ASM events
This conference is managed by the American Society for Microbiology

Michigan State University

Lyman Briggs College                    Department of Entomology

East Holmes Hall                             201 CIPS

E. Lansing, MI  48825-1107          E. Lansing, MI  48824-1115

tel: (517) 353-3939                          tel: (517) 432-2029

fax: (517) 432-2758                         fax: (517) 353-4354






I am an Associate Professor in the Lyman Briggs College (LBC) at Michigan State University (MSU).  LBC is a residential college for students majoring in the Natural Sciences.Our students tend to take their introductory courses with us in LBC and then move in the disciplinary departments at MSU for their upper division work.One of the things that makes us unique is that our students gain a firm grounding in the history, philosophy, and sociology (HPS) of science and technology.We promote LBC as the “Best of Both Worlds”, a place where students experience a small liberal arts environment, yet still have access to all of the advantages offered by a major research-intensive university. 

My Biology Scholars Research Project

Title: Does Working With Phylogenetic Trees Help Students Understand Biodiversity and Evolution?
What is the focus of your investigation?

Introductory organismal biology students often have a difficult time understanding the evolutionary connections among organismal groups and little appreciation for the diversity of life on Earth.  Therefore, we used phylogenetic trees to reincorporate the study of organismal biodiversity into our course in an inquiry-based framework.  We hoped that using phylogenies would help students understand organismal diversity in an evolutionary context, which was sorely lacking in our traditional taxonomic "march through the phyla".

Specifically, my MSU colleague, Kendra Cheruvelil, and I are asking whether an ability to work with phylogenetic trees mechanistically (ability to manipulate trees and map characters on them) correlates with an ability to interpret phylogenetic trees in the abstract. We assume that being able to understand phylogenetic trees in the abstract is correlated with students' acceptance of evolution as an organizing principle and their appreciation of organismal biodiversity.  

See my Context, Problem page for further detail.


 What resources/references have you found helpful?

The paper by Baum et al. (Baum DA, Smith SD, Donovan SSS. 2005. The Tree-Thinking Challenge. Science 310:  979-980.) is a good place to start.  It captures the problem really well, and it is often cited.  

See my Bibliography for more references. 

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

To address this question, we are using a pre/post test design to obtain data 1) pertaining to students' ability to read and interpret phylogenetic trees, and 2) whether an ability to interpret phylogenetic trees is correlated with the ability to manipulate and map characters onto phylogenetic trees.  Our methodology includes a three-part Phylogeny Assessment in which students are asked to map the evolution of characters onto two trees (alternative hypotheses) [addresses Quantitative Literacy], to apply the Principle of Parsimony to choose a preferred hypothesis [addresses Scientific Method] and to demonstrate an understanding of phylogenetic trees as representations of ancestor-descendent relationships [addresses Tree-thinking].

What results have emerged ?

Not much to report at this time.  We'll be adding more here very soon.

See my Discussion page for more detailed analysis and thoughts.

What information may be found in your Appendices?

A preliminary version of our assessment tool may be found in the Appendix.        

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