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  • Author and professor Greg Podgorski and his book, Biological Science, 8th Edition

    Meet Greg Podgorski, author on Biological Science

    By Greg Podgorski
    What course(s) do/did you teach?

    Greg: General Biology – Majors; General Biology – Nonmajors; Genetics; Developmental Biology; Microbiology

    What is a challenge that you’re currently facing in the classroom? How did/do you try to overcome this challenge?

    Greg: Helping students who struggle to understand biology. Additionally, increasing course structure.

    What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past few years regarding teaching biology?

    Greg: The importance of focusing on clearly articulated learning objectives.

    What is one best practice that you use that you think works well and you would want to share with others, whether it's in a classroom setting, working in groups, or working one-on-one with a new teaching technology?

    Greg: Creating a course structure that encourages understanding biology for most students.

    What are you most proud of in your career?

    Greg: Hearing from students who have gone on to careers in biology, medicine, and related fields who have told me of the importance of courses I’ve taught.

    In your opinion, what is higher education going to look like in the next two to three years?

    Greg: Generative AI is likely to be transformative in positive and negative ways that are difficult to predict precisely.

    The 8th Edition of Biological Science is being released this year. What excites you the most about this revision?

    Greg: The suite of new features, particularly “Biology in Numbers,” coupled with the solid core of a text that illustrates what we know about biology and how that knowledge was gained.

  • Author and Professor Kim Quillin with her book, Biological Science, 8th Edition

    Meet Kim Quillin, author on Biological Science

    By Greg Podgorski
    What course(s) do/did you teach and where?

    Kim: I designed, coordinate, and teach Biology 202: Introduction to Biology: Evolution and Ecology at Salisbury University in Maryland.

    What is a challenge that you’re currently facing in the classroom? How did/do you try to overcome this challenge?

    Kim: Some students are thriving in college but others are struggling in diverse ways: mental health challenges such as depression, social anxiety, and climate anxiety; social injustice; financial insecurity and food insecurity; working long hours at jobs; navigating college as first-generation students and transfer students; neurodiversity challenges, and so on, some experiencing a high level of intersectionality of marginalized identities.

    To address these challenges I employ many evidence-based inclusive practices in the structure and culture of my course to promote a sense of empathy and community. I try to center diversity (in its many dimensions) and equity in our educational mission to help students to feel a sense of belonging, support, agency, and clarity-of-mission in our learning space. I also try to get to know the students well enough (fortunate with small class sizes) to help connect them to appropriate supports.

    What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past few years regarding teaching biology?

    Kim: The affective domain (feelings, attitudes, emotions) is so important to student success, equity, and retention in STEM.

    In my classroom and in Biological Science, we weave together attention to the affective, metacognitive, and cognitive domains. For example:

    • The Insider Tip Videos of peer learners and Making Models exercises and videos provide tips on tough science concepts and skills while encouraging growth mindset, value, interest, and self-efficacy.
    • Formative and summative assessment questions applying concepts and skills to societal challenges and solutions, including End-of-Chapter Case Studies and Human Angle questions (with photos showing diverse scientists at work in career contexts) promote interest, value, science identity, and self-efficacy.
    • Reflect questions and supporting BioSkills promote value and self-efficacy in practicing metacognitive skills.
    • Biology in Numbers problems and videos promote interest in math and growth mindset.

    In essence, it helps to support the students holistically, as thinking, feeling humans.

    What is one best practice that you use that you think works well and you would want to share with others, whether it's in a classroom setting, working in groups, or working one-on-one with a new teaching technology?

    Kim: Since teaching and learning requires a systems-thinking approach, it is difficult to mention just one best practice without connecting it to others in synergy.

    One structural best practice that I recommend is a transparent and genuine focus on learning outcomes (focusing on both concepts and skills), transparent alignment of assessment to each outcome, and transparent alignment of homework and classwork to the outcomes.

    This inclusive approach keeps instructors and classwork on task, removes guesswork from the course experience for students, and thus helps students genuinely focus on their learning, especially when multiple attempts and demonstrating achievement of outcomes are built into the learning system.

    What are you most proud of in your career? 

