We're interested in:
1. Physiology Education.
How can we design physiology education to be more engaging, fair, and inclusive for all students? How do we assess it?
2. Science Communication.
How do we share science with the public and increase public trust in science and medicine? How do we support students in developing these important skills?
The SciBER Lab is led by Dr. John Redden. John is an Associate Professor, physiologist, and educational researcher in the Physiology and Neurobiology department at the University of Connecticut. His research centers on developing inclusive physiology curriculum, assessing student-centered STEM classrooms, and strategies for developing science communication skills STEM undergraduates. All research projects in the lab involve undergraduate collaborators. He teaches courses in Human Anatomy, Physiology, and Public Communication of Physiology and Medicine. His career goals are to make life science education more inclusive (especially for the LGBTQ+ community), train the next generation of scientists and healthcare workers, and increase public understanding and engagement with science. Additionally, John is the lead author of the active learning textbook Anatomy and Physiology in Context, used by thousands of students at more than 100 colleges and universities throughout the United States.
Can Big Data from a LMS Predict Student Performance in Large Courses?
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter the landscape of higher education in the United States. In Fall 2020, the University of Connecticut operated remotely with most courses being offered in a distance learning format. In Fall 2021, students returned to campus for in-person classes. Although there has been a great deal of speculation by students and faculty alike, the impact of these abrupt transitions on students are still largely unknown. We are comparing student engagement, investment, and performance in three undergraduate physiology courses using course level LMS data from Fall 2020 and Fall 2021. We analyzed the time students invested in LMS based instruction, the frequency of engagement with the course LMS, and correlated these metrics with overall student performance. Our findings demonstrate that easily obtained LMS data offers useful, quantifiable insights to inform teaching practice, course evaluation, and student support measures. Moreover, our work contradicts a popular narrative that students were not adequately engaged by “online” learning during the 2020-2021 academic year - students engaged similarly (or better). As pressure mounts to undo student support measures put in place during the pandemic, our data may serve as a warning to departments, graduate programs, and other stakeholders that the effects of the pandemic on students are ongoing despite strong institutional desires for normalcy.
Lecture, A 400:1 Student to Instructor Ratio
High enrollment lectures are polarizing. While some students (and instructors) undoubtedly find comfort in passive lecture classes, a growing body of evidence suggests that this is not the best method to boost learning outcomes in STEM - and it is certainly not the most inclusive. However, even faculty and students willing to experiment with more modern pedagogy are often confounded by physical classroom constraints, administrative burdens, and concerns related to content coverage. This is particularly true in large lecture courses. In order to implement active learning in a large (400+ seat) lecture course, we trained a cohort of undergraduate learning assistants to facilitate in-class active learning. By breaking apart our large class into small groups that meet simultaneously, we have been able to adopt a team based, active instructional model that significantly increases engagement and instructor to student contact. We are currently analyzing three semesters worth of data comparing this model to a "traditional" section to identify potential gains in student engagement, enthusiasm, learning gains, and inclusivity.
How Do You Build and Assess a Student-Centered Physiology Classroom?
Despite overwhelming evidence supporting the use of student-centered teaching practices, widespread adoption of these pedagogies lags far behind the research. Building active and inclusive classrooms increases instructional complexity, making them a challenge to build, operate, and assess. Together with colleagues from the STEM-PERL laboratory, we developed a new tool - course pathway modeling - to aid instructors in overcoming these barriers. Pathway models are a visual representation of courses that link teaching practices to short-, mid-, and long-term student learning outcomes. This allows faculty to better “see” interrelated aspects of their courses. Course pathway modeling provides a goal-oriented way to evaluate and redesign science courses through identification of curricular gaps and misalignments, facilitation of reflective practices and vision sharing among stakeholders, and a more streamlined method of communicating how we teach to our students, colleagues, and administrators.
Improving Science Literacy via Undergraduate Science Communication
Despite major breakthroughs in scientific and medical research over the past 100 years, only 12% of the United States population has healthcare literacy that is deemed proficient, and over 90 million people have difficulty with common health tasks (e.g., understanding a prescription drug label). Similarly, there is a growing gap between scientists and the general public on key issues such as genetic engineering, vaccine safety, evolution, and global warming. As a result, communication of scientific information to the general public has become a priority of several leading scientific organizations. However, STEM disciplines have historically focused training efforts on scientific knowledge and technical communication skills, which offers little benefit when communicating with the general public. Though important and well intentioned, the call to action is asking scientists to succeed in a task they have not been equipped for. I want to change that.
Teaching SciComm Through Public Engagement
The service learning pedagogy has been widely used outside of STEM disciplines, but infrequently within life and basic science disciplines like physiology. I developed a combined writing/service learning course to train students to communicate science to non-scientists. The novelty of this instructional model has been recognized by several internal grants at UConn. My students have written about rare genetic diseases for patients and families through a partnership with the National Organization for Rare Disorders in Danbury, CT. Others have provided information about malnutrition, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS prevention, and first aid to rural villagers in Masindi, Uganda through an ongoing collaboration with Guiding Light Orphans of Avon, CT. I’m proud to have created a course that provides students opportunities to apply their undergraduate knowledge, instills civic responsibility, and promotes a globally focused mindset. One ongoing research project is to evaluate how this instructional model captures student interest in STEM, and promotes success and retention.