Much of the lab's scholarship involves researching student understanding of essential concepts in biology and the development of activities and assessments based on that foundational work. For example, we spent many years studying student misconceptions about meiosis, proposed a framework to explain why it is so hard for students, and developed hands-on activities to demystify it. Current projects include comparing expert and novice ideas about ATP hydrolysis, protein folding, and gene expression.
DNA is depicted in many different ways, which may or may not be clear to learners. The image here is from a project involving a card-sorting task that investigates the differences between novices and experts in how they categorize images. As students gain experience they become more expert-like in their performance on the task. A paper is in preparation on this project, and the tool is available for use by instructors for teaching and/or assessment purposes. Another current project is comparing how students interpret 2-D figures and 3-D suggestive videos of the same cellular processes.
The DNA Landscape is a teaching and research tool that describes figures of DNA in two dimensions: scale and abstractness. Undergraduate biology textbooks tend to focus on particular parts of the landscape, and certain subfields use particular nodes more than others. We hypothesize that students may have difficulty moving between nodes or recognizing the same concept with a different type of image. A current project involves developing an online tool to allow students to explore connections between parts of the landscape.
We are using analogies to evaluate students' content knowledge and teach critical thinking. For example, the image at left shows a number of items we have asked students to relate to the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology. This project has also led to insights in how peer learning activates improved cognition.