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Department of Biology

Beyond Biology

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Symposium highlighted approaches that move beyond the traditional lecture

Dr. Alexandria Hansen, assistant professor in the Biology Department, organized a symposium covering new inroads on how to improve modes of instruction. 


Titled, “Biology Beyond the Classroom: Experiential Learning through Authentic Research, Design, and Community Engagement,” the symposium was designed for an audience of scientists — many of whom are responsible for teaching at universities, but have usually not received any formal training in education.


The symposium was held Jan. 5, 2021. It was hosted by the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology.


The purpose of the symposium was to show how while lecture is the dominant mode of instruction for most science courses, it does not align with what is known about learning. 


“Learners need to be actively engaged in learning new content, not passively receiving facts devoid of context,” Dr. Hansen said.


The symposium had three themes: (1) Digital fabrication in education, (2) Course-based undergraduate research, and (3) Community or Service-based Learning. 


All 17 speakers had pre-recorded 15-minute talks. They were present to answer live audience questions. 


View the talks for the symposium here:


Speakers included Fresno State faculty Dr. David Lent in the Department of Biology and Dr. Dermot Donnelly-Hermosillo in the Department of Chemistry.


Dr. Lent presented on the value of interdisciplinary science learning and the importance of using this approach across a student's educational career, beginning in K-12 and continuing through university. Dr. Donnelly-Hermosillo presented on his course-based undergraduate research approach that has CHEM 3A students doing research at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. 


The idea behind the symposium was that learning the traditional way is not always the best way. New content must connect to and build from prior knowledge. Since people tend to teach the way they were taught, moving beyond lecture mode can problematic for many science teachers who have only experienced lectures in their own education. Many science faculty members have not received any formal training in teaching or education. 


Dr. Hansen said she hoped the symposium would motivate and inspire science faculty members to reimagine their teaching practices to support an increasingly diverse student population. 


“Purely lecturing can turn away many interested students who need to experience the content in another way — most often, these are students who are underrepresented in the STEM fields,” she said. “To truly broaden the diversity in STEM, we need to improve our teaching to ensure it is accessible to all students. This symposium will highlight different ways of doing just that.”


Dr. Hansen was first introduced to the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology through other faculty members in the Biology Department at Fresno State. Dr. Ulrike Muller initially approached her about organizing a symposium around Science Education for an upcoming annual meeting. 


“Since then, I have worked with a great team of biologists from various institutions to recruit speakers who are doing innovative work to improve their biology teaching at the undergraduate level,” she said. “Our speakers will share ways they engage their students in authentic research, design, and community service as a way to learn science.”


Dr. Hansen’s focus is on Science Education. She also teaches courses in the Kremen School of Education and coordinates the Natural Science degree program a special major designed for students who want to pursue careers in K-12 science teaching after graduation. 


“I am interested in how people learn science and how we can use that information to improve our teaching,” she said.


The symposium received funding from the National Science Foundation. Dr. Hansen offered several registration scholarships for students and junior faculty.


“We take that as a sign that NSF truly values educational research as a way to improve the experiences of science faculty and students,” Dr. Hansen said.