Education and Outreach at Plant Biology 2013

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Published on: August 30, 2013

At Plant Biology 2013, I gave a talk in the Education and Outreach minisymposium, and was in inspiring company.

Vision and Change in Undergraduate Education

Plant science lecturers Nitya Jacob and Thomas Jack gave an overview of the 2011 report Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education (download it here) and PULSE, the initiative set up to address issues raised in the report. They are both US-specific but the principles apply to the UK, and any lecturer from wanting to expand their teaching methods would definitely benefit from looking at the report and PULSE resources.

The report itself looked at the reasons for ‘leaky pipeline’ to a bioscience degree. According to the report, roughly half of students entering college intending to major in biosciences graduate in biosciences – the rest either change courses or drop out of education all together.

ASPB joined with other stakeholders including US biology funders NSF, NIH, and HHMI to set up the PULSE Community to improve undergraduate biology education. Jacob and Jack are both PULSE teaching fellows, a group of university educators who are driving change in undergraduate biosciences education. They are encouraging university departments to commit to the PULSE Vision and Change Rubrix (link to an extremely dry PDF), a set of standards in core concepts, integration of core competencies, assessment, and faculty support.

The Rubrix are designed to be flexible, but meeting them even halfway is impossible with typical courses made up of a lecture-essay-labs-worksheet structure. The Vision and Change toolkit helps lecturers who have committed to the rubrix by suggesting teaching methods including active learning and flipped classes.

Another undergrad teaching tool

Something to consider when teaching undergraduates maths and statistics, and no doubt a valuable tool for US lecturers committed to Vision and Change, are the online MathBench modules, which Christine Fleet presented during the session. The MathBench site is free to use and contains interactive teaching modules on nine broad themes. For example, the Measurement theme includes basic lab techniques, logs and pH, while the Probability and Statistics theme spans bar graphs, standard error and advanced Punnett Squares to understand linked genes and recombination.

Something for teachers and science outreach activists

Miranda Haus presented the education and outreach resources she and her fellow University of Illinois PhD students have developed. The Plants iView team take interactive plant science to after school clubs, and Haus admitted her own surprise at how popular the program had proved – the students in the after school club could chose from a lot of activities including different sports, arts and watching films, but the Plants iView sessions were always full (group size is limited) and students stayed for the duration, and often returned on another day. Some of the activities the PhD students run can be downloaded on the Lessons page.

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