project for one year, we reviewed our teaching strategies within the framework of adult and cooperative learning theories and reviewed student performance, introducing modifications to the assignment to improve students’ development of core competencies, address performance deficits, and build on evidence-based educational practices. The effects of the educational revisions on student performance and the long-term benefits of QI skills are discussed.   

Brame CJ and Biel R**. Test-enhanced learning: The potential for testing to promote greater learning in undergraduate science courses. CBE-Life Sciences Education 14, 1-12, 2015.

Testing within the science classroom is commonly used for both formative and summative assessment purposes to let the student and the instructor gauge progress toward learning goals. Research within cognitive science suggests, however, that testing can also be a learning event. We present summaries of studies that suggest that repeated retrieval can enhance long-term learning in a laboratory setting; that various testing formats can promote learning; that feedback enhances the benefits of testing; that testing can potentiate further study; and that benefits of testing are not limited to rote memory. Most of thesestudies were performed in a laboratory environment, so we also present summaries of experiments suggesting that the benefits of testing can extend to the classroom. Finally, we suggest opportunities that these observations raise for the classroom and for further research.

Ortega RA* and Brame CJ. The synthesis map is a multi-dimensional educational tool that provides insight into students’ mental models and promotes students’ synthetic knowledge generation. CBE- Life Sciences Education 14, 1-11, 2015.

Concept mapping was developed as a method of displaying and organizing hierarchical knowledge structures. Using the new, multidimensional presentation software Prezi, we have developed a new teaching technique designed to engage higher-level skills in the cognitive domain. This tool, synthesis mapping, is a natural evolution of concept mapping, which utilizes embedding to layer information within concepts. Prezi’s zooming user interface lets the author of the presentation use both depth as well as distance to show connections between data, ideas, and concepts. Students in the class Biology of Cancer created synthesis maps to illustrate their knowledge of tumorigenesis. Students used multiple organizational schemes to build their maps. We present an analysis of student work, placing special emphasis on organization within student maps and how the organization of knowledge structures in student maps can reveal strengths and weaknesses in student understanding or instruction. We also provide a discussion of best practices for instructors who would like to implement synthesis mapping in their classrooms.

Chick N and Brame CJ. An investigation of the products and impact of graduate student SoTL programs: Observations and recommendations from a single institution. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 9, No. 1, Article 3, 2015

This study offers an investigation of three graduate-level SoTL programs offered since 2007 at a mid-size, highly selective, private, research-intensive university in the southeastern United States. We identify patterns in these early experiences with the scholarship of teaching and learning, specifically the choices made while carrying out their first SoTL projects and their perceptions of the impact of the program. We analyzed 72 project posters and 39 impact survey responses. Drawn from the rich particularities of a single institution, this study offers insight into novice SoTL work and recommendations for developing introductory SoTL programs on other campuses.

Rao AS*, Fan J*, Brame CJ, and Landman BA. Improving conceptual understanding of signals and systems in undergraduate engineering students using collaborative in-class laboratory exercises. 2014 ASEE Annual Conference, paper ID #9790
Three MATLAB-based in-class collaborative laboratory exercises were introduced in conjunction with the traditional lecturing and problem-solving techniques in the signals and systems course at Vanderbilt University. These labs were developed to enhance students’ conceptual understanding and retention using MATLAB simulations of audio synthesis and processing, using guitar notes as signals and processing these signals through linear timeinvariant (LTI) systems to produce sound effects. The impact of the new curriculum on students’ conceptual understanding was evaluated through three techniques – quantitative assessment using the Signals and Systems Concept Inventory (SSCI), and qualitative assessment using a voluntary end-of-semester lab survey and a small group analysis. Analysis of SSCI scores from the first batch of students in the new curriculum indicated a course average normalized gain of 0.54 in the discrete time SSCI and 0.61 in the continuous time SSCI student performance. Student agreement on the labs (reinforcing the concepts of signal transforms and visualization, convolution and filtering) correlated well to their actual SSCI scores on questions based on these concepts. Analysis of subtest topics suggested persistence of common misconceptions, thereby motivating suitable changes to the lab exercises to be implemented in future semesters. Student performance and responses indicated that the collaborative laboratory exercises improved student learning and also suggested areas for improvement in the lab exercises for future semesters.
Chiang H**, Robinson LC, Brame CJ, and Messina TM. Molecular mechanics and dynamics characterization of an in silico mutated protein: A stand-alone lab module or support activity for in vivo and in vitro analyses of targeted protein. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 41: 402-408, 2013.
Over the past 20 years, the biological sciences have increasingly incorporated chemistry, physics, computer science, and mathematics to aid in the development and use of mathematical models. Such combined approaches have been used to address problems from protein structure–function relationships to the workings of complex biological systems. Computer simulations of molecular events can now be accomplished quickly and with standard computer technology. Also, simulation software is freely available for most computing platforms, and online support for the novice user is ample. We have therefore created a molecular dynamics laboratory module to enhance undergraduate student understanding of molecular events underlying organismal phenotype. This module builds on a previously described project in which students use site‐directed mutagenesis to investigate functions of conserved sequence features in members of a eukaryotic protein kinase family. In this report, we detail the laboratory activities of a MD module that provide a complement to phenotypic outcomes by providing a hypothesis‐driven and quantifiable measure of predicted structural changes caused by targeted mutations. We also present examples of analyses students may perform. These laboratory activities can be integrated with genetics or biochemistry experiments as described, but could also be used independently in any course that would benefit from a quantitative approach to protein structure–function relationships.
Brame CJ, Pruitt WM, and Robinson LC. A molecular genetics laboratory course applying bioinformatics and cell biology in the context of original research.CBE—Life Sciences Education 7: 410-421, 2008.

Research based laboratory courses have been shown to stimulate student interest in science and to improve scientific skills. We describe here a project developed for a semester-long research-based laboratory course that accompanies a genetics lecture course. The project was designed to allow students to become familiar with the use of bioinformatics tools and molecular biology and genetic approaches while carrying out original research. Students were required to present their hypotheses, experiments, and results in a comprehensive lab report. The lab project concerned the yeast casein kinase 1 (CK1) protein kinase Yck2. CK1 protein kinases are present in all organisms and are well conserved in primary structure. These enzymes display sequence features that differ from other protein kinase subfamilies. Students identified such sequences within the CK1 subfamily, chose a sequence to analyze, used available structural data to determine possible functions for their sequences, and designed mutations within the sequences. After generating the mutant alleles, these were expressed in yeast and tested for function by using two growth assays. The student response to the project was positive, both in terms of knowledge and skills increases and interest in research, and several students are continuing the analysis of mutant alleles as summer projects.

In review

Tramontano S*, Guilherme ARG, Claiborne L, and Brame CJ. Developing and incorporating instructional videos and quizzes as an online learning component in an undergraduate optical microscopy curriculum. Submitted: Journal of Geosciences Education. 

Finch V, Ehret C, and Brame CJ. The flipped classroom in historical and theoretic context: Where might we go from here? Submitted: Journal on Excellence in College Teaching. 

* Graduate student collaborator

** Undergraduate student collaborator