Science Education Journal Club

This is an archive of the papers and discussion questions that were discussed in the Science Education Journal Club, which ran from 2015 - 2018. These papers are highly relevant for anyone interested in current topics in evidence-based teaching, or curious about the field of education research.

May 2018:

Guest speaker: Caron Inouye, California State University East Bay

Article: Inouye, Caron Y., Christine L. Bae, and Kathryn N. Hayes. 2017. “Using Whiteboards to Support College Students’ Learning of Complex Physiological Concepts.” Advances in Physiology Education 41 (3): 478–84.

What is whiteboarding and how can using it increase student performance in an undergraduate course? The strategy called "whiteboarding" involves providing students with handheld dry erase boards and markers that they use in small groups to work on problems posed to them in class. In this study, the researchers compared student performance on complex physiology concepts in a lecture-based physiology course versus a course using whiteboarding.  In this journal club, the first author of this study will discuss the implementation of this technique in class, how she measured the impact of this technique, and elaborate on the results of the study.


April 2018:

Special guest: Bruce Alberts

Article:  Alberts, Bruce. “Science for Life.” Science, vol. 655, no. 6332, 31 Mar. 2017, p. 1353, doi:DOI: 10.1126/science.aan2924.


March 2018:

Guest Speaker: Melinda Owens, San Francisco State University

Article: Owens, M., Seidel, S., Wong, M., et. al. (2017). Classroom sound can be used to classify teaching practices in college science courses. PNAS, 114(12), 3085-3090. doi:10.1073/pnas.1618693114

In recent years, there has been a shift from traditional lecturing to using evidence-based practices, such as active learning, in undergraduate STEM courses. However, it has remained unclear how much active learning faculty actually are using in their classroom. This recent study developed a new tool to measure the presence of active learning during class, the Decibel Analysis for Research in Teaching (DART). DART is a machine-learning-derived algorithm that can analyze audio recordings of class sessions to measure when the instructor lectures versus nonlecture activity such as group discussions and independent writing/thinking. This month, come learn about this new tool and its application from one of the paper’s first authors, Melinda Owens.

Discussion questions:

  1. What might be different about the way a classroom that uses active learning sounds than a classroom that only has traditional lecture?
  2. What do you think you could uncover if you analyzed the noise levels of classes that you've taught or been a student in?


February 2018:

Facilitator: Paul Li

Article: Figlio, D. N., Schapiro, M. O., & Soter, K. B. (2015). Are tenure-track professors better teachers? Review of Economics and Statistics, 97(4), 715-724. DOI: 10.1162/REST_a_00529

In 1975, 57% of all faculty were in the tenure system. By 2011 that figure had been cut almost in half to 29%, leading to the increase of contingent faculty. This paper examined first-year students at Northwestern University to investigate the relative effects of tenure track/tenured versus contingent faculty (non-tenured/tenure track teaching faculty) on student learning. They found consistent evidence that students learn relatively more from contingent faculty in their first-term courses. We will explore the measures used in this paper to explain why.

Discussion questions:

  1. Why do you think one type of faculty is better at teaching than the other?
  2. Does this generalize to all types of students (ones who are less academically qualified vs. more academically qualified students)?
  3. Do subsequent course work that students take and their grades in these courses a good measure of success for having taught effectively?


January 2018:

Facilitator:  Dave Brown

Article:  Erin A. Becker, Erin J. Easlon, Sarah C. Potter, Alberto Guzman-Alvarez, Jensen M. Spear, Marc T. Facciotti, Michele M. Igo, Mitchell Singer, and Christopher Pagliarulo. The Effects of Practice-Based Training on Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Classroom Practices. CBE Life Sci Educ. December 1, 2017 16:ar58; doi:10.1187/cbe.16-05-0162

Article UCSF SEJC January 2018.pdf

Evidence based best-practices are seldom adopted without repeated opportunities to practice the new behavior. For example graduate teaching assistants rarely implement recommended teaching techniques spontaneously, even if presented with the underlying evidence. This paper investigates the effects of teacher training on their classroom practices, as part of a larger question, how should we teach our teachers?

Discussion questions:

  • Figure 1. What makes encouraging student participation so counterintuitive?
  • Figure 2. Cold calling. It’s supposed to be good, why does everybody hate it?
  • Figure 3. Is inconsistent feedback responsible for the unstable implementation?

December 2017: 

Facilitator:  Robert Newberry

Article:  Schinske, J.; Tanner, K. “Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently)” CBE Life Sci. Educ. 2014, 13, 159-166.

