Certificate of Innovation in College Teaching

As part of my PhD training at Portland State University, I completed a Certificate of Innovation in College Teaching (CICT). As a graduate student, serving as Teaching Assistant was a large portion of my practical training on how to be a good science communicator. Fortunately for me the Office of Academic Innovation in collaboration with the Dean’s Office of the College of Liberal Arts & Science at Portland State created a formal training program for college teaching. On this page you will find examples of how the CICT prepared me to engage students by incorporating innovative, evidence-based science education pedagogies that support equity and inclusion of a diverse student body both inside and outside of the classroom and laboratory.

Per the CICT mission document, the desired outcomes of this training program are for instructors to be

  • familiar with pedagogical best practices and able to implement evidence-based methodologies in their discipline;
  • able to develop a teaching philosophy that includes an ongoing reflective teaching approach;
  • able to apply practices that enhance access and equity in their teaching;
  • enabled to incorporate evolving innovations into their future teaching practice.

Through this training program I have become familiar with best practices for teaching Biology content in both lecture and laboratory settings (see Innovation in the Biology classroom and Assessment and evaluation of student learning sections). I have developed clear, student-focused philosophies of teaching and learning and equity and inclusion. I also strive to continue my development as an instructor and communicator by staying up-to-date with innovations in the Biology education field (see Innovation in the Biology classroom), seeking out peer-assessment (see Assessment and evaluation of my teaching), and reflecting on my goals, strategies, and successes as an instructor to continue to refine and mature my teaching effectiveness for the diverse classroom (see my reflections and growth plan following my teaching evaluations).

Using this training, I designed a year-long series (3 quarters) with a friend and colleague (Dr. Adrienne L . Godschalx) to introduce undergraduate Biology majors to what it means to be a scientist titled Biology Inquiry. Our class provides guided professional development, a structured introduction to the research being conducted within the Biology Department at Portland State University, and support for exploring the world of science careers. We also developed a compressed, one-term version of this course. The development of this course utilizes best-practices in teaching and strives to make the sometimes intimidating world of science career exploration more accessible to non-traditional students.

In alignment with the National Graduate and Professional Student Teaching Competencies, the CICT provided me with a structured environment where I have been able to learn how to teach in multiple ways that are accessible for different styles of learners. I have deepened my knowledge and practice of setting clear goals and expectations. I have developed an assessment toolbox for student learning and equity in the classroom. I am also active in self- and peer-assessment of my teaching and have a clear picture of the ethical issues and codes in post-secondary environments. All-in-all the CICT has shaped me into a conscientious instructor who is excited to practice her teaching and communication skills inside and outside the classroom.


How the CICT impacts my career

As an early career scientist, I do not know exactly where my career path may lead. I am currently moving into a role as a junior scientist for the U.S. Army Public Health Center in the Toxicology Portfolio. I will not have direct opportunities to serve as an instructor in a classroom setting, but will be working with diverse sets of people (both scientists and non-scientists) to tackle complex problems. The training I received in the CICT program has left me with a diverse set of skills that I can apply across fields such as using evidence-based methods, being reflective about my communication style to ensure comprehension and understanding (for scientists and non-scientists), and to continue to incorporate innovations in communication, teaching, and my specific field of genetics, toxicology, and general biology. The CICT has matured me into a reflective teacher who prides herself in incorporating best-practices and evidence-based methodologies for instruction and communication. The end result is a productive and innovative team-player who focuses on clearly establishing expectations and setting achievable goals to accomplish large, complex tasks.


My role as an instructor

Please take a look at my Philosophy of teaching and learning and Philosophy of Equity and Inclusion to get a better understanding of who I am as an instructor.

Teaching & LearningEquity & Inclusion

As an illustrative example, I’ll share my approach to serving as the recitation TA for BI341 Introduction to Genetics. Students attended lecture separately (given by the faculty of record) and recitation served as a time for group activities and problem set review to support and reiterate content. As the TA, I prepped for the recitation by reviewing content, working through the practice questions assigned to students, and going into more detail on tricky questions and concepts that students were having a difficult time comprehending. As I stated in my philosophy of teaching and learning, I view clear communication as one of my most important roles as an instructor and strive to incorporate this into all aspects of teaching such as clear expectations outlined in the syllabus, clearly stated questions and answers on quizzes/exams/assignments, and delivering content in using multiple approaches (e.g., read, write, draw, watch, do) to reach students with diverse learning styles.

