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Teaching Responsibilities:


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As Department Head, I teach a (slightly) lighter load – one lecture with two labs, or two lecture courses each semester.  Over a two-year cycle, I typically teach the following:


Course Number

Course Name

Enrollment Cap


Biol 255

Molecular Genetics


4% (F'10)

Biol 225



14% (S'11)

Biol 101

General Biology



VAST 255

Plagues, Progress, & Bioterrorism


Not taught in the past 5 years.


Students in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology are typically science majors (Biology, Biochemistry, Physics, Engineering, Neuroscience).  General Biology satisfies the lab-based requirement in the Common Course of Study and draws a much more diverse population of student majors.  VaST (Values and Science/Technology) is also a required course in the Common Course of Study.  Students are enrolled in this course in the spring of their sophomore year – the same semester they declare a major. 

 Admittedly, Lafayette does not have a large population of underrepresented and minority students.  One mechanism by which we have increased our minority population is partnering with the Posse Foundation; our first group of Posse Scholars graduated in 2005. 


Student Learning Challenge/Problem:


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I would like to examine the ability of our students to 'read a Figure or Table'.  One of our Program Outcomes for our majors (and new learning outcome adopted for all graduates) is their ability to create, interpret, and critically evaluate descriptions and representations of scientific data including graphs, tables, and models.  The abundance of graphics in magazines, newspapers, and electronic media has elevated being ‘graphicate’ to an important part of everyday knowledge, equal to being literate and numerate[1].  Schank (1994[2]) listed graphing (including producing, reading, and critiquing graphs) as one of the seven most important skills of a professional biologist.  Learning to read and construct graphs should be an important part of a Biology curriculum, but it is not an explicit component of our program.

I know a problem exists (in our students) through our assessment efforts.  Late last spring in General Biology, following a discussion of dependent/independent variables, students were given a copy of a scientific poster and asked to identify: (i) the figure demonstrating the central finding, (ii) the dependent and independent variables, (iii) the control and test conditions, and to summarize the central finding of the research.  Science majors were able to identify control and test conditions (over 90% correct), but were much less successful at identifying independent and dependent variables (52% correct) and summarizing the central finding (42% correct).  Non-majors fared much worse (identifying dependent and independent variables, 18% correct; summarizing the central finding, 29% correct).  This is from a combined majors/nonmajors first year class.  I would like to develop several exercises that require General Biology students to participate in authentic graphing practices by analyzing representations of data related to their current lab module.  Students would work with their peers and lab coordinator/faculty member engaging in activities that are characteristic of scientists: producing graphs to convince others, producing graphs to elucidate patterns in data, reading articles that make use of graphs, and deconstructing graphical representations of data constructed by their peers (Bowen et al., 19993).  These activities should increase their competence in using graphical representation of data.

[1] Aberg-Bengtsson & Ottosson.  2006.  What lies behind graphicacy?  Relating students’ results on a test of graphically represented quantitative information to formal academic achievement.  J. Res. Sci. Teach. 43:43-62. 

[2] Cited in Bowen, GM, Roth, W-M and McGinn, MK.  1999.  Interpretations of graphs by university biology students and practicing scientists: toward a social practice view of scientific representation practices.  J. Res. Sci. Teach. 36: 1020-1043.

3 Bowen, GM, Roth, W-M and McGinn, MK.  1999.  Interpretations of graphs by university biology students and practicing scientists: toward a social practice view of scientific representation practices.  J. Res. Sci. Teach. 36: 1020-1043.


Professional Development:


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Teaching:  Following the adoption of our Strategic Plan, Lafayette established a new Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship (CITLS).  The resources directed at the CITLS have been used to promote workshops and seminars on teaching.  I attended the Problem-Based Learning Workshop at Lafayette in June 2010 led by faculty from the University of Delaware.  I have a long-term involvement in our local MicroEd Network – faculty in the greater Lehigh Valley who congregate three times each year to share ideas on teaching (in January and early June) and research (in late July).  In my Molecular Genetics lab, I integrated a kinesthetic activity on PCR (presented by Profs. Haydel and Stout at ASM-CUE 2010).  Students were much more successful at answering questions about PCR reaction after the kinesthetic activity (85% correct) compared to before (34% correct).

Assessment:  I attended the Assessment Institute 2010 (AI 2010) in Indianapolis, IN.  At AI 2010, I attended workshops and presentations on Capstone Experiences and Curriculum Mapping.  As the Department Head, I am responsible for the development, adoption, and implementation of our Assessment Plan.  I am also involved at the campus-level as the Chair of the Student Learning Assessment Advisory Committee to the Provost.  I believe by integrating new efforts to improve student learning through exercises in data representation with new assessment tools that will be developed through this Residency, we will be in a position to publish SoTL work on our General Biology course. 

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