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This conference is managed by the American Society for Microbiology
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(1) describe your teaching responsibilities



Biol 195/145

Intro Research Lab class


Biol 542

Laboratory in Neurophysiology

Biol 328

Principles of Physiology


Fall and Spring

Fall semester (5 weeks)



21 students/semester

8 students

72 students

Student population

First year biology majors


Senior biology majors

Junior and senior biology majors

Underrepresented minorities




Class format

Laboratory course

Laboratory course

Lecture and laboratory course

Role in the course

Sole instructor

Sole instructor

Sole instructor

(2) describe your student learning challenge or problem

The process of science is a common thread in all of my classes and I work with my students to help them to improve on their ability to develop hypotheses and predictions, design experiments to test their hypotheses and to make sense of the data that they collect from their experiments.  In engaging my students in activities around these skills I have been confronted with the gap between novice and expert abilities.  Specifically, I am interested in understanding student difficulties with making and interpreting graphical representations of data. 

In my experience I have noticed that students will often default to a particular type of representation of data regardless of what the variables are, what the hypothesis tested is, and what is actually appropriate (e.g. the use of line graphs with categorical data).   Student written reflections suggest that their choices are often based on very superficial criteria.  I would like to know if this reflects some deeper gap in knowledge or if it is merely based on lack of practice.  Related to student abilities to choose and create appropriate representations of their data is their ability to interpret representations.   In student written and oral descriptions of their data and data in research articles it is clear that many of them do not fully describe and interpret graphical representations.  Often the students seem satisfied with a superficial description.  Whether this is a matter of motivation or if it suggests gaps in their understanding is unclear.

I can envision multiple questions to ask related to student difficulties in creating and interpreting visual representations of data.  One research question is whether student difficulties in selecting appropriate representations for their data stems from their lack of understanding of what different representations of data imply and convey or if these difficulties arise from a lack of understanding the data in the first place.   If students struggle with understanding and interpreting figures, then they may have difficulties constructing their own representations of data.  It is possible, however, that there is a more fundamental problem.  Data collected by Dr. Nancy Pelaez and her collaborators suggest that students do have difficulties related to experiments and data; students have with identifying variables and measurements.  If students don’t have a strong understanding of experimental design and variables, then they will struggle with representing their data visually.

I have begun to gather data in an attempt to understand where the difficulties arise.  However, I have not been formally trained in education research, so I feel that I would benefit immensely from guidance on how to best approach this research interest and design focused experiments/inquiries to answer my questions.  I think that answering my questions could open the door to a more developed research plan with the development of testable hypothesis and the identification of the appropriate assessments.

(3) describe your professional development goals.

I am in transition in my career at the moment attempting to move from a position primarily focused on teaching and developing effective practices in the classroom to a position more focused on understanding, through education research, the reasons why students struggle with certain aspects of the process of science.  By understanding why students struggle with things, this will inform strategic interventions to help them.  I would like to engage more fully in the research side of education with my own questions and have this inform not only my own teaching practices, but those of others.

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