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GDCB Teaching Excellence

Genetics, Development and Cell Biology (GDCB) considers undergraduate education to be a cornerstone of the university, and is a major participant in the development and offering of three first-class interdepartmental undergraduate majors.

As part of its teaching mission, GDCB faculty continue to explore ways to instruct undergraduates in the introductory biology courses to experience firsthand how science can help solve complex and socially important problems.

HHMI National Award to Foster Science Education

Jo Anne Powell-Coffman
Professor Jo Anne

With the help of a $1.6 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in 2010, Iowa State University will revamp its introductory lab courses. Dr. Jo Anne Powell-Coffman, GDCB professor, was named as a member of the team awarded funding from HHMI to transform introductory science courses. Their grant, entitled “Engaging young scientists during their first two years at college” will develop creative new ways to teach and inspire students about science and research.

HHMI awarded funding to fifty research universities in 30 states and the District of Columbia, including five first-time awardees.  ISU awardees will use grant funds to transform all introductory science labs on campus to increase students’ intellectual engagement in introductory science courses, develop new research modules for first- and second-year laboratory courses in which students develop hypotheses, design experiments, and interpret the resulting data; develop a new project-based course on Science and Sustainability and increase successful transitions of minority students from regional community colleges to ISU.

Since receiving the award in 2010, Dr. Powell-Coffman and her team have supported faculty learning communities funded by the grant, and she is the faculty mentor for a post-doctoral biology teaching fellow to work with Biology faculty towards innovation in introductory courses. As one of the previous instructors of second semester introductory biology, Dr. Powell-Coffman has helped to lead efforts to put innovative teaching methods into practice in the classroom.

The interdisciplinary grant team includes four other co-PIs, Prof. Craig Ogilvie (project leader, Physics); Prof. Cinzia Cervato (Geology); Prof. Tom Greenbowe (Chemistry); and Prof. Gene Takle (Meteorology).  The grant benefited greatly from ideas and input from other experts on campus, including Prof. Doug Gentile (Psychology); Prof. Michael Clough (Curriculum and Instruction); Prof. Jim Colbert (Biology); Prof. William Gallus (Meteorology); Kevin Saunders (Provost’s Office); and Mark Immerman (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences).

HHMI has made these awards through its Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education Program and the HHMI Professors Program—two complementary initiatives aimed at transforming science education in the United States.  Click to learn more about these HHMI national awards to foster science education.

2014 UPDATE:  Through its 2014 Sustaining Excellence competition, HHMI awarded new science education grants in May to continued support activities at 37 research universities, including Iowa State University.  ISU was awarded $1.2 million for the adaptation and implementation of the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) program originally developed at the University of Texas at Austin. Students work in research streams under the guidance of their faculty and graduate student mentors in teams, and individual students can have their own independent projects with the potential to publish their work.

Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education (PULSE) program

In 2012, Dr. Jo Anne Powell-Coffman was chosen as 1 of only 40 faculty in the nation to serve as “Vision and Change Leadership Fellows” for the Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education (PULSE) program. PULSE is a joint initiative sponsored by HHMI, NSF, NIH.  A panel of experts selected fellows on the basis of their experience in catalyzing reform in undergraduate biology education.  

ASM-NSF Biology Scholars Program Research Residency

Coffman and Elliot
Professor Coffman (left) and Dr. Elliott

In the fall 0f 2013, GDCB Professor Clark Coffman and Dr. Emily R. Elliott, postdoctoral research fellow in GDCB, were selected as 2013-2014 Scholars in The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Biology Scholars Program.  Professor Coffman was selected to join a group of 14 biologists to participate in the 2013-2014 ASM-NSF Biology Scholars Program Research Residency.  Dr. Elliott, an HHMI postdoctoral science education fellow working with Biology 212 introductory biology instructors to assess student learning, was selected for the yearlong Transitions Residency Scholar program.

As part of his one year Research Residency, Professor Coffman will design a research project to investigate student learning, with the longer-term goal of continually improving undergraduate science teaching.  During her Transitions Residency, Dr. Elliott will receive close mentoring from the residency leadership team and help to transition from conducting scholarly work in student learning to beginning the steps necessary for publication in biology and/or science education venues.

The Biology Scholars Program, which was developed by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is sponsored by ASM with support from the NSF and other groups. 

Meta!Blast – Why a video game?

MetaBlast! video game
Meta!Blast video game

Students now have an interactive and interesting way to learn about biology through a medium many understand — video games. “Meta!Blast” is a video game that works to make learning biology more exciting for students. “I decided if you can go into and explore a cell, it would be more interesting,” said GDCB Professor Eve Syrkin Wurtele, “Meta!Blast” developer.

In a 3D video game, players are immersed into a virtual environment that requires them to recognize, not only where the virtual space they are located, but also how the environment reacts to their actions. By presenting the cell as an interactive environment that responds to the players actions in real-time, students will not only take more active interest in what they are being taught, but also will gain a better sense of how the cell actually operates by being able to see it function as it would in real life.

Meta!Blast: The Leaf, a video game application developed by an ISU research team headed by GDCB Professors Eve Syrkin Wurtele and Diane Bassham, received the People’s Choice Award in the 2013 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge Winners, as announced on February 6, 2014, by the magazine, Science.