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Reading Reflections

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·  Identify and describe one of your courses that will serve as your “project course” for the work you do at the Institute.  

            I will be using Biology 414LS as my “project course.”  I currently teach this course both Fall and Spring semesters, though I occasionally do a different course.  Bio414LS is a small, upper-level laboratory course called (roughly) Experiments in Developmental Genetics. The class has an enrollment maximum of 12, and is mostly comprised of Senior and Junior Biology majors with the occasional Chemistry, Engineering, Neuroscience or Evolutionary Anthropology student.  The class meets for 8 hours a week in two 4-hour sessions. 

            In the class, students attempt to identify the gene that causes some historic Drosophila mutations. Students are broken into three person teams (school-yard style) and each team is given a different mutant strain.  The students use a number of databases and design a series of crosses that should narrow where the mutation lies on the chromosome.  They then use the whole genome sequence to determine what the lesion in the genome is, and what (and how) the gene is affected. 

            In addition, the students attempt to characterize the phenotype of the mutation, and eventually develop a hypothesis for how mutating that gene could lead to the phenotype. 


·  What constraints influence how you teach this course?  (e.g., large class size, laboratory format, non-majors)  

            The constraints for class include: 

Eight hours per week of class time (could probably get this changed, but it would be hard) 

Laboratory course (written in stone) 

12 student maximum (determined by the number of microscopes.  I have done it with 14 and 16 before due to necessity, and 14 worked because I had a spectacular TA, and 16 was a total nightmare. 

It is a “seminar” course (that’s the S in the course number) which means that a “significant” portion of the student’s grade must be determined by in-class presentations.  There is no rule what “significant” portion means.  I’ve been using 50% 

This is an upper-level capstone course, so expectations are extremely high for incoming students. 


·  What do you hope the students will learn in your course? 

            Using my newly almost-learned taxonomy of significant learning, I should be able to get it to something like: 

            Foundational Knowledge: 

Understand how changes in genome sequence lead to changes in phenotype. 

Understand the value a laboratory model system for research 

Understand (but not remember) basic Drosophila development. 


Analyze experimental results and make a conclusion (complementation tests & genome analysis) 

Use available data from multiple sources to design an experiment (complementation test) 

Know how to use basic laboratory equipment (microscopes, PCR machines, etc) 

Manage a complex project! Need to coordinate 3 people doing simultaneous experiments. 


Connect the cell biology of a model system to human development and disease. 

Connect the work they are doing to the science done in the Drosophila research field. 

            Human Dimension: 

Learn whether laboratory research is something they can and/or want to do. 

Learn to work and lead a group. 

Learn that work is actually work: sometimes one has to do 3 consecutive hours of grunt-work to get the result. 


Care enough about their mutation to work hard and contribute. 

Understand that the work they are doing is important to the field. 

            Learning How to Learn: 

Know how to use a database and how to get the information out of it that they need. 



·  How do you determine whether students have achieved the learning you describe in question #3? 


            POORLY!  That’s why I’m here! 


It seems that there are two levels of assessment going on here:  assessing the student (did they learn what was expected of them=grade) assessing the course (is the framework for good course in place and does it succeed in the learning that was anticipated).  Right now only the student is assessed in any meaningful way.  The course had the University course evaluations, but those are completely unrelated to course goals. 


The student is assessed by 4 or 5 presentations, 3 take-home quizzes, a final paper and a small amount for their lab notebook & participation. Some of the learning in #3 (while I hope it happens) shouldn’t be part of a student’s grade, it should only be part of the course evaluation.  The student’s presentations, quizzes & paper all reflect success in Foundational Knowledge and Application. 


·  Provide a list of 3–4 specific assessment strategies you are most interested in exploring during the Assessment Institute? 


            I would like to be able to create pre and post course evaluations that show that learning has taken place over the course of the semester. 

            I would like to be able to write assessments for students that reflect the core concepts and actually test them on multiple levels of understanding. 

            I would like to be able to grade presentations and papers in a less arbitrary way. 

            I would like to be able to take all of this and create a new course from scratch, using a best-practices approach with regard to content & assessment. 

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