Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, June 20, 2016

4th Annual Biological Sciences Undergraduate Teaching Symposium

“Carnegie Mellon is a global university."

The true essence of this phrase was palpable at the CMU Biological Sciences Teaching Symposium conducted from June 14th - June 16th, 2016 at the Mellon Institute, home to CMU’s Department of Biological Sciences. In its fourth summer, this symposium is one of the main catalysts that brings together cross-campus faculty engaged in undergraduate Biological Sciences and Computational Biology education; allowing attendees to share, discuss, and expand on their common passion for science teaching and education.

The goals of the symposium were many-fold. Discussions around the new curricular developments at the college-level were led by Mellon College of Science’s Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs, Maggie Braun and CMU’s Vice Provost for Education, Amy Burkert. They shared the new curricular developments and brainstormed ideas on how to implement the new MCS core curriculum in Doha, Qatar. At the departmental level, several faculty members from both campuses participated in vibrant discussions regarding the undergraduate core courses, including Modern Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, and the laboratory courses as well as some of the new elective courses, which provide for enrichment in emerging areas of biological science. The important role of other introductory biology courses, such as Basic Science to Modern Medicine, in the education of non-majors was also discussed. The role of student-made videos in education was discussed in a new session that was added to this year’s symposium. Curriculum discussions also included strategies for sharing course material and meeting common learning outcomes.

In addition to department speakers, invited speakers included Carl Kingsford, Associate Professor of Computational Biology (School of Computer Science), who discussed a new Programming course tailored for scientists, and Gizelle Sherwood, Assistant Teaching Professor, Department of Chemistry, who unraveled the new chemistry lab courses tailored for Bio majors.

The highlight of the symposium were the three workshops conducted by Chad Hershock, Associate Director of the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation, and Heather Dwyer, Teaching Consultant at the Eberly Center. These hands-on workshops included group activities which enabled instructors to role-play from the perspective of a novice student. These activities, backed by well-founded pedagogical research, equipped faculty instructors across both campuses with many tools and tricks to effectively engage students in the classroom, to use peer-to-peer interactions as a learning mode, and to use problem-solving techniques in order to develop student expertise.

This year’s symposium continued the tradition of building new bridges, while strengthening older ones, between instructors on both campuses.

Shoba Subramanian, Assistant Teaching Professor and Assistant Department Head for Graduate Affairs at Biological Sciences served as the organizer for this symposium. Ken Hovis, Assistant Teaching Professor at CMU-Qatar and Gordon Rule, Professor of Biological Sciences, were heavily engaged in the planning of this symposium. Nate Frezzell provided administrative support.