Perhaps nothing draws more ire and exasperation from both students and instructors than grades. Many stakeholders agree that current systems require improvement, but what exactly should be done? After outlining a brief history of grading in the US, Schinske and Tanner discuss the purposes of grading and offer some strategies for improvement, including the provocative proposal to grade less.

Some things to think about:

  1. What are your personal experiences with grades, either as a student or as an instructor? Can you think of examples of how a grading scheme helped or hurt your learning?
  2. What information should grades capture?
  3. What is your ideal grading scheme? How could it be implemented?


November 2017:

Facilitator:  Stephen Filios

Article:  Hossain, Z., Bumbacher, E., Brauneis, A. et al. Design Guidelines and Empirical Case Study for Scaling Authentic Inquiry-based Science Learning via Open Online Courses and Interactive Biology Cloud Labs. Int J Artif Intell Educ (2017).

Researchers at Stanford created a model for “inquiry based learned”, in which students learn about science by making hypotheses, performing scientific experiments, and analyzing the resulting data. This study was unique in that the authors built the experience in a scalable manner, allowing large numbers of remote students (300+) to participate in authentic inquiry based learning without the presence of an instructor.

Discussion questions:

What are the limits of scalable learning in biology?

What other experiments would work, and what would not yet work?


October 2017:

Facilitator:  Laurence Clement

Article:  Cooper K, Ashley M, Brownell S. 2017. Using expectancy value theory as a framework to reduce student resistance to active learning: a proof of concept. J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. 18(2): doi:10.1128/jmbe.v18i2.1289

Worried about students resisting your new teaching strategies?  Active learning summarizes a group of classroom strategies that have been shown to be effective at improving learning, including in the science classroom. This study looks at the potential reasons why some students may resist active learning in an introductory biology classroom. These findings could impact how you set-up your classroom and curriculum, and how you choose to engage your students to get better results when using active learning strategies.


September 2017:

Facilitator: Sabine Jeske

Article: Robert, J. and Carlsen, W. S. (2017), Teaching and research at a large university: Case studies of science professors. J Res Sci Teach, 54: 937–960. doi:10.1002/tea.21392

A potential shortage of STEM professionals from the future American workforce is now recognized and there is new interest in attracting and retaining STEM students in postsecondary education. These developments point to a need for more research on interventions that might improve STEM faculty teaching practices at the college level, but developing interventions and understanding their effects is predicated on better understanding professors’ values, beliefs, and priorities, as well as their origins. This article utilized four phenomenological case studies conducted to address the following research question: How do individuals in a sample of tenure-track science professors prioritize teaching among their other professional roles and responsibilities? Contrary to literature speculation, the results of this study indicate that the participants make decisions about the way they allocate limited time in an unlimited work environment based on their intrinsic, personal career goals and aspirations and appear to be only minimally affected by external pressures to “prioritize research over teaching.”

Discussion questions:

1) Based on the article and your own experiences, what are your thoughts about the main finding of the study: "The participants in this study indicated that they made decisions based on their intrinsic goals, which is in contrast to existing assumptions that departmental or institutional culture exerts a significant influence on professors’ career decisions. Although participants' choices were typically in alignment with institutional norms and goals, they viewed this alignment as incidental rather than causal."

2) What is your view on the authors' following statement:  "Beyond classroom instruction, participants in this study also engaged in mentoring and training graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, advising undergraduates, and sponsoring independent study. Further empirical and theoretical work is needed to refine the field’s scholarly definition of “teaching” at the postsecondary level. A more complete description of teaching activities could also lead to practical implications such as integrating a wider variety of teaching activities into promotion and tenure guidelines, yearly teaching requirements, etc."
3) "Whereas all of the participants in this study acknowledged that they are highly trained research scientists with positions in competitive science departments, they also volunteered that they experienced little to no preparation for any of the other responsibilities of professors, such as teaching and managing research groups. Even though Henry had tutoring experiences from the time he was in high school."
Do you think that not being trained in all aspects of the job is something that is a universal reality in all professions or something unique to the position of professors?

May 2017:

Facilitator:  Debbie Thurtle-Schmidt

Article:  Bissonnette SA, Combs ED, Nagami PH, Byers V, Fernandez J, Le D, Realin J, Woodham S, Smith JI, Tanner KD. (2017) Using the Biology Card Sorting Task to Measure Changes in Conceptual Expertise during Postsecondary Biology Education.  CBE Life Sci Educ. 2017 Spring;16(1). pii: ar14. doi: 10.1187/cbe.16-09-0273.



