Friday, November 2, 2018

Description of the BASIL project

Here is the description of the BASIL project that was recently submitted to NSF for a more general audience.

Our primary goal was to develop an undergraduate biochemistry laboratory curriculum that helps students move from following directions to becoming scientists. To that end we implemented a research-based curriculum in undergraduate biochemistry laboratory courses on seven campuses (Rochester Institute of Technology, Hope College, Ursinus College, St. Mary's University, SUNY Oswego, Oral Roberts University, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo).

In all we have had success in all of our specific objectives:

  1. To implement an inquiry-based laboratory for undergraduate biochemistry students.
  2. To assess student learning. Are they creating and testing hypotheses? Are they working well in teams? How and when do they communicate with each other? How do they respond when they find unexpected results?
  3. To assess faculty and TA response to this novel curriculum. What are the strengths of each faculty member and TA? How do they compensate for their shortcomings? How do they implement their strengths to the benefit of the group?
  4. To explore whether the students learned to think as scientists as they moved through the course.
  5. To identify the most effective way to implement parts or all of this approach so that it will be likely to succeed on other campuses.

We began this project with the idea that a CURE (Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience) is simply a lab situation where neither the instructor or the students know the answer to the question. We have designed a CURE, which we call BASIL (Biochemistry Authentic Scientific Inquiry Lab). In the BASIL project, the students are given proteins with unknown functions and asked to suggest a function based on computational and wet-bench methods. Many biochemists have incorporated bioinformatics tools in their research groups. Typically, students might encounter one or two bioinformatics exercises in a biochemistry lab course,
but the BASIL curriculum fully integrates bioinformatics to help the students design wet lab experiments and ask questions at the bench.

Student participation in the BASIL project is central to the project and acts as a hub for many research activities. We have brought insight into the taxonomy of a CURE and have identified student behaviors that reflect growth as scientists in the CURE setting. We assessed our students’ comprehension of various techniques through presentations and written reports. We have assessed faculty members as they have implemented BASIL on their campuses. We have found that they have continued to grow in at least two areas: bioinformatics expertise and professional communications.

We have successfully repeated the implementation of our BASIL modules and are continuing to expand the number of campuses involved. We are in the process of finalizing our modules for publication and have taken care to generate a CURE that is flexible for successful use at campuses with different schedules, campus climates, and student background. Our focus is on providing free online resources to other biochemistry faculty members who wish to implement the BASIL curriculum on their campuses. At the same time, we are engaged with a representative from a chemical company who has a deep commitment to education and would like to assist the BASIL project by developing self-contained kits that could be purchased to enable faculty members to more readily implement the BASIL curriculum on their campuses.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Two new BASIL publications!

The BASIL education research team at Purdue University consisting of Stefan Irby, Nancy Pelaez, and Trevor Anderson have published two papers this year:

Synopsis of the Two Papers

Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) have been described in a range of educational contexts. Although various anticipated learning outcomes (ALOs) have been proposed, processes for identifying them may not be rigorous or well-documented, which can lead to inappropriate assessment and speculation about what students actually learn from CUREs. Additionally, assessment of student learning in CUREs have primarily relied on lab notebooks, presentations, or student and instructor perception data, with less focus on specific research abilities and more on general technical skills. To address this issue, I developed a user-friendly, data-driven 5-step Process for Identifying Course-based Undergraduate Research Abilities (PICURA) to identify ALOs. PICURA consists of a content analysis, an open-ended survey, an interview, an alignment check, and a two-tiered Likert survey. The development of PICURA was guided by four criteria: 1) the process is iterative, 2) the overall process gives more insight than individual data sources, 3) the steps of the process allow for consensus across the data sources, and 4) the process allows for prioritization of the identified ALOs, that we termed Course-based Undergraduate Research Abilities (CURAs). Application of PICURA led to the identification 43 CURAs which were then organized into an ALO matrix based on the nature of the CURA statement and what aspects of the CURE aligned with a particular statement. Paper 1, focuses on the development and how to use PICURA and Paper 2, focuses on applying PICURA to the BASIL CURE and how the identified CURAs can be used to inform the design of student assessments to determine if the identified ALOs are in fact verified learning outcomes (VLOs).