As another illustrative example, I’d like to showcase my original course design: BI3XX Biology Inquiry as a year-long, three term series or as a consolidated, single-term course. This course was developed in conjunction with a friend and colleague using a backwards design methodology (Wiggins and McTighe 1998) by first identifying learning goals, then determining learning outcomes and assessment, and finally planning the activities that align the goals and outcomes. Check out my backward design for Biology Inquiry that was instrumental in the creation of this course. The goal of this course is to help junior and senior-level students develop answers to question such as: Why are you pursuing a degree in biology? and What can you do with your passion in biology? We aim to do this through building strong writing and communication skills, helping students to refine their passion, direction, and presentation, plus providing an introduction to the PSU Biology department and the diverse set of careers in science.


Classes I’ve taught

  • BI455/555 Histology Lab (Spring 2018, Spring 2017)
  • BI214 Principles of Biology Lab (Fall 2017)
  • BUILD EXITO Summer Induction Journal Club
  • BI341 Introduction to Genetics Recitation (Spring 2015, Winter 2015, Spring 2014)
  • BI252 Principles of Biology II Lab (Winter 2014)
  • BI251 Principles of Biology I Lab (Fall 2013, Fall 2014)
  • invited lectures
    • “Quantitative Genetics”, BI427/527 Evolutionary Genetics (Spring 2017)
    • “DNA Structure, Replication, and Manipulation in Eukaryotes and Bacteria”, BI341 Introduction to Genetics (Fall 2016)


Innovation in the Biology classroom

Bloom’s taxonomy (Bloom 1964) is not a new concept, but is a great starting point for all instructors to understand that there are different levels of learning in the classroom. In Bloom’s taxonomy there are six levels of understanding: remembering, understanding, application, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. Instructors must build a foundation of student knowledge through remembering and understanding and then guide students into higher levels of knowledge (application, analysis, evaluation, and creation). Courses design to work through this structure can help students engage in a deep learning experience that moves them from “learn and churn” or “read and recite” approaches in the classroom to deeper understanding and engagement. Students that are able to apply knowledge obtained in the course to analyze or evaluate new scenarios or even to create new ideas from the content are more likely to stay engaged and be successful throughout the course and as they progress in their education.

image credit: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/

Edgar Dale’s cone of learning (Dale 1969) is one way to approach teaching. His theory is that students remember only 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, and 30% of what they see. If you combine hearing and seeing, students remember 50% of the content. If students are asked to speak on the content, then they remember 70% of the content. And finally, if students speak and act on the content, then they remember 90%. My goal as an instructor is to use as many of these strategies as possible to engage students in multiple diverse ways and hopefully increase knowledge retention. When I am lecturing, I use visual cues, draw illustrations, and create concept maps to deliver content verbally and visually. For times when students are asked to engage in an activity (in the laboratory), I ask students to tell me what they plan to do, then have them do it. This is directly in response to the active levels of Edgar Dale’s cone of learning (saying and doing). I find that the more ownership you give students over their own learning, the more engaged and excited students will be. And that almost inevitably results in better learning outcomes and at minimum provides a safe and exciting student-led classroom.

image credit: https://acrlog.org/tag/learning-theories/

In an effort to modernize and transform Biology education at the college level, the AAAS and NSF combined forces and produced a guidance document, “Vision and Change: A Call to Action in Undergraduate Biology Education“. Vision and Change is a guidance document that provided recommendations for instructors (and institutions) to better prepare students in the biological sciences. Specifically, Vision and Change emphasizes that students much engage in how scientific inquiry is performed, not just memorization of facts. This includes evaluating and interpreting science in the natural and modern world and aligns with the top levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (analyze, evaluate, create). The major action items from Vision and Change are to integrate core concepts and competencies throughout the curriculum, focus on student-centered learning, promote a campus-wide commitment to change, and to engage the Biology community in the implementation of change.

The areas identified Vision and Change that I have power to pursue as a graduate teaching assistant are (to a lesser extent) integrating core concepts and competencies in the curriculum and (to a larger extent) focusing on student-centered learning. Some of the innovations that I employ in my classroom and in the course that I designed (Biology Inquiry) are backwards design (see backward design for Biology Inquiry) to ensure that I am integrating core concepts and competencies in the curriculum and active learning strategies to ensure student-centered learning. Some of the active learning strategies that I employ are:

  1. think-pair-share
  2. role playing situations
  3. group quizzing
  4. generating lists (individually, in small groups, or as a class)
  5. cooperative learning (students teach each other)
  6. minute paper reflections
  7. problem-based learning and case studies (e.g., deliberative democracy activities)
  8. concept maps

In the future, I would love the opportunity to design a course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs). A CURE is a course where a classroom builds their knowledge by addressing a research question or problem that is of interest to the scientific community (Auchincloss et al., 2014). As a great example of this, the Portland State Biology and Chemistry departments have joined forces to provide a multi-term CURE that allows students to explore plant/microbe systems. In the ChemBio CURE students ask questions about molecular diversity and function, assess plant chemical phenotypes, learn advanced lab techniques like HPLC, and design and perform their own experiments (check out their syllabus). Not only does this stimulate student-lead learning, it also makes science more inclusive and accessible for students (Bangera and Brownell, 2014).