April 2017

Facilitator:  Katherine Nielsen

Article:  Mendoza-Denton R, Patt C, Fisher A, Eppig A, Young I, Smith A, et al. (2017) Differences in STEM doctoral publication by ethnicity, gender and academic field at a large public research university. PLoS ONE 12(4): e0174296.

When applying for faculty positions, one's publication record is a key factor in hiring decisions. A recent study at a large research institution probed Ph.D. candidates' publication rates by gender, ethnicity, and department. Underrepresented minority groups (URM) were about half as likely to submit research for publication as their non-URM male counterparts. The study also found a smaller gap for women as well as some striking differences across graduate programs.


March 2017:

Guest Speaker: Jeff Schinske, Biology Instructor, De Anza College; Organizer: Allyson Spence

Article: Schinske JN, Perkins H, Snyder A, Wyer M. Scientist Spotlight Homework Assignments Shift Students' Stereotypes of Scientists and Enhance Science Identity in a Diverse Introductory Science Class. CBE Life Sci Educ. 2016 fall;15(3). pii: ar47.

For many students, their first experience with a “real” scientist is in their college STEM courses, which in the US may likely be a professor who is male and white (NSF, 2013). In this study the investigators examined the impact that presenting students with counterstereotypical examples of scientists would have on their perceptions of the types of people that do science as well as their ability to relate to scientists. 


February 2017:

Facilitator: Emily B. Anderson

Article: Increased Preclass Preparation Underlies Student Outcome Improvement in the Flipped Classroom Gross, Pietri, Anderson, Moyano-Camihort, Graham, CBE-LSE Vol. 14, 1–8, Winter 2015.

In this study, the authors converted an upper-level chemistry course from a standard lecture format to a "flipped classroom" where classtime is devoted to problem solving. Following the conversion, student exam scores increased. The authors attribute at least part of the improvement to increased student engagement in online problem solving homework.


January 2017:

Facilitator: Robert Newberry

Article: The Scientific Status of Learning Styles Theories. Daniel T. Willingham, Elizabeth M. Hughes, and David G. Dobolyi. Teaching of Psychology 2015, Vol. 42(3) 266-271.

In order to promote success among students with a variety of abilities, many educators attempt to tailor their instruction toward a student’s “learning style,” defined as the student's preference for processing information in a particular way. Though learning styles are broadly accepted and commonly invoked, there is little evidence that addressing student learning styles actually improves learning, raising questions about best practices in the classroom.

December 2016:

Facilitator: Christina Fitzsimmons

Article: Improving and Assessing Student Hands-On Laboratory Skills through Digital Badging. Sarah Hensiek, Brittland K. DeKorver, Cynthia J. Harwood, Jason Fish, Kevin O’Shea, and Marcy Towns. Journal of Chemical Education 2016 93 (11), 1847-1854

Digital badges are online tokens that can be awarded by instructors to assess the completion of a project or the mastery of a skill. This study asks whether the use of digital badges is associated with better student hands-on performance.


November 2016:

Guest Speaker: Lisa McDonnell, Assistant Teaching Professor, UC San Diego; Organizer: Katherine Farrar

Article: Concepts first, jargon second improves student articulation of understanding. McDonnell, L., Barker, M. K. and Wieman, C. (2016) Biochem. Mol. Biol. Educ., 44: 12–19. doi:10.1002/bmb.20922

Do students learn scientific concepts better when these concepts are first presented without the scientific jargon? This January 2016 paper by Nobel-laureate Carl Wieman and his team investigates this question in a large undergraduate biology course.


October 2016:

Facilitator: Katherine Farrar

Article: Promoting Student Metacognition. Kimberly D. Tanner. CBE—Life Sciences Education Vol. 11, 113–120, Summer 2012

Studies show that many undergraduate students lack the metacognitive skills to be successful in college. Metacognition, in the context of education, is the process by which learners think about their own thought and learning process, how they plan their studying process, monitor their learning (test themselves) and correct their learning strategy and understanding if needed. This article includes a wide variety of metacognitive strategies that are broadly applicable and easy to integrate into different courses. It also addresses metacognitive approaches for teachers.

Related resources:

Vanderbilt Center for Teaching, Guide on Metacognition, Nancy Chick, Assistant Director:

Bransford, J., Brown, A. L., and Cocking, R. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Crowe, Alison, et al. Biology in Bloom: Implementing Bloom's Taxonomy to Enhance Student Learning in Biology. CBE - Life Sciences Education Vol. 7, 368-381, Winter 2008.

