Teaching Responsibilities

Courses taught

Statistics

Course Description Sections Taught Total Students
BIOL223 Genetics 9 206
BIOL223L Genetics Lab 12 183
BIOL224 Biochemistry 8 202
BIOL224L Biochemistry Lab 13 206
BIOL229 Independent Study: Biochemical Techniques 11 38
CORE273 Contemporary Biology 2 36
CORE275 Human Genetics 2 40
TILE270 Natural Science Perspectives: Humans and Nature 1 24
BIOL370 Biology Seminar 4 41
BIOL401 Topics in Bioinorganic Chemistry 1 4
BIOL453 Systems Biology and Lab 4 24
BIOL490 Biological Research I 7 26
BIOL491 Biological Research II 3 7
BIOL110 Freshman Seminar 2 20

BIOL223: Genetics

A sophomore level genetics class, with the semester split to focus one half on Mendelian, or “classical” genetics, and one half on molecular genetics. I have run the class both ways (Mendel then molecular and vice versa), and both have advantages. Classical genetics challenges students with abstract concepts and is effective at stretching students’ ability to apply them. Molecular genetics has more terms, and therefore is more knowledge-based initially. The transition from classical to molecular requires backtracking in a way the reverse sequence doesn’t. This class is no longer offered since the change in Biology curriculum, but will return as a junior level class in the 2014-2015 academic year.

BIOL223L: Genetics Lab

The complement to genetics lecture, the biggest challenge has been keeping abreast of modern genetic techniques that the students can explore in a timely, cost-effective manner. Rote Drosophila crosses were transitioned to more inquiry based crosses as described in the Teaching Philosophy in 2009. I have used the lab to try out various molecular ecology projects using Susquehanna River soil samples and human oral biota. Typically the phenotype assay via BioLOG plates worked well, but the DNA isolation and sequencing steps had varying success due to errors in pipetting and technique.

BIOL224: Biochemistry

A sophomore level biochemistry class that most Biology majors took concurrent with Organic Chemistry II. Typically based on a sequence similar to the intro sequence in Voet, Voet and Pratt or Lehninger. Major challenge was sophomore level of chemistry knowledge, so more time was spent reviewing concepts such as the Henderson-Hasselbach equation and pH. This class has also been shelved in its current form, and will return as a junior level course taught by a consortium of Biology and Chemistry department faculty in 2014-2015.

BIOL224L: Biochemistry Lab

The complement to the lecture course. The course had two main focuses. The first is expression and purification of Green Fluorescent Protein using chromatographic methods. Students transformed cells, expressed GFP, and purified it using Hydrophobic Interaction Chromatography. The second was enzymatic characterization of yeast alcohol dehydrogenase. Students lysed yeast and performed a linked MTT assay in order to calculate basic kinetic parameters.

BIOL229: Independent Study: Biochemical Techniques

An introductory research course aimed at freshman – junior students interested in research. It lets students “try out” the independent experience 1-2 hours a week so they can gage their interest in a senior research project, which requires 6-12 hours a week effort.

CORE273: Contemporary Biology

A non-majors course based around three best-selling popular science books. The idea was to break out of the typical lecture class and create opportunities for discussion. Challenges were similar to those found for many reading-heavy classes: students did not prepare for class, which limited discussion.

CORE275: Human Genetics

A non-majors course based on Human Genetics: Concepts and Applications by Ricki Lewis. It was taught my first semester at King’s College, and was overly ambitious and a very traditional, lecture-based course.

TILE270: Natural Science Perspectives: Humans and Nature

Developed in collaboration with Garrett Barr as part of a Learning Community. Students took both this class and CORE 259: Theology and Nature. The basic theme of the class was one of scale, working from very small things (concepts, molecules, genes, microbes) to very big things (animals, humans, ecosystems, the globe). A basic question we wanted the course to address was the roles that humans have in nature, and how we define ourselves. This was the first learning community to be offered at King’s College, and student engagement was highly variable. Students enjoyed the class experiments, but struggled to recall concepts the experiments encompassed.

BIOL370: Biology Seminar (Junior level)

Required seminar for all Biology majors. Students work with the instructor and a faculty mentor to discover a research project they can do for their senior capstone experience. Considered by most of the students to be the “hardest class they’ve ever taken.” Most of students’ concerns about the class center around the extreme degree of freedom, the required literature reading and the frightening idea of thinking up a novel project. Structured, regular activities combined with weekly, individual meetings with the instructor seem to have the greatest positive impact on student fears.

BIOL480: Topics in Bioinorganic Chemistry

An upper-level special topics course covering the roles of metals in biological systems. To increase enrollment, it was available to both Chemistry and Biology majors with the only requirement being Organic Chemistry II. Practically, this meant giving the Biology majors a crash course in Inorganic Chemistry, and the Chemistry majors a crash course in Biochemistry. The smaller class size allowed the instructors to incorporate a journal club element into the course, allowing students to pick topics of personal interest.

