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Reading Reflections

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  • How would you describe your “research problem(s)” to the Research Scholars group? 


A central part of experimental biology is the formulation and testing of hypotheses.  Although most would agree that experimental design and hypothesis testing should form part of the curriculum for students in first and second-year biology, incorporating this aspect of experimental biology is a very serious practical challenge in large-enrollment biology classes (500-1000 students).  The large numbers of students and limitations in space, equipment and teaching assistants make it very challenging to devise effective mechanisms to provide immediate and personalized feedback for exercises where students are asked to engage in hypothesis formulation and testing.  Through my research residency, I wish to study whether the incorporation of online simulations, in-class assignments and podcasts will help students reach a high enough level of understanding to formulate and test hypotheses on their own. 


  • What theme(s) based on your readings, resonate with your “problem” and/or your proposed approach to address your problem?


Dr. Bass provided a succinct and thoughtful account of some of the central issues in the scholarship of teaching development that mirrored many of the thoughts and experiences that I have also had while teaching in large-enrollment biology courses.  When I first started teaching, I reflected on my own experiences as a student, and based many of my teaching strategies on my own learning style.  Over time, my experience and help from many peers and mentors in teaching have helped me to broaden my outlook and to experiment with a much wider range of teaching strategies and approaches.  During the past seven years of teaching, I have come to understand better the ways I can tailor my teaching towards the primary goal of teaching and learning for understanding.  Also important, though, I have come to appreciate that for everything that I have learned which has seemed positive towards reaching this goal, I have also learned how difficult it is to assess how well my teaching approaches are working to achieve this goal.  The article by Dr. Bass helped articulate thoughts relating to this central problem that I found very illuminating and inspirational.



  • Based on Pat Hutchings article, what taxonomy would you use to describe your research question and why?


 The “Taxonomy of Questions” proposed by Dr. Hutchings helped to organize my thoughts about the current challenges that I am facing in my teaching and the ways in which I hope my new project will help.  At this point, I envision my project focusing primarily on the first question of “What works?”.  I am wondering to what extent the limited aspects of experimental design and hypothesis testing that I have incorporated into the curriculum are helping students understand these challenging concepts.  Related to this, I am also wondering how any new exercises or activities intended to engage students with formulating hypotheses and planning experiments could further help increase the depth and quality of student understanding.  The “What is?” question also seems to apply, as the nature of hypothesis formulation and experimental design are essentially open-ended and dynamic, and do depend on students' previous knowledge (including misconceptions!).  I think that conveying the essentially dynamic nature of the process and concepts to students may require me to adopt a less rigid and more organic approach to many aspects of my teaching.



  • Do you have any questions/concerns/comments that have evolved from your reading?


I found all of the readings interesting and thought-provoking in different ways.  I particularly enjoyed seeing that teachers in very different disciplines struggle with problems very similar to my own.  The thing that I am most looking forward to is share experiences with others in the group so that I can try new ways to solve the problems I have been facing in my courses. 

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