Assessment and evaluation of student learning

There are two main classes of assessment: formative and summative. Formative assessment monitors student learning using low-stakes (few or no points) activities to allow instructors a glimpse of where students are in their understanding of the topic at hand. Instructors can use formative assessments to improve or refine their focus based on student needs. Summative assessments evaluate student learning with high-stakes (point based) activities, often at the mid-point or end of terms. Common examples of summative assessments are midterm or final exams and/or essays.

Examples of formative assessments (and courses where I’ve used them)

  • weekly exit assessments
  • minute paper (Principles)
  • teaching and learning questionaire (Principles)
  • course wrap-up
    • favorite vs least-favorite activities/content (Principles, Histology)
  • group quizzing
    • mock practical (Histology)
    • immediate quiz review (Histology)
  • deliberative democracy activities (Principles, Biology Inquiry)
  • student engagement such as ice breakers at the start of the term (Principles, Genetics, Histology)
  • student peer-review of writing assignment (Principles, Biology Inquiry)

Examples of summative assessments (and courses where I’ve used them)

  • midterm and final practical (Histology)
  • weekly quiz (Principles, Histology)*
  • problem sets (Genetics)
  • final projects (Principles)
  • lab write-ups/reports (Principles)

*Weekly quizzes can be considered both summative and formative as they are point-based, but are gauging student progress in short intervals (weekly) and therefore provide immediate feedback to the instructor for refinement of the material being presented in class. If students are struggling with a topic, weekly quizzes can help identify that and then the instructor can dedicate more in-class time covering the content.


Assessment and evaluation of my teaching​

  1. Classroom observation
  2. Mid-quarter review of course content and structure
  3. Student feedback
  4. Videoed teaching consultations
  5. My reflections and growth plan following classroom observations, mid-quarter reviews, and videoed teaching consultations.


My teaching professional development and training

  • Full-day trainings hosted by the Office of Academic Innovation at Portland State University
    • Professionalizing for Academia and Beyond Mini-conference (Spring 2018)
    • Preparing Future Faculty Mini-conference (Winter 2018)
    • Graduate Teaching Assistant Professional Development Workshop (Fall 2017)
  • Workshops hosted by the Office of Academic Innovation at Portland State University
  • Discipline-specific training hosted by the Biology Department
  • Leadership training through the Student Activities and Leadership Program at Portland State University


Selected Bibliography


Allen, D.E. and Tanner, K.D., WH Freeman. (2009). Transformations: Approaches to College Science Teaching.

Anderson, L., Krathwohl, David R, & Bloom, Benjamin S. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing : A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives (Complete ed.). New York: Longman.

Auchincloss LC, Laursen SL, Branchaw JL, Eagan K, Graham M, Hanauer DI, Lawrie G, McLinn CM, Pelaez N, Rowland S, Towns M, Trautmann NM, Varma-Nelson P, Weston TJ, and Dolan EL. (2014). “Assessment of Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences: A Meeting Report”. CBE—Life Sciences Education, Vol. 13, 29–40, Spring 2014. pdf

Bangera, G., & Brownell, S. E. (2014). Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences Can Make Scientific Research More Inclusive. CBE Life Sciences Education, 13(4), 602–606. DOI: 10.1187/cbe.14-06-0099 pdf

Bloom, B. S., & Committee of College and University Examiners. (1964). Taxonomy of educational objectives (Vol. 2). New York: Longmans, Green.

Dale, Edgar. (1969). Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching, 3rd ed., Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York.

Freeman S, Eddy SL, McDonough M, Smith MK, Okoroafor N, Jordt H, Wenderoth MP. Active learning boosts performance in STEM courses. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jun 2014, 111 (23) 8410-8415; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1319030111 pdf

Handelsman J, Miller S, Pfund C. (2007). Scientific Teaching. The Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching.

Shortlidge, E. E., G. Bangera, and S. E. Brownell. 2016. Faculty Perspectives on Developing and Teaching Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences. BioScience 66:54-62 pdf

Waldrop, MM. Why we are teaching science wrong, and how to make it right.
Nature 523, 272–274 (16 July 2015) doi:10.1038/523272a pdf

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. pdf

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