BIOL453: Systems Biology with Lab

Designed to explore the relatively new (at the time) technique of microarray expression analysis. The class grew up strains of Baker’s yeast that were deficient in their ability to process galactose. The course introduced the students to many new techniques and required a good deal of independent thought for the final report. Since its inaugural run, it was changed to address questions of fungal virulence in Cryptococcus neoformans. Studying a question with medical relevance seemed to help student engagement and enthusiasm.

BIOL490/491: Biology Research I/II

The senior research capstone project for all Biology majors at King’s College. Expectations for the course include a self directed research project, a formal written report of the results, and a poster session at the end of the academic year for students to present teir results. Titles for individual projects are listed after this section.

BIOL110: Freshman Seminar (Biology)

The main aim of this once weekly course was to expose freshman biology majors to the primary literature. Students were walked through research papers extensively, with support from Pechenick’s “A Short Guide to Writing about Biology.” Retention was hindered by the weekly schedule, and Freshman uncertainty of Biology major choice.

Undergraduate research projects

Each title represents an independent senior research project.

  • 2012-2013
    • “Exploring the role of CUF1 in phagocytosis of C. neoformans var neoformans.”
    • “Phylogenetic Analysis of Major Virulence Genes in Cryptococcus neoformans substrains.”
    • “Comparison of Urease Activity in Strains of Cryptococcus neoformans.”
    • “Metal Tolerance of Environmental Strains of C. neoformans
  • 2011-2012
    • “The effect of iron concentration on the CTR4 promoter system of Cryptococcus neoformans strain H99D.”
    • “Bioinformatic inquiry into the upstream regions of potential Cuf1p binding sites”
    • “The Effect of Modified Copper-Sensing Elements in the Regulated CTR4 Promoter System of Cryptococcus neoformans.”
  • 2010-2011
    • “The Role of the Copper Sensing Transcription Factor Cuf1p on Macrophage Phagocytosis and Killing by Cryptococcus neoformans.”
    • “Microarray Analysis of Clinical Isolates of C. neoformans from Patients in Botswana.”
    • “The Role of CNLAC1 and CNLAC2 in Azurre B Reactive Activity in Cryptococcus neoformans.”
  • 2009-2010
    • “Microarray analysis of a delta cuf1 strain of Cryptococcus neoformans suggests Cuf1p is involved in both repressor and enhancer activities”
    • “Characterization and Isolation of Azure B Reactive Compounds from the Fungal Pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans
    • “Analysis of Fatty Acid Composition of Cryptoccus neoformans
    • “Pilot Study: Microsatellite Analysis of Genetic Variation of Invasive Rusty Crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) in the Susquehanna River” (Dr. Brian Mangan, co-advisor)
    • “Cloning and Expression of the Copper Sensitive Transcription Factor Cuf1p from Cryptococus neoformans
    • “Effects of Copper on the Expression of the CTR4 and CUF1 Genes in Different Strains of C. neoformans
  • 2008-2009
    • “Effects of Copper and Iron Levels on the Viability of Cryptococcus neoformans Strains Varying in Virulence”
    • “Microbial Diversity in Susquehanna River Soil Samples”
    • “Detection of Molecular Pathways of Copper in C. neoformans Using RNA Interference”
    • “Effect of Copper on Total Protein Composition in Cryptococcus neoformans
  • 2007-2008
    • “Protective Capabilities of Mannitol in C. neoformans
    • “The Effects of Iron and Copper on the Growth of Cryptococcus neoformans“”
      “Competition of Local Fungal Species Grown Using Different Sugar Mediums” (Dr. David Glick, co-advisor)
    • “Fungal Species within Local Soil”
  • 2006-2007
    • “Effects of differing copper concentrations on the delta-cuf1 mutant of Cryptococcus neoformans

Advising

Since beginning active advising in 2007, I have advised an average of 12 Biology students a year, with the numbers tending to increase over time. This current academic year (2013-2014) I am advising 20 students.

Teaching Philosophy

Teaching Objective

I strive to teach critical reasoning using a research-based approach. If students cannot apply the theories of a given field to new problems, they have not learned it. This is a product of my broader interests and the way I think about problems in biochemistry: How do systems work at a molecular level? What do they look like? How do these discrete components assemble to form larger networks or complexes? Just as my own research interests drive me, I feel students ultimately retain information best if they approach new material with their own set of questions. While this can be a challenge in a lecture setting, it is essential in the many laboratory courses students take in pursuit of a science degree.

