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Assistant Director, Center for Faculty Innovation hurney.jpg

Associate Professor, Biology


James Madison University 

Contact Information
5105 East Campus Library
Harrisonburg, VA 22807

Biological Research Interests

Salamander Tail Development   My research on the molecular aspects of segment formation in salamanders is a collaborative project with Sharon Babcock (JMU) and Janet Vaglia (DePauw University).  We are interested in analyzing the formation of embryonic and post-embryonic tail segments in Hemidactylium scutatum.   Axial elongation in the four-toed salamander, H. scutatum occurs throughout larval, juvenile and adult life history stages via the development and growth of additional caudal (tail) segments.  The morphogenetic problems that need to be solved to add caudal segments to post-embryonic vertebrate tails have never been addressed.  Insights into the underlying mechanisms for the continual addition of caudal segments throughout larval, juvenile, and adult stages may be rooted in processes that direct embryonic tail development.  Thus, our initial goals are to develop a normal table of embryonic development for H. scutatum, characterize embryonic segmentation by visualizing somites, and determine the molecular pathways involved in caudal segment formation throughout all life history stages.

My Biology Scholars Research Project

Title: The impact of letting non-majors control aspects of a general biology course: Getting back more than you give away! 
What is the focus of your investigation?

Creating a learner-centered course is a daunting task for most instructors, especially for instructors teaching courses for non-majors.  Instructor control, course content and evaluation of student performance are a few of the issues that must be faced when making the transition from an instructor-centered course to a more learner-centered experience.  Three significant shifts in the balance of power in a large non-majors biology course positively impacted student interest in the course, reflection on learning, and confidence in their ability to understand complex scientific material.  This paper explores strategies that allowed students to select course topics, assign course points to class activities, and make decisions regarding the weight of certain assignment in their final grade.  Reflections from both the instructor and students are also included to help guide learner-centered teaching strategies in other courses. 

For more information, explore the Context & Problem section of this wiki.

What resources/references have you found helpful?

  The most valuable resource for my project is Maryellen Weimer's book on Learner-Centered Teaching.  Learner-Centered Teaching:  Five Key Changes to Practice by Maryellen Weimer. 2002. This book outlines the 5 areas that instructors need to consider when designing and implementing a learner-centered teaching approach in the course.  Reading this book gave me the foundation to build the experience with my students during the fall 2007 semester and will continue to inform my work with this course in future semesters.  Check out my list of LCT references in my Bibliography section.  You can also check out some of the references I used during the 2008 SoTL institute. Unfortunately, most of these resources address detailed teaching strategies that "could' make your course more learner-centered.  However, the literature I will need to support the manuscript I am preparing will need to be more broad and address some of the fundamental issues and concerns with learner-centered teaching.

What is your approach and/or what evidence will you gather?

I utilized anonymous Blackboard surveys to collect evidence from my students regarding their perspectives on the learner-centered enviornment we created in this course.  See Methods & Findings for more details.  

What results have emerged ?

Initial review of my results indicate that the learner-centered enviornment I created for my non-majors biology course SIGNIFICANTLY impacted my students.  More detailed discussion of my results is on its way!

What information may be found in your Appendices?

List of Appendices

1.  Annotated Bibliography from 2008 SoTL Institute

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