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BACKGROUND - Robyn Puffenbarger

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Teaching challenge or problem 

My problem is how to assess the effectiveness of laboratory-based learning by students.  What content might be best delivered in lab?  Are there topics, specifically in genetics, that the different nature of lab allows for enhanced student learning?  I am afraid that most labs are set up in a cook-book way to illustrate concepts without much thought of what is best for student learning.  I am sure there is some literature describing the effectiveness of lab-based learning.  I am not sure how to effectively and meticulously access this type of publication.   

In terms of addressing my questions, I started at the Experimental Biology meeting in Washington, DC (2007).  I met post-doctoral students from the University of Colorado working on student learning in genetics.  Since I would be teaching genetics for the first time in fall 2007, I was very excited by the opportunity to do pre/post-assessment.  I used Colorado’s learning objectives to set up my course, and I used their pre/post-assessment test.  Comparing our data sets that first year, I was excited to see how well Bridgewater students learned a difficult topic, three-point crosses.  Bridgewater genetics students have a lab and perform a three-point test cross while the Colorado genetics students do not have a lab to illustrate this technique. Is the “enhanced” student learning by Bridgewater students due to the lab?  Can I more effectively measure learning in class versus lab based topics?  Is there a way to predict what topics students need to address “hands-on” in a lab setting to improve learning outcomes?  These are my questions.  I hope the Scholars Program will give me the tools to better tackle these issues.


Teaching Responsibilities: 



Course Department & Number 

Level and Description 

Number of Students 

Types of Students** 

PDP 150 

Freshman Seminar, “Introduction to the Liberal Arts” 

About 18 students/section; taught 4 times. 

14.6% African American. 

Philosophy 235 

Sophomores and up, “Bioethics” 

Average 34 per section; taught 4 times as a team with a professor from Philosophy and Religion. 

2.9% African American. 

Biology 100 

Non-majors Biology Course, “The Nature of the Biological World” 

Average 55 per section; taught 13 sections. 

Current section is typical with 14.9% African American students. 

Biology 210 

Non-majors Interterm Biotechnology Couse, “Hijacking Genes” 

Average 9 students per section; taught 4 sections. 

Interterm 2010 had one Asian American student. 

Biology 309 

Sophomore Level Required for Biology Majors, “Genetics” 

Average 47 students per section; taught 4 times. 

Fall 2010 section was typical with 3 African American students (5.8%). 

Biology 316 

Sophomores and up, Elective Course, “Ornithology: The Biology of Birds” 

Taught once with 6 students, spring 2010. 

No minority students. 

Biology 405 

Junior/Senior Level Elective, “Biochemistry” 

Average 10 students per section; taught 9 sections. 

No minority students. 

Biology 410 

Junior/Senior Level Elective, “Immunology” 

Average 8 students per section; taught 9 sections. 

No minority students. 

Biology 480 

Internship – students word off campus under the supervision of another adult.  Faculty member reads journal and assigns final grade. 

Average 2 per year. 

24 students advised, 2 were African American (8.3%). 

Biology 490 

Independent Study – students propose a project under the supervision of a faculty member.  Must have a 2.2 GPA to participate. 

About 1 per year. 

12 students mentored, most went on for a second semester to complete an honors project. 

Biology 500 

Honors Project – students propose a project under the supervision of a faculty member.  Must complete a project with thesis to graduate with “magna” or “summa” Latin honors.  Must have a 3.4 GPA to participate. 

About 1 per year. 

14 students mentored in their project and writing their thesis. No minority students advised in this process. 

** In fall 2010, Bridgewater enrolled a freshman class that was 35% first generation to college. 


Personal & professional goals 

In the previous 24 months, I have had some experience with the scholarship of teaching including 1) being an assessment coordinator for Bridgewater; 2) my involvement with ABLE (Association for Biology Lab Education); 3) giving a pre/post assessment in genetics with emails to Colorado; and 4) being instructor/coordinator with the 2010 CCLI Microarray Workshop at James Madison University (JMU).  At Bridgewater, I helped create the student learning outcome objectives (SLOO) and rubric for use in the natural sciences for our Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accreditation.  I am currently serving as the coordinator for the natural sciences area of assessment.  I want to understand how to improve our assessment goals, tools, data gathering, and analysis of results.  I joined ABLE in 2009.  I attended the meeting in Delaware in 2009 and presented a major workshop at Dalhousie in Halifax Canada in 2010.   

Since 2007, I have administered a pre/post assessment in my genetics course to better understand student learning.  Seeing the data from Bridgewater in comparison to the Colorado students really makes me question how to understand student learning and the effectiveness of lab for delivering content.  So far, my interaction with the Colorado researchers has been a bit sporadic on my part.  One of my 2011-2012 goals is to work more closely with Colorado to see if there is enough data from our four years of work on genetics assessment for a presentation and/or publication.  

Finally, I was an instructor and coordinator for an NSF funded microarray workshop in 2010.  As part of our workshop, we developed learning goals and assessment questions.  The abstract for our program will be presented at the ASM Conference for Undergraduate Educators (June 2011) at Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus in Baltimore, MD.

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