    Kim: In terms of my classroom teaching, in the last four years I have had a leadership opportunity to rebuild the introductory biology curriculum for majors at Salisbury University from the ground up. This has been a career capstone opportunity/challenge where I could synthesize 20 years of personal experience and best practices from the science education and social justice communities.

    My team employed a backwards designed, flipped course organization with high structure. We centered the curriculum on:

    • The Vision and Change (AAAS, 2011) core concepts and competencies,
    • Standards-based grading with transparent and centered learning outcomes and multiple attempts to demonstrate mastery of learning outcomes on case-based exams focused on health and environmental sustainability,
    • Team-based active learning,
    • A course-based undergraduate research experience (SUPP),
    • Inclusion of counter-stereotypical scientist role models and science-allied career options,
    • Metacognition, value-affirmation, and growth mindset training,
    • A biophilic method of supporting engagement, mental health, sustainability, and social justice,
    • And a number of built-in methods of collecting evidence of efficacy.

    While we continue to use evidence to improve the courses every semester, the transformation has been invigorating because students are engaged in an active community of learning.

    In your opinion, what is higher education going to look like in the next two to three years?

    Kim: According to the Journal of Higher Education, the undergraduate study body will continue to diversify over the next decade. This diversity is good for science, but in order to retain diverse students in our science programs we must collectively pivot to more inclusive practices, especially in our larger “gateway” courses for STEM majors where opportunity gaps tend to be deeper.

    Fortunately, there is abundant evidence of numerous effective inclusive practices that help not only historically marginalized students but others as well. The main challenge is effecting broad and rapid institutional transformation on a national level.

    The 8th edition of Biological Science is being released this year. What excites you the most about this revision?

    Kim: At this time of climate crisis, biodiversity crisis, social justice reckoning, and other social challenges, it is more appropriate than ever to help students connect their biology learning to societal solutions, to envision themselves as potential scientists, and to see a link between their biology learning and solutions in their communities and society at large. Thus, it was a joy in this edition to encourage inclusion, value, and self-efficacy.  

    For example, we updated the language and examples throughout the book to be more inclusive, narrowing the gap between the historical culture of Western science (heavily European/white/male) and the current culture of scientists and science students. The new Human Angle feature shows diverse scientist at work in a variety of contexts to help students imagine themselves in biology careers; the Insider Tip videos provide a relatable peer perspective and tips to help conquer challenging learning tasks; and revisions to text and questions help students see how their learning applies to solving current societal challenges. 

  • Lizbeth Allison and the textbook she co-authored, Biological Science, 8th Edition

    Meet Lizabeth Allison, author on Biological Science

    By Lizbeth Allison
    What course(s) do/did you teach and where?

    I taught “Introduction to Molecules, Cells, & Development” at the College of William & Mary for many years and currently teach an upper division molecular genetics course and lab, along with an advanced seminar course on nuclear structure and gene activity.

    What is a challenge that you’re currently facing in the classroom? How did/do you try to overcome this challenge?

    Many students tend to immediately go to the internet when they are struggling with a concept, rather than using their textbook or other assigned readings as a resource. Negative impressions about textbooks being “boring” or “not helpful” seem to be established in high school and linger on throughout college.

    When I taught introductory biology using Biological Science, the way I tried to overcome this challenge was to frequently point out to students in class how Biological Science tells an exciting story in each chapter, with an emphasis on the process of scientific discovery. I also made a point to highlight all the special student-focused, interactive features of the textbook that help them learn to think like biologists, provide opportunities for practice, and offer strategies for success.

    What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past few years regarding teaching biology?

    As a scientist engaged in curiosity-driven, basic biomedical research that is far-removed from clinical application, I would have to say that I am fundamentally fascinated by all aspects of biology, whether they are directly relevant to my life or not.

    The biggest lesson I’ve learned in the past few years is that students today, more than ever before, want to understand the relevance of course content to their lives. I strive even harder now to make links to current events and topics that resonate with students, such as making connections that highlight how understanding fundamental molecular and cellular processes has led to advances in biotechnology, treating human diseases, and understanding the potential impacts of climate change on human health.

    What is one best practice that you use that you think works well and you would want to share with others, whether it's in a classroom setting, working in groups, or working one-on-one with a new teaching technology?

