Scientific Teaching in Biology at Duke

Students are encountering scientific inquiry, active learning and a focus on concepts in three revised courses in Duke’s Biology department.  Many of the  Biology faculty designing and teaching these courses worked together in a CIT Faculty Fellowship, which focused on the principles of Scientific Teaching:  incorporating active learning, using assessment, and diversity. Here’s how they did it.

CIT Biology Faculty Fellows worked together to create or revise  courses and share experiences. Three courses were created or revised:

  • Biology 101L Gateway to Biology: Molecular Biology
  • Biology 102L Gateway to Biology: Genetics and Evolution
  • Biology 112D Ecology for a Crowded Planet

Each course is taught by two or three faculty members; a different set of faculty members teaches the same course in the next semester.  Within a semester, each instructor teaching the course attends all course sessions.  Course instructors meet outside of class to plan learning activities.  In addition, instructors from all courses meet periodically to discuss issues and successes.  Each course benefits from this collaborative approach, as instructors experiment and share what they have tried.  This increased communication between faculty members inform continued course improvement.

Redesigned courses have incorporated more communication between instructors and students. Instructors in all three courses have written formal learning outcomes for the entire course as well as for each class session, to better focus student effort and communicate what students should be able to do.  Each course includes active learning during the class session, to give students practice with important concepts and skills, and to provide instructors with information about student needs.  Each course has incorporated pre-class quizzes which have given instructors insight into topics students struggle with.  All of these innovations have increased communication between students and faculty, focusing on concepts and skills that students struggle with.

The two gateway courses incorporated newly created lab experiences, chosen to align with course goals and provide “real” scientific research – students performed experiments to answer genuine questions, rather than to reproduce other results.

Each of these courses continues to evolve as increased communication between students and faculty facilitates instructor focus on student learning, and as faculty members  share approaches and techniques with each other both within classes and between classes.  Biology students will benefit in years to come as the faculty members work to help students meet learning objectives and effectively incorporate scientific teaching.

Read more about Bio 101 or Bio 102 and hear from the faculty members who taught during the Fall 2010.

Andrea Novicki

Author: Andrea Novicki

Andrea helps faculty teach effectively and efficiently. She works primarily with scientists, using her biology background, love of science and teaching experience. Her current enthusiasms include active learning, group learning (especially team-based learning) and assessment.