1. Biocore Guide
  2. BioMAPS- Measuring Academic Progress in Science
  3. PORTAAL: a Practical Observation Rubric To Assess Active Learning classrooms
  4. Gender Inequity in the Undergraduate Biology Classroom
  5. Meta-analysis of Active Learning in STEM college classrooms
  6. CLOSE the GAP: Curricular Learning to Optimize Science Education
  7. GATEWAY Learning in Introductory Biology: Guided Activities To Enhance Ways of Learning


Here are the research projects in progress within the UW BERG.

Biocore Guide

Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education outlined five core concepts that are intended to guide undergraduate biology education: (1) evolution, (2) structure and function, (3) information flow, exchange, and storage, (4) pathways and transformations of energy and matter, and (5) systems. We have taken these general recommendations and created a Vision and Change BioCore Guide—a set of general principles and specific statements that expand upon the core concepts, creating a framework that biology departments can use to align with the goals of Vision and Change. We used a grassroots approach to generate the BioCore Guide, beginning with faculty ideas as the basis for an iterative process that incorporated feedback from over 240 faculty members at a diverse range of academic institutions throughout the U.S. The final validation step in this process demonstrated strong national consensus, with over 90% of respondents agreeing with the importance and scientific accuracy of the statements. It is our hope that the BioCore Guide will serve as an agent of change for biology departments as we move towards transforming undergraduate biology education.

Click here go to the BioCore Guide

Sponsored by the University of Washington College of Arts and Sciences and the Biology Department.


Brownell, S.E., S. Freeman, M. P. Wenderoth, and A. J. Crowe. 2014 BioCore Guide: A tool for interpreting the core concepts of Vision and Change for biology majors.CBE Life Science Education 13 (2):

BioMAPS- Measuring Academic Progress in Science

This project takes major steps towards concretely defining core concepts and competencies outlined in the NSF-AAAS report, Vision and Change, and provides tools to allow programmatic assessment in undergraduate biology education. The intellectual merit of this project derives from the development, validation, and field-testing of tools called Bio-MAPS (Biology-Measuring Achievement and Progression in Science). Specifically, four Bio-MAPS assessments are being produced: molecular and cellular biology, physiology and neuroscience, ecology and evolution, and an overall comprehensive measure. The research team is working with biology faculty at diverse institutions that span the breadth of higher education to develop a framework that outlines expectations for what students should know and be able to do at different collegiate levels.

Data from Bio-MAPS are expected to provide dramatic broader impacts and catalyze curricular reform by: 1) diagnosing areas in which students struggle despite instruction, 2) allowing two-year community colleges to evaluate how well they are preparing students for transfer to four-year institutions, 3) inspiring and directing faculty and institutional conversations about enacting change at the programmatic level, 4) helping administrators focus limited resources on aspects of the curricula needing revision, and 5) challenging faculty to re-design courses to scaffold student learning. Biology departments can also use Bio-MAPS assessments to demonstrate evidence of student learning for accreditation processes.

Many agencies now require evidence of student learning and data on how well programs meet the needs of diverse student populations. This focus on tangible learning outcomes requires that institutions have a means of quantitatively measuring student progression through a curriculum. Bio-MAPS can provide a means of measuring student progress through a curriculum. Other science disciplines may be interested in developing similar assessments for their students.

This project is being funded jointly by the Directorate for Biological Sciences and the Directorate of Education and Human Resources, Division of Undergraduate Education as part of their efforts to support Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education.

PORTAAL: a Practical Observation Rubric To Assess Active Learning classrooms

Active learning generally increases student achievