Case Study-Multi-dimensional Collaboration

Case Study: Collaboration with Departments and Faculty

The CST Professional Specialists possess expertise in a range of STEM fields, and are available to interact with departments in a variety of ways.  The following case study provides an example of the ways in which the Professional Specialists may fulfill a variety of roles in their interactions with departments and individual faculty members. As an example of a multi-dimensional collaboration, we present our work with the faculty of the Department of Molecular Biology. This collaboration includes: course consultation, teaching and evaluation, and co-hosting synergistic activities. Please explore those various collaborations below. 

Course Consultation

The MOL 101B: From DNA to Human Complexity course is a lecture and laboratory course intended for non-biology majors.  The goal of the course is to provide a thorough grounding in both the content and practice of modern molecular biology, through the exploration of a variety of societally relevant topics in lectures and laboratories.  Our hope is that students who take the MOL 101 course will be able to use their knowledge to be more informed in their daily lives, in areas ranging from drawing conclusions about information discussed in the popular media, to considering policy in the area of the biological sciences, to making decisions about their own health.   The course is taught by a team of instructors: Dr. Bonnie Bassler (link is external), Dr. Eric Wieschaus (link is external), and Dr. Heather Thieringer (link is external).

The CST made a multi-year commitment to collaborate with the MOL 101 course, and the course has transformed over time.  Dr. Jaclyn Schwalm (link is external), former Assistant Director of Science Education with the CST, who has a background in Molecular Biology, began working with the course as a Lecturer in Fall 2012, and continued to work with the course as a member of the CST staff in subsequent years (Fall 2013 and Fall 2014).

Implementation Over Time:

Fall 2012:  The course was taught almost entirely in a traditional lecture hall, but a student response system was implemented in order to increase the interaction between instructors and students.  Pre- and post-lecture assignments were also implemented, and course plans were adapted based on student responses to these assignments.  Two of the semester’s lectures were taught in a flat classroom space, and these lectures incorporated a number of activities intended to enhance student engagement with and understanding of the material, as well as students’ ability to think critically about the course content.

Fall 2013:  The course was taught almost entirely in a large flat classroom space.  The use of the student response system and pre- and post-lecture assignments continued, and plans for the course continued to be adapted based on student responses to these assignments.  Almost every class incorporated activities designed to enhance student engagement with and understanding of the material, as well as critical thinking skills. 

Fall 2014:  The course continued to be taught in a large, flat classroom space, with students seated in small groups for each lecture.  The use of a student response system and pre- and post-lecture assignments continued.  Every class incorporated activities designed to enhance student engagement with and understanding of the material, as well as critical thinking skills.  Dr. Schwalm (link is external) attended weekly AI meetings, and responsibility for the development of assignments and activities began to shift to the teaching team and AIs.

Future Plans:  Student response systems and pre- and post-lecture assignments will continue to be used.   The goal is to continue to teach the course in a flat classroom space, with students seated at round tables in small groups.  In-class activities will continue to be refined, and course topics will continue to be updated to reflect current topics in molecular biology.  As the teaching team and AIs have begun to play a greater role in the development of assignments and in-class activities, the hope is that the transformation of this course has become self-sustaining, and that the CST will be less intensively involved in the coming years.

Dr. Schwalm (link is external) has also collaborated with the instructors of the MOL214: Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology course since Spring 2013.  This course serves as the pathway course for Molecular Biology majors and is an important course in the pre-health curriculum.  It is taught by a teaching team that includes (across the fall and spring semesters) Dr. Elizabeth Gavis (link is external), Dr. Zemer Gitai (link is external), Dr. Daniel Notterman (link is external), and Dr. Heather Thieringer (link is external).  Dr. Schwalm (link is external) began working with the course as a Lecturer in Spring 2013, continued working with the course as a member of the CST staff in Spring 2014, and returned to the course as a Lecturer in Spring 2015 and 2016.  

Course Teaching, Development, and Assessment

Dr. Schwalm (link is external) has also been appointed as a Lecturer by the MOL Department for a number of courses over the past few semesters, and has developed 2 courses as lead instructor or co-lead instructor.

Teaching Over Time:

MOL 214:  As mentioned above, this course serves as the pathway course for Molecular Biology majors and is an important course in the pre-health curriculum.  Dr. Schwalm (link is external) taught review sessions and developed problem sets and exams for this course as a Lecturer in Spring 2015, and will continue to work with the course as the Laboratory Instructor in Spring 2016.

MOL 380A & B:  The MOL 380A & B: Modern Microbiology and Disease course is a lecture/precept (MOL 380A) and lecture/laboratory (MOL 380B) course that aims to provide students with an understanding of how microbes impact their daily lives in both positive and negative ways, as well as a thorough grounding in the basics of microbiology.  Dr. Schwalm (link is external) taught this course as a Lecturer and Laboratory Instructor in Fall 2014.  Although the course had been taught previously, during this semester, the course was entirely revamped.  Lecture content was updated, interactive activities were implemented in the lectures, and all laboratories were newly developed for this semester.

MOL 152:  The MOL 152: Laboratory Research in the Life Sciences course was taught for the first time in Summer 2015 as part of the Freshman Scholars Institute (FSI).  It provides students with the opportunity to undertake an original research project and aims to allow students to experience an authentic research environment, to critically think about data and develop hypotheses, and to communicate their results in both written and oral formats.  In collaboration with Dr. Heather Thieringer (link is external), Dr. Schwalm (link is external) developed the course, and Dr. Thieringer (link is external) & Dr. Schwalm (link is external) co-taught the course.  The CST and Dr. Schwalm (link is external) also play an active role in assessing the impact of this course and the FSI as a whole.

Involvement of Individual Faculty with the CST and Collaboration on Synergistic Activities

Dr. Rebecca Burdine (link is external) is a member of the CST Executive Committee and an Associate Professor of Molecular Biology.  In Summer 2015, in her capacity as a CST Executive Committee member, Dr. Burdine (link is external) and members of the CST, in collaboration with Dr. Tamara Brenner (link is external)(Director of the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University) and Dr. Jennifer Frederick (link is external) (Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Yale University) co-organized the National Academies Northeast Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education.  The Summer Institutes are intensive week-long pedagogy workshops, supported by funding from the National Academies and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  The 2015 Northeast Summer Institute was hosted at Princeton University, and was attended by 47 participants from 29 institutions, as well as a number of facilitators from various institutions across the Northeast.