    The best practice that I think works well to foster an inclusive environment in my classroom is that I use a variety of modalities to deliver content and conduct assessments, even in a large class.

    I use PowerPoint lectures supplemented with videos, assigned readings in a textbook or from the primary literature, in-class group work on case study worksheets, short-answer exams that are based on a study guide made available before the exam, and a primary literature-based written assignment.

    Within this suite of content-delivery and assessment modes, if students put in the effort, there is room for success across a diversity of learning styles and backgrounds.

    What are you most proud of in your career?

    In both the classroom and my research lab, I am proud of my success in cultivating talent and providing encouragement and opportunities for all biologists in the making, without arbitrary filters such as skin color, ethnicity, gender identity, or neurodiversity, to name but a few.

    In your opinion, what is higher education going to look like in the next two to three years?

    I think there will be an even greater emphasis on hands-on learning and developing specific practical skills that convey to the job market or better prepare students for post-graduate study.

    The 8th Edition of Biological Science is being released this year. What excites you the most about this revision?

    I am most excited about the addition of the Human Angle feature. It’s so important for students to feel a sense of belonging in biology and to discover the many diverse careers that are possible with a degree in biology. Flipping through the textbook and seeing photos of a diverse group of people whose careers employ biology concepts and/or skills featured in the textbook brings biology to life.

  • Emily Taylor, author on Biological Science

    Meet Emily Taylor, author on Biological Science

    By Emily Taylor
    1. What course(s) do/did you teach and where?

    I teach at the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. I mainly teach introductory biology (plant and animal form and function), herpetology, and numerous physiology courses including human anatomy and physiology, environmental physiology, and medical endocrinology.

    2. What is a challenge that you’re currently facing in the classroom? How did/do you try to overcome this challenge?

    Students are overwhelmed with competing demands for their time, so they will naturally cut back on the time they devote to a class if they can. A major challenge for me is convincing freshmen biology majors that they actually DO need to devote a certain amount of time per week studying in order to do well in the class and be prepared for their next courses. Rather than allow them to cut back on studying only to do poorly on an exam and have to recover from that, I force them to spend time studying, but in meaningful ways that do not constitute busy work. They have two or more assignments per week that ask them basic questions from reading before they come to lecture, then build on the material with application questions after the lecture. The latter questions are similar to exam questions, so they become familiar with my style of questions before the exam. This helps students know what to expect and forces them to spend time studying what is important, thereby guiding inexperienced freshmen into how to study.

    3. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past few years regarding teaching biology?

    I’ve learned many, but I will pass on one here that I don’t hear very often. Good teachers are those who are constantly learning. I am always learning about current research (via conferences, journals, and social media), and I have the mindset that I can always improve my teaching and so I always try new things. Instructors who think they have it all figured out are the ones that the students don’t like very much, or the ones who are not very effective. The best instructors (most effective and well-liked) are humble ones who know they can improve and are always looking for new ideas.

    4. What is one best practice that you use that you think works well and you would want to share with others, whether it's in a classroom setting, working in groups, or working one-on-one with a new teaching technology?

    One of the best things I have ever done is to provide content-related learning objectives for each lecture or unit. I got this idea by co-teaching with my colleague Ed Himelblau. This practice helped in two ways. First, it allowed students to understand what material they are responsible for, preventing them from becoming overwhelmed by reading a textbook chapter with some info that I don’t plan to ask them to learn. Second, it allowed me to skip the simple information to focus on more challenging concepts in lecture, while still signaling to the students that they needed to learn the simple information from the textbook. In other words, I divide labor with the textbook, relying on it for introducing simple concepts, then I introduce challenging ones in lecture, then after lecture the students can read about those challenging concepts in the textbook to solidify details.

    5. What are you most proud of in your career?

    I am proud of my record of combined excellence in classroom teaching and in mentoring students in research. The students with whom I have worked closely have gone on to do incredible things in biology and medicine. The thousands of students who have taken my classes over the years have learned from me how to think critically so that they can better make decisions about healthcare, parenting, voting, and so many other parts of life where biological issues can play roles.