Monday, October 8, 2018

CREDITS Team Science Retreat

BASIL team member Ashley Ringer McDonald from California Polytechnic State University was one of 30 faculty members chosen to attend the CREDITS team science retreat this year.  The Center for Research, Excellence and Diversity In Team Science (CREDITS) (  hosted their annual retreat on September 28-30 at the UCLA Lake Arrowhead Conference Center in Lake Arrowhead, CA.  The workshop brings together faculty and administrators from the University of California and California State University systems for a weekend of lectures, workshops, and trainings.  
The workshop featured sessions about the practical aspects of working in teams, navigating power and authority issues on teams, and collective intelligence.  Ashley’s favorite session was about building collective intelligence through diversity.  Research shows that collective intelligence, a factor that measures how much better a team performs relative to the sum of the individual members, is not related to the team members’ individual intelligence, personality traits of the individual members, or group satisfaction, cohesion, or motivation.  Rather, collective intelligence is a function of the social sensitivity of the team members and the communication patterns of the group.  This means that by using techniques such as monitoring the amount of time each team member speaks, limiting interruptions, and creating opportunities for people to contribute after meetings, the collective intelligence of a group can be increased without changing the membership. 
Ashley also really enjoyed participating in The Leadership Challenge at the retreat.  The Leadership Challenge is a specific leadership training which asserts that leadership is not a ability some have and others do not; it is a skill that can be developed.  It teaches that leadership is not about personality, charisma, or style; it is about choices and behaviors.  There are five practices that effective leaders utilize and six behaviors associated with each of those practices.  If a leader wants to improve a particular practice, they need only do the behaviors associated with that practice more frequently. 
The CREDITS retreat was an outstanding opportunity to build team science and leadership skills, and Ashley’s participating will enhance the BASIL group. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Sabbatical in the Making

Interdisciplinary Collaborative Research – Developing the next generation of collaborative scientists

Rebecca Roberts (Ursinus College) is beginning to prepare for her sabbatical, scheduled for Spring 2018. Science today requires collaboration between researchers from different disciplines.  Roberts aims to improve understanding of the process of training students to be effective collaborators.  Her research will address the hypothesis that undergraduate students can become interdisciplinary collaborative scientists in a laboratory course, given proper opportunities and challenges.  To this end, she will use the BASIL framework.  The BASIL project tests the hypothesis that undergraduate students can characterize proteins of unknown function as a central theme of their biochemistry teaching laboratory.  This National Science Foundation-funded collaborative project across seven campuses is aimed at developing and validating a one-semester, novel Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) biochemistry laboratory curriculum that equips students with not only the technical skills but some of the thinking and problem-solving skills that characterize scientists. At Ursinus, Roberts has expanded this project to model collaborative interdisciplinary research by incorporating the CURE into two separate courses that come together throughout the semester to inform the students' work in the complementary courses.  Interdisciplinary collaborations are frequently essential to answer multi-faceted questions, yet they present many challenges such as understanding the information, methodologies, and norms of another field and effective communication among team members.  Roberts explains that we “must begin to provide young scientists with the skills necessary for success in a validated pedagogy as the call for more interdisciplinary science expands”. She will be carrying out the research in collaboration with Trevor Anderson, an educational researcher in the Division of Chemical Education of the Department of Chemistry at Purdue University, and Paul Craig, Professor of Biochemistry and Bioinformatics and Head of the School of Chemistry & Materials Science at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Julia Koeppe, Mike Pikaart and Paul Craig having dinner at Mike's house in Holland, MI. They spent July 9-11 on the campus of Hope College working on BASIL modules for CourseSource and were joined over BlueJeans by Ashley Ringer McDonald and Stefan Irby.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Sharing BASIL with Other Campuses

We are very interested in sharing BASIL and seeing if this approach works on other campuses. We have several approaches to sharing. The first is this blog and the links on the blog to the BASIL modules. We also present our experiences at national conferences of the American Chemical Society, the American Society for Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, and the Biophysical Society.

We also will be publishing articles about our experiences. To date, we have one publication in print, one in press and one in the submission process. Here is the link to our article that was published in the September/October issue of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, volume 45, issue 5, pp. 426-436:

A survey on faculty perspectives on the transition to a biochemistry course-based undergraduate research experience laboratory. 

Two of the BASIL team members are planning sabbaticals that will include work on this project and may include visits to other BASIL campuses. As a group we plan to welcome interested faculty members to have short-term (spring break) or longer term visits to our campuses to witness the BASIL project first hand. Please email me at paul dot craig at rit dot edu if this interests you.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Biochemists in Tampa (Mike Pikaart)

July may be off-season for travel to Florida, but the biochemistry was definitely timely at the University of Tampa for the 2017 "Transforming Undergraduate Education in the Molecular Life Sciences" semiannual meeting organized by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology July 20-23.

I attended in order to network with fellow biochemists, learn some helpful tips and ideas for teaching, and present the current work on our BASIL project in a talk entitled "CURES: Building communities to support and sustain biochemistry research in the teaching laboratory."  I had the privilege of sharing the platform with Dr. Joe Provost of the University of San Diego, who described the work of a group of biochemists building a lab CURE on malate dehydrogenase - and had a lot of fun sharing similar challenges and joys involved in working collaboratively across multiple institutions.  Collaborative CUREs are a lot of work, but bring rich rewards in terms of student learning and, as it turns out, faculty professional development.

Along with talking CUREs, conferees learned about effective textbook use, assessment techniques, funding opportunities, and effective ways to engage students in biochemistry at institutions ranging from small liberal arts colleges and community colleges to large research universities.  And - we did get to enjoy some great Cuban food in Tampa's historic Ybor City.