Mynlieff, Michelle, et al. Writing Assignments with a Metacognitive Component Enhance Learning in a Large Introductory Biology Course. CBE - Life Sciences Education Vol. 13, 311-321, Summer 2014.

Pintrich, Paul R. (2002). The Role of Metacognitive Knowledge in Learning, Teaching, and Assessing. Theory Into Practice, 41: 4, 219-225.

September 2016:

Facilitator: Christina Fitzsimmons

Article:  Full STEAM Ahead: The Benefits of Integrating the Arts Into STEM. Michelle H. Land. Procedia Computer Science, Volume 20, 2013, Pages 547-552, ISSN 1877-0509, .

Spring 2016 Articles:

May 2016 :
Article: Connecting biology and organic chemistry introductory laboratory courses through a collaborative research project. Boltax AL, Armanious S, Kosinski-Collins MS, Pontrello JK. Biochem Mol Biol Educ. 2015 Jul-Aug;43(4):233-44. doi: 10.1002/bmb.20871. Epub 2015 Jul 3.

April 2016:
Facilitator: Charlie Morgan, PhD, UCSF alumnus and National Academies Fellow in Science Education, joining us via Skype from Washington DC.
Article:Transforming Science Education at Large Research Universities: A Case Study in Progress (2010) Wieman, Carl; Perkins, Katherine; Gilbert, Sarah. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, v42 n2 p7-14 Mar-Apr 2010

March 2016:

Special Guest Speaker: Erin Dolan, PhD
Article: Modeling Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences: An Agenda for Future Research and Evaluation. Lisa A. Corwin, Mark J. Graham, and Erin L. Dolan
CBE Life Sci Educ vol. 14 no. 1 es1

January 2016:
Caution, Student Experience May Vary: Social Identities Impact a Student’s Experience in Peer Discussions
Sarah L. Eddy, Sara E. Brownell, Phonraphee Thummaphan, Ming-Chih Lan, and Mary Pat Wenderoth
Facilitator: Deborah Thurtle-Schmidt

This study found that self-reported preferred roles in peer discussions in introductory biology classrooms can be predicted by social identities and that barriers to participation in peer discussions may impact certain student groups more than others.

Fall 2015 Articles:

December 2015:

How important is it to encourage interest in science early in children's lives? How early in their lives do students decide to pursue a science-related career? This month's SEJC will examine a paper which used longitudinal data to investigate 8th grade expectations and science related careers.

November 2015: 
Case Study Teaching Method Improves Student Performance and Perceptions of Learning Gains. Kevin M. Bonney.
Case studies have been used in medical education for decades, but basic science instructors are just beginning to use them. Can case studies help a diverse population of introductory biology majors learn biological concepts more than more traditional models of teaching? This article focuses on the effectiveness of published case studies versus case studies developed by the instructor on student performance on exams, as well as on perceived learning gains relating to oral and written communication skills and connection to real-life situations. 

October 2015
Problems in the pipeline: Stereotype threat and women's achievement in high-level math courses

September 2015:
Just the Facts? Introductory Undergraduate Biology Courses Focus on Low-Level Cognitive Skills. CBE—Life Sciences Education Vol. 9, 435–440, Winter 2010 Article
Jennifer L. Momsen,*† Tammy M. Long,‡ Sara A. Wyse,*§ and Diane Ebert-May*

Spring 2015 Articles:

May 2015:
Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across and Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Blackwell, L.S., Trzesniewski, K.H., & Dweck, C.S. (2007). Child Development, 78, 1, 246-263.

April 2015:
Effect of Teaching Metacognitive Learning Strategies on Performance in General Chemistry Courses. Cook, E., Kennedy, E., & Mcguire, S. Y. (2013). Journal of Chemical Education, 90, 961– 967.

March 2015:
A threat in the air. How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. Steele, CM. Am Psychol., 1997 Jun;52(6):613-29.
Related article: Thin Ice: Stereotype Threat and Black College Students. Steele, CM.

February 2015:
Using online lectures to make time for active learning. Prunuske, A. J., Batzli, J., Howell, E., & Miller, S. (2012). Genetics, 192(1), 67–72.

January 2015: 
Structure Matters: Twenty-one Teaching Strategies to Promote Student Engagement and Cultivate Classroom Equity by Kimberly D. Tanner. CBE Life Sci Educ vol. 12 no. 3 322-331

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