    6. In your opinion, what is higher education going to look like in the next two to three years?

    Much will remain constant, but some changes are that online courses will increase in popularity and artificial intelligence will be embraced as a way of writing and learning. Our computer programs will soon help us write using artificial intelligence just as calculators help us add and subtract.

    7. The 8th edition of Biological Science is being released this year. What excites you the most about this revision?

    I am thrilled that we will have a fully functional etext with in-text links to the wonderful animations and study tools that we have spent so much time developing.

  • Female scientist working in the lab with students

    #BreakTheBias in Biology

    By Dr. Lourdes Norman-McKay and Dr. Lisa Urry

    74% of women believe all types of bias and discrimination are still making it difficult to find new career opportunities, according to the findings in our Global Learner Survey. This International Women’s Day, we envision a world without bias, one that is inclusive and equal, where differences are celebrated. Drs Lourdes Norman McKay & Lisa Urry are educators, authors, and biologists working towards equality in their fields. Below they share their experiences as women in science and their hopes for the future.  

    What was it like for you in the early stages of your career as a woman in science? 

    Lourdes: I would say early on it was it was rather challenging. I wouldn't say it was academically difficult for me so much as it was an emotional challenge. I ended up constantly having to prove myself, over and over again, much more so than a lot of my male peers. It’s a recurring theme I hear from other women scientists, so it's nice that I wasn't alone, but it's also disappointing that that's still often the case for women in STEM. 

    Lisa: When I was in graduate school in the nineties, it was tough for women. I remember there was a class of graduate students a few years behind me – 30 students, eight of which were women - that came to me for help. They all occupied the same office and there were four men in particular that were harassing them badly during the entire year. 

    They felt like they should be able to handle it themselves, but they ended up coming to us and we publicly acknowledged this and let everybody know it was not OK. I followed up with those four women, and I think only one or two of them are still in biology. And those four guys are all still in biology.  

    There were a lot of subtle biases against women, and even now women's voices don't get heard as often.  

    Are you seeing the same challenges for young women entering STEM now? 

    Lourdes: A big thing that still is facing women in STEM is the career or family versus career and family, which is disappointing. So many women are having to make decisions between those things rather than being given the chance to blend them successfully.  

    I said to one of my young coworkers, you shouldn't apologize so much for being a mother. And it's not that she was really apologizing for being a mother but that was the situation she was struggling with emotionally. She didn't want to it come across as “dropping the ball” now that she had a child. 

    I remind young women in the workplace not to be so apologetic. It's OK that your child is sick, and it's OK if you get sick, and it's OK if you take a day off. We're human beings, and we should not have to feel that we have to do twice as much to prove ourselves.  

    Lisa: There still is a lot of bias and it's still something we have to be really careful about. And not only against women but transgender and non-gender binary people. 50% of the students don't identify as binary genders at my school, and it's really important to have all these voices at the table. 

    There’s a study by a group of women researchers who were studying birds and birdsong. They found something no one had ever found before – female birds have their own songs. Usually, these research teams have been all men, who had found the male bird song but hadn’t identified any female birds. None. And it just goes to show science is not objective, it's subjective. And I think it's important for the progress of biology that we include all people and have a wide variety of voices and viewpoints at the table. We need Black biologists, we need women biologists, we need people that are not as represented.  

    What are you hopeful for?  

    Lourdes: I'm hopeful for a time when your gender is not important at all to the career that you choose. And I would say this for men and women. You know, a lot of men want to go into nursing and it's a feminized area, just like teaching is, and there shouldn't be any sort of perception as to who is a nurse who is a teacher. And there should also definitely not be any perception as to who is a scientist. 

    I look forward to the day when a young woman who says she's a scientist isn't told, “Well, you don't look like a scientist.” To be accepted in the discipline she's pursuing. To avoid harassment and all the challenges that so many women in STEM report and have experienced, myself included. So, I want that for my daughter and for all the young women out there who pursue this career path. And I think hearing those voices from women encourages more women to speak out about how we want to see our workplaces change; how we want to see STEM change. And that's important because it changes the culture, and it can change behavior. 

