Impressions of SABER 2013, Day 1

Stepping foot on a new university campus often feels simultaneously novel and familiar. The campus of University of Minnesota isn’t any different. Students and faculty mill around as usual but the buildings are brick or twisted metal instead of stone, wood or concrete, the terrain is flat and the heat feels strangely more oppressive than the same temperature in Vancouver. I am here to attend SABER 2013 (Meeting for the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research). This is the first time that I have attended an education research meeting and this is also the first time that I am presenting my work in education research outside of Simon Fraser University where I am a Lecturer in the Faculty of Health Sciences. My interest in attending this meeting was perked last July (2012) when I attended the Pacific Northwest Summer Institute in Olympia, WA. The institute took place right after  SABER 2012 so there was a lot of buzz about the meeting. My interest was reinforced when Michelle Smith gave a seminar in the Department of Biological Sciences at SFU and suggested that I would be interested in attending.

My intentions for this meeting are to broaden my interaction with the biology education community, identify potential collaborators and share the work that I have done to get my feet wet in education research. With respect to research projects, my dream topic is to investigate the transitions experienced by undergraduate students as they learn to critically analyze scientific literature. This area appeals to me since it was lacking in my own undergraduate education and I didn’t really “get it” until graduate school. I have also come across many undergraduates who think they can effectively read a scientific paper but cannot demonstrate this skill when asked.  This work could inform the design of scaffolded interventions throughout different levels of the curriculum. If this area of research appeals to you as well, lets talk about it as I need some inspiration to move forward.  I am also sharing my work in the form of a poster that represents my first effort in education research. This work was completed in collaboration with Mark Lechner, a senior lecturer in our faculty who (like me) has a bench science background and Esma Emmioglu, a postdoctoral research fellow from the Faculty of Education.  In our study, we assessed changes in student skill levels and confidence in applying applying the scientific method to data sets acquired by iClickers polling (Poster# FRI15). This study has been an excellent learning experience and will inform my future research practice. Please stop by, I will value your input.

By writing these posts I plan to capture my experiences at SABER 2013 for my colleagues at home and to reach out to the group attending SABER. I consider these posts as a conversation starter. Thus, if you have questions or comments about what I write, please come say “hi”.  So far my impressions are positive and the meeting is off to a good start. I unfortunately missed most of the first keynote address, but found that Stanley Lo’s address resonated with attitudes I have heard in discussions at SFU.  His talk reinforced the idea that big cultural changes toward teaching practice require intentional professional development opportunities, and that attitudes towards education reform are unlikely to change in response to haphazard piece-meal efforts. However, the good news is that change is possible given proper support and that it has a measurable and positive impact on student learning.

Nienke van Houten

FYI, this is me.

Meeting info: https://saber-biologyeducationresearch.wikispaces.com/National+Meeting-2013