Project Title: The Developing Knowledge Project: Investigating teacher knowledge for effective active-learning instruction

Research Mentors: Tessa Andrews & Cristie Donham

Project Description: College biology faculty are being encouraged to replace some lecture time in class with time when students work on challenging problems alone and in groups. This change in instruction can increase student learning and reduce achievement gaps. However, most faculty have never been trained to teach in this way and some struggle to do it successfully. What knowledge—beyond content knowledge—do these faculty need to develop to teach this way? This project investigates the knowledge that college biology faculty need to successfully use innovative and active teaching strategies.

The fellow working on this project will analyze interview data and video of classes. They will develop skills in qualitative data analysis, analysis of classroom data, and will learn theory related to teacher knowledge. 


Project Title: How do biology undergraduates know what they are supposed to be learning?

Research Mentor: Peggy Brickman

Project Description: Learning objectives allow instructors to be systematic about gathering assessment evidence of academic achievement for the purposes of improving student learning and their own teaching. Instructors should ideally write and organize objectives for student learning for every unit of instruction in a course. Guidance in developing learning objectives is provided from textbooks and other course materials as well as external sources such as professional organizations, the college or university, and for Biology from the Vision and Change Document in Biology. We have analyzed a sample of learning objectives and syllabi from a large, national group of diverse faculty teaching introductory Biology courses. This project will involve validating those objectives by surveying faculty across the nation. Our goal is to determine how validated learning objectives differ between introductory biology courses for majors and non-majors and between different institutional and faculty groups. Depending on your interest in the project, you may also be able to plan to implement a more intense analysis of issues of faculty adoption of learning objectives by designing interviews to probe how faculty are currently implementing, assessing, and aligning learning objectives.


Project Title: Decisions students make during research

Research Mentor: Erin Dolan

Project Description: Numerous studies have shown that students benefit from engaging in undergraduate research. Undergraduate researchers develop confidence in their ability to do research, develop a sense of identity as a scientist, and clarify whether they want to pursue graduate education or careers involving research. Yet, few studies have revealed the aspects of undergraduate research experiences that lead to these outcomes. This study is examining whether the types of decisions students make while they are doing research are related to the outcomes they experience from doing research. For instance, is it necessary for students to make decisions about the direction of the research to realize these outcomes? Or is making any sort of decision (e.g., how to trouble-shoot an experiment, which methods to use to collect or analyze data) sufficient? The results of this research will be important for informing the design of undergraduate research experiences.

The fellow working on this project will analyze “experience sampling” survey data, in which students have reported the decisions they are making as they carry out research day-to-day. They will develop skills in qualitative data analysis and analysis of survey data, and they will learn theory related to motivation and career development. 


Project Title: Lab talk

Research Mentor: Erin Dolan

Project Description: The integration of research experiences into laboratory courses, commonly referred to as Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs), is championed as an approach for broadening access to undergraduate research especially for students from under-represented and under-served backgrounds. Research has shown that CUREs positively influence student learning, retention in college, and persistence in STEM majors. However, studies of CUREs have mostly treated them like a black box, that is, a singular treatment that differs from the typical (sometimes called “traditional”) science lab courses in ways that are thought to affect students’ academic and professional growth. In addition, only a few studies of CUREs either present or test theories related to student learning and development. Thus, there is rapid growth in CURE instruction with little theoretical or empirical insights into their mechanisms of influence – in other words, what makes CUREs work and for whom. Our hypothesis is that the ways instructors talk with students in CUREs vs. non-CURE courses may be an influential factor. This project will contribute to testing this hypothesis by qualitatively characterizing and comparing the things that instructors say to students in CURE vs. non-CURE courses. Our ultimate goal is to relate patterns of instructor talk to student outcomes.

The fellow working on this project will analyze audio recordings of lab course sessions. They will develop skills in qualitative data analysis and analysis of survey data, and they will learn theory related to instructor-student interactions and student development and career decision-making. 


Project Title: The College Learning Study: How do life science undergraduates develop metacognitive skills for learning?

Mentor: Julie Stanton and Stephanie Halmo

Metacognition is a powerful, yet underutilized tool for helping students succeed in college. Metacognition is our awareness and control of our own thinking in order to learn. Prior research has shown that metacognition differs among undergraduates and may be affected by one’s beliefs about learning. Yet little is known about how metacognition develops in college. The College Learning Study aims to characterize the metacognitive development of undergraduate life science students by asking 1) when, why, and how students use metacognitive skills in college science courses and 2) how beliefs about learning affect metacognition.

The fellow working on this project will have the opportunity to analyze interview and survey data. They will develop skills in qualitative data analysis and have the opportunity to contribute to other ongoing projects in the lab


Project Title: Learning from Peers: Investigating the Impact of Peer Learning Assistants on Student Learning and Metacognitive Development

Research Mentors: Julie Kittleson and Brittney Ferrari

Project Description:  Higher education institutions are seeing an increasing number of students entering the STEM fields. As class sizes grow, so does the ratio of students to instructors, and this is especially evident in large, lecture-based introductory science courses. To overcome this, some instructors have transformed their course from passive traditional instruction to student-centered instruction by incorporating Peer Learning Assistants. Our research investigates the impact of Peer Learning Assistants (PLAs) on student learning in an undergraduate Biology course. In particular, we are interested in how PLAs support students’ development of learning strategies like metacognition.

The fellow collaborating on this research will assist with qualitative analysis of classroom recordings of group work/student-PLA interactions and quantitative survey analysis. Data from this study will be used to explore how PLAs support student learning and examine the effect they have on students’ development of metacognitive skills. The fellow will develop skills in mixed methods educational research and learn about theories related to peer learning.


Project Title: Supporting Science Leaders through Personalized Professional Learning Experiences

Research Mentors: Julie Luft (UGA) and Brooke Whitworth (Clemson)

Project Description: University faculty are important in the learning of Science Leaders, who work in local schools. They can help STEM Science Leaders in their understanding of important core ideas, cross-disciplinary concepts, and science practices. Likewise, university faculty can learn about teaching in local schools and how to better support Science Leaders. In this project, we work with Science Leaders in the districts in Georgia and across the United States. These leaders are experiencing an online professional learning program that is personalized, based upon their learning needs.  The ultimate purpose of the project is to determine the impact of this personalized professional development program on the instruction of science teachers who work with the science leaders. This involves the collection of data from the Science Leaders and the teachers that they work with regularly.

As a member of this research team, you will help analyze data, participate in weekly meetings, and select an area in the study to examine. You will learn about the design and enactment of professional learning environments, and the collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data.


Project Title: Developing a science researcher identity

Research Mentor: Mariel Pfeifer & Erin Dolan

Project Description: 

Previous studies show that involvement in undergraduate research promotes the development of an individual’s science identity. Science identity is the degree to which an individual feels they are a “science kind of person.” Yet being a “science kind of person” is different from identifying as a scientist. We are interested in how upper-division undergraduate researchers, post-baccalaureate researchers, and PhD students think about their own science researcher identities.  We hope to use this knowledge to enhance the design of research experiences for future scientists-in-training.

 As a member of this research team, you will have the opportunity to analyze data from interviews with undergraduates, post-bac researchers, and PhD students, or to analyze open-ended survey responses. You will gain skills in qualitative data analysis and learn theory related to science identity and identity formation from STEM education research and industrial-organizational psychology.  Depending on your interest, work on other projects in the lab may be possible.