In an effort to have students take ownership of their experiments, I have transitioned the majority of my lab exercises toward a research-based approach. For example, in the past we gave the students fruit flies and told them the genotype of their mutant. They then dutifully crossed the wild type with mutant, counted the progeny, and analyzed the data. However, in grading the reports it became apparent that a significant percentage of the students had not grasped the underlying theory. We now give students two mutant strains of flies and ask them to determine dominant/recessive inheritance and whether or not the traits show evidence of linkage. To calm students’ fears of getting the answer wrong due to laboratory inexperience, the exercise is graded on their ability to accurately record the data in their notebooks and to come to a conclusion consistent with the collected data. Preparation for the course by the staff and myself was essentially identical to previous year’s exercises, but students gained a better understanding of the scientific method and were exposed to a more authentic research lab experience.

Methods to Achieve Objective

In order to continually stress critical reasoning, two practices are essential. The first is to weave a unifying concept learned in the first few weeks of a course into everything else that is learned throughout the semester. The second is to give students time to discover concepts and work through them with assistance.

The first practice is relatively straightforward. With Genetics, this means constantly referring back to the central dogma of biology whenever possible. For Biochemistry, the Gibb’s free energy equation and its consequences frequently make an appearance. In addition to reinforcing an important concept all semester, it teaches the usefulness of a common scientific framework and shakes students out of a “binge and purge” study mentality. It is also an excellent chance to step back from the lectures and ask, “What is the central theme of this course, and how does today’s class tie into it?” Making this clear to the students also helps them answer the most common question: “Why do we have to know this?”

To address the second practice, in the last two years I have begun stressing class preparation prior to class and incorporating more peer instruction. Some would call this a “flipped” classroom, but lately that term has been co-opted by so many parties that it has lost any meaning. Practically, what this involves in my classes is assigning a reading for class and collecting an outline of reading at the beginning of class so students can demonstrate they prepared. Classes are then centered around abbreviated lectures, driven ideally by student questions about the material. After ensuring the class is up to speed, they then break into groups to work on problems related to the material. While they work, I help individuals groups with questions. If a question comes up more than a few times, I reconvene the class briefly to address common misconceptions or to give hints.

Creating an Inclusive Classroom

Creating a classroom atmosphere where all students feel valued and comfortable contributing is probably the most difficult aspect of teaching. Teaching styles differ and student personalities can range from outgoing to introverted, so appealing to everyone on a personal level is essentially impossible. There are a number of ways I make myself more approachable, and thereby encourage students to seek my help in and out of class. The first is to maintain a reputation of absolute professionalism. Anyone who visits during office hours soon realizes that I am willing to help in any way I can. Also, participating in campus life and demonstrating interests in student activities outside the classroom will ultimately have a positive impact in the classroom. Lastly, I belong to our campus Ally Program, which is a way for faculty to make themselves available as a safe haven and resource for gay, lesbian, trans-gender and bisexual students.

Prudent use of technology can also make me more accessible and approachable to students and encourage discussion in and out of class. I frequently update my faculty web page so that it contains current information about my coursework and weekly schedule. I use online discussion boards to facilitate analysis of the reading assignments. I make myself available online during my office hours via instant message service. I also provide an online chat room the evening before tests using similar methods. These messaging technologies have the advantage of engaging the population of students who might feel awkward asking questions during lecture. Students may use different methods of communication than faculty are used to, but it is imperative that students feel heard if they are going to fully engage in classroom activities.

Course Development

New Courses

CORE273: Contemporary Biology

The class was based around three popular science texts: Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer, The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, and Emergence by Stephen Johnson. One of the goals was to get students to read from the popular literature that they may not have read otherwise. Surveys returned at the end of the class indicated some of the students who would not have thought to read the books outside of class found them quite interesting. The general format of the class was to discuss the reading on Monday, I would then prepare a more formal lecture surrounding one of the scientific concepts introduced in the texts for Wednesday, and Friday was dedicated to the class project. The class project’s main focus was to explore the idea of collaborative writing. A class wiki was set up, and the students chose two areas of contemporary science, global warming and stem cells. Through a series of on-line and class discussions, a group paper was written on-line. I was able to track individual students contributions through the software of the wiki.

BIOL453: Systems Biology

I designed this course around the relatively new techniques of microarray expression analysis. With so much genomic and molecular data now available, the field of Systems Biology aims to understand how the various biochemical pathways found in the cell interrelate. Using a paper by Ideker et al. as the template, the class grew up strains of Baker’s yeast that were deficient in their ability to process galactose. By comparing the expression of genes on normal yeast and the yeast that were deficient, the students were able to identify genes that may be important in the processing of galactose. The course introduced the students to many new techniques and required a good deal of independent thought for the final report.

Since its inaugural run, I have changed the course to address questions of fungal virulence in Cryptococcus neoformans. Studying a question with medical relevance seemed to help student engagement and enthusiasm.

