Enhancing Students’ Understanding of Biology Concepts by Engaging Them in Research

Ivona Mladenovic

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Ivona Mladenovic, Department of Biological Sciences

Project team: Alex Chubaty, research assistant

Timeframe: September 2012 to May 2013

Funding: $5,000

Poster presentation: View a poster (PDF) describing this project from the 2013 Symposium on Teaching and Learning. 

Description: In this project, I address an observation I have made through years of teaching first-year biology students at SFU, and that observation is the following: first year students are more concerned with their marks than with the knowledge they gain at the end of their courses. Unfortunately I have found first-year students measure their educational achievements, not by the amount or by the quality of knowledge they gain, but rather by quantifying the numeric values of their final exam grades.

I believe this is an important problem to address, since education is a lifelong learning process of discovery, meaning and application, and not just a number game or a mere ranking competition among students. Having students that are at the very beginning of their academic career, and for the first time present at the university, it is important that we start conveying a relevant message to them about the importance and power of the knowledge they gain during their academic life.

Alex Chubaty

This project will engage students in the process of application of biological concepts that they learn in my biology courses. I plan to do so by asking the students to conduct their own research and publish obtained results in an on-line publicly viewable Journal we created. 

The context of my project will be within two first-year courses that I teach in Surrey campus: BISC 101 and BISC 102 (General Biology). Both of these courses teach general biology principles that are applicable to everyday life, and therefore appropriate for students to apply in their research as well. The main objective of both courses is to allow students to learn basic biological concepts, and hopefully use these basic concepts to decide on their subsequent interests in biology, further selection of courses, and even their career path in the future.

Questions addressed:

  • What are the benefits of student research in terms of students applying what they learn to everyday life? What did students actually learn while researching for their project? What are students’ experiences with the revision of their papers?
  • How do students perceive the peer review process in terms of their learning in the course and their motivation to learn? What are peer-reviewers’ experiences with their engagement with the projects?

Knowledge sharing: Results will be presented at appropriate workshops/conferences organized by SFU.  Because the student Journal will be publically viewable, I hope the Journal attracts instructors and students from other scientific disciplines, which could become a widespread initiative, offered to first-year science students.

Mladenovic, I., Chubaty, A., & Tirajoh, A. (2013, May). Enhancing students' understanding of biological concepts by engaging them in research. Poster session presented at the Symposium on Teaching and Learning: Embracing Change @SFU, SFU Burnaby, BC.

Keywords: student engagement; first-year experience