Summer Workshop Will Help Students Think Like Scientists

The 2012 cohort of Duquesne University Bayer Scholars

Research proves that active problem solving, as opposed to lecture-based instruction, produces lower attrition rates among freshman science students, sparks their interest in research and inspires them to consider scientific careers.

To learn more about infusing hands-on learning into their classes, members of the Bayer School's biology faculty have, for the past two years, attended the annual National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education in Biology. These yearly conclaves are designed to improve science education by showing instructors how to forgo lectures by favoring active learning among their students.

The gatherings, which are funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, are intended for experienced as well as new instructors who teach introductory or survey courses. Approximately 36 educators from 18 colleges and universities attend each of the regionally organized workshops.

Areas of interest are used for grouping attendees into teams, and by the end of the five-day workshop, every attendee has developed a portfolio of innovative teaching approaches and instructional materials, which can be adopted and adapted to their teaching assignments. After the summer institute, the next step for attendees is educating their colleagues on their newly acquired knowledge and skills.

At the summer institutes they attended, the five faculty members from Duquesne—Drs. Benedict Kolber, Joseph McCormick, Becky Morrow, Nancy Trun and Sarah Woodley—immersed themselves in the task of discovering and refining the best methods for replacing lectures with active learning.

The need to undertake such a task was outlined in a 2003 National Research Council report, Bio2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists, which concluded that faculty development is the key for improving undergraduate education. Dr. Kolber, in agreement with that finding, points out that both the report and the summer institutes have been pivotal for "a fresh examination of teaching effectiveness at the collegiate level."

In addition, the summer institutes are helping instructors develop in their students the habits of thought—and the sense of wonder—that scientists share. "It is important that teaching engage the students," Dr. Woodley said. "I want to convey the excitement of science to freshmen."

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