    Lisa: I'm hopeful for institutions supporting women as they're starting their careers, making them feel included, wanted, and that their contributions are valued because they have unique contributions to make. And this includes trans people, LGBTQ+, disabled people, BIPOC, and groups of people that have been marginalized, pushed aside – not made to feel welcome in biology and other sciences. It's really important to value all biologists and not just the ones who are established white men. 

    Hear more about how we can #BreakTheBias in STEM in our webinar Intentionally Cultivating STEM Identity to Promote Diversity & Inclusion featuring Dr. Lourdes Norman-McKay. 

  • woman sitting on a couch with her laptop and book taking notes, a boy sat on the couch with a pad in his hands

    Terry’s story: A timely teacher-student connection

    By Terry Austin

    Understanding that your students are more than just a grade is one thing; going the extra step to show them you care about them as people is another entirely.

    Dr. Terry Austin has been an instructor at Temple College in Temple, Texas for more than 15 years, during which time he’s championed the use of digital learning platforms in his biology and A&P classes.

    Terry found out just how important these resources can be for him and students — and for a reason you might not expect.

    Warning signs

    During his Anatomy & Physiology class, Terry noticed something odd about one of his student’s Early Alerts reports within the Mastering® A&P platform.

    Crista had been doing well. Really well. Her first exam score was in the mid-90s and all her work in the course was great. His dashboard showed her solidly in the green or “low-risk” category. But that unexpectedly changed.

    “All of a sudden, kind of out of nowhere, she seemed to fall off a cliff,” said Terry. “She fell pretty quickly into the yellow (medium-risk) and even red (high-risk) category, and it felt like there must be something else going on.”

    Normally, you’d expect a noticeable drop in grade to trigger an alert, but this was something different.

    “Her Mastering grade didn’t really drop at all, but Early Alerts noticed something going on. That’s what really triggered me to want to reach out. It felt like talking to her was probably the best idea.”

    The human connection

    Crista was a little shocked to receive Terry’s call.

    “Her reaction when I first reached out was a little bit of a startle. I don’t think she was expecting to get a phone call from her professor,” said Terry. “She was almost in tears when I answered — she was really concerned.”

    After reassuring her that her grade was just fine, he explained that there was an alert in Mastering telling him that something might be amiss.

    He soon found out what that was.

    Crista and her husband had been in the hospital the previous weekend with their son, who had broken his arm. A surgery and complications had kept her there for several days. Her husband had brought her laptop to the hospital, and she tried to keep up with her coursework while sitting anxiously beside her son’s bed.

    It also became clear why the system had created an alert for Crista.

    "She was distracted,” said Terry. "Her correct on first try score dropped, the attempts it took her to get the correct answers rose, but her grade stayed solid.”

    That’s what triggered an “aha” moment for Terry.

    “If I was looking at nothing but her grade, I never would’ve known anything was going on. The ability to see the need to make an outreach really was empowering.”

    Crista’s reaction to his reaching out to make a connection with her as a person — not just a student — drove that feeling home, and also made her see Terry as something more than just a teacher. It went beyond just gratitude.

    "It really did seem like a gushing appreciation that somebody seemed to care enough to make sure she was OK.”

    With great power...

    Terry now likens his experience to a popular comic book trope.

    “For me, it did feel like that super power moment. I got that ability to see into a troubled moment in her life, I got the chance to reach out, and I guess — maybe more importantly — I took that chance.”

    Not only was he able to reassure Crista that her grade was all right, but he was able to reassure himself that she was all right.

    “Her grades were fine — I knew she was OK as a student — but I also knew looking at that shift from green to yellow — something had caused that to happen. It felt really nice being able to reach out and know that she was OK.”

    Terry says that this experience did truly change the way he looks at his students.

    “It’s a reminder for me that my students are far more than just their grades. It was an insight and really an awakening that there’s more going on with my students than just that grade in the moment. It’s a reminder that there’s a person behind that grade, it’s not just a number.”

    He finds that this technology is like having a window to peek through; to have an idea whether everything is all right, or whether he might need to reach out again.

    As for that feeling of having a super power?

    “It's one of those moments that kind of comes with great responsibility. And it would be nice to think instructors don’t ignore the opportunity being handed to them.”

    Learn more about the Early Alerts technology in this story.