[USA] This week on Segue, Greg Budzban, PhD, dean of SIUE College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) hosts Kelly Barry, SIUE associate professor of biological sciences.
As Barry’s research focuses on the innovation of pedagogical techniques for the advancement of science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) education, the discussion revolves around Barry’s current implementation of a course-based undergraduate research experiences (CURE) course in introductory biology.
With both having been in secondary education prior to careers in higher education, Budzban and Barry emphasize the growing importance of creating educational opportunities for students at the high school and college levels that encourage persistence and engagement in STEM areas. “When teaching high school, you have to work every day to keep the students motivated and engaged,” shares Budzban. “Those are key areas today in STEM careers and STEM degrees.”
Barry completed her PhD in plant molecular physiology from the University of Hawaii in 1992. She would go on to fulfill a prosperous career as a high school biology teacher in Hawaii and Virginia before joining the SIUE faculty. Now in her ninth year on campus, Barry shares that she feels, “truly fortunate to be here.”
A fairly new concept, CURE courses are hybrid courses designed to provide students traditional lecture-style education, as well as lab-based experiences which provide enhanced undergraduate research opportunities.
Barry’s course is unique in that while CURE courses are typically implemented for smaller class populations, she has incorporated her curriculum across 15 sections housing nearly 25 students each, thus serving approximately 300 students per semester.
Budzban presumes that her interests in CURE techniques are directly related to the joy she once found in secondary education, to which Barry agrees. “Many of the innovations regarding ways to reach students at the college level happen every day at the high school level,” she says. “It’s harder to do at the college level, because classes are larger and you see students less frequently. But to a high school teacher, that’s just everyday practices for reaching students.”
Though revisions are still in their early stages, Barry has enhanced the curriculum of Biology I, SIUE’s introductory biology course, to be structured as a CURE course. She has implemented her current research project on algae biodiesel to serve as a student research project throughout the semester. It allows students to structure hypotheses and manipulate variables toward the creation of biofuels using algae lipids.
Each week, all Biology I students meet three times for traditional lecture sessions, followed by four days of lab instruction broken down by section.
By using this small-group, more specialized research approach, Barry hopes to create more lasting relationships between students and instructors, while also encouraging them to more critically think like scientists.
“‘Cook book’ lab experiments are important and can teach students skills, but we need them to be thinking,” Barry explains. “These students really have the opportunity to contribute to the body of knowledge on algae biodiesels.”
Budzban expresses his gratitude for the immediate research opportunities available to students on SIUE’s campus. “To have students come to this campus and be able to jump right into these opportunities as freshmen, that’s exciting stuff,” he says.
To conclude, the two educators discuss how providing student opportunities such as these are not only important to the STEM fields, but also across all academic breadths.
“A traditional style of lecture, paired with canned labs has shown to simply not have the level of motivation and engagement that students need,” Budzban shares. “Having students interacting with the boundary of knowledge on something that’s meaningful to them, I think that’s definitely the way education needs to go.”
Photo: Kelly Barry, PhD, associate professor of biological sciences.
View original article at: SIUE heightens undergrad STEM research