BIOL401/CHEM480: Advanced Topics in Chemical Biology

Dr. Ron Supkowski and I designed this course to take advantage of our strengths in our respective fields while also learning more about the other’s. It was a good experience and wonderful professional development. The small size of the class meant that interactions were kept on a more informal basis, which is best for generating discussions about difficult topics. Student reviews of the class indicated that the material was interesting but they would have liked more opportunities for formative assessment.

TILE270: Natural Science Perspectives: Humans and Nature

Dr. Garrett Barr and I developed this course as part of a Learning Community; students took both this class and CORE 259: Theology and Nature. The basic theme of the class was one of scale. The class started with very small things (concepts, molecules, genes, microbes) and worked its way to very big things (animals, humans, ecosystems, the globe). A basic question we wanted the course to address was the roles that humans have in nature, and how we define ourselves. In general, humans feel they have “dominion” over things smaller than us, and are at the mercy of things larger than us. Is this a valid viewpoint? Do we truly “stand half inside the natural world and half outside it,” as one of our introductory readings suggested?

BIOL225: Techniques in Molecular Medicine

The lab was designed to give pre-Physician Assistant majors a sense of how genetics and biochemistry lab techniques are used in the medical community. I was responsible for designing the labs, while Ms. Mary Sanders taught them with coordination help from Melissa Czock and Valerie Musto. Students response to the labs were good, and they appreciated the practical medical application.

Changes to Existing Courses

BIOL223L: Genetics Lab

I wrote a five-week activity for the Genetics lab that incorporated techniques and concepts of molecular genetics and population genetics. Students isolated oral bacteria from their mouths and then characterized them with a colorimetric analysis and by cloning a gene out of the bacteria. I have also incorporated the “Cow Diversity Project” developed by Richard Kliman and John Cigliano at Cedar Crest College. Briefly, students brought in a piece of beef from home (they were instructed to get it during Fall Break), which they then amplified two genes out of. After sequencing the amplified genes, they used bioinformatics techniques to see how related the various sequences were.

Innovations

Incorporation of Bloom’s Taxonomy

In all of my larger lecture classes, we go over the weekly quizzes using TurningPoint software when I hand weekly quizzes back. This allows the students to anonymously see how many in the class got a question right, and what the most common mistakes were. In addition, I introduced the class to the basic concepts of Bloom’s Taxonomy. When reviewing the previous week’s quiz, I would poll the students as to which concepts they felt were implemented in the question. In this way I hoped to demonstrate potential areas for improvement for each student, transforming a normally summative assessment into a potential formative assessment. I introduced the differences between knowledge, comprehension, application and analysis early in the semester. Student response surveys typically indicate that weekly quizzes combined with review are one of the most helpful features of the course.

Nontraditional lecture format

In the last two years I have begun stressing class preparation prior to class and incorporating more peer instruction. Some would call this a “flipped” classroom. I assign a reading for class and collect an outline of the reading at the beginning of class so students can demonstrate they prepared. Class is then centered around abbreviated lectures, driven ideally by student questions about the material. After ensuring the class is up to speed, they then break into groups to work on problems related to the material. While they work, I help individuals groups with questions. If a question comes up more than a few times, I reconvene the class briefly to address common misconceptions or to give hints.

Teaching Effectiveness

Peer Evaluations

Full evaluations from peers are available in the Appendix. Generally, when I first arrived at King’s College it was suggested I involve the class more in my lectures. It took me a while to explore other options besides the typical lecture and test mentality common to new educators. Criticisms rarely centered around knowledge of the material, most often suggesting strategies for increasing interactions with students. These comments and ones from my student course surveys have led me to my current interaction-heavy course designs.

Student Course Surveys Summary

Full scores for the last two years are available in the Appendix. Early in my time at King’s College I had problems connecting with students, and became known as the one to avoid. This led me to change my style in two major ways listed in the Innovations section. Since adopting a metacognitive approach and requiring evidence of class preparation, student attitudes have shifted. I am now the one whose sections fill first. This has not, however, led to a dramatic increase in course surveys. It is probable that the timing of my courses play some role. As a teacher of primarily sophomore level courses, I can be perceived as the gatekeeper, especially among the heavily grade conscious Physician Assistant students. My highest rated classes are the upper level 300/400 courses where I am able to interact individually with students.

Efforts to Improve Teaching

The heart of my efforts to improve teaching effectiveness involve increasing my personal interactions with students. The hardest thing for me to do early in my teaching career was “let go” of the lecture, step away from the podium, and engage with the students. Now that I do it regularly, I can’t imagine running a class any other way. By embracing the “chaos” of nontraditional lectures, I have observed far more “A-Ha!” moments than before, and students seem better able to address questions that require application of known concepts to new data than before.

Appendix

Materials available on request include:

Syllabuses, 2011/12 and 2012/13

Peer Evaluation Reports

Student Evaluation Reports, 2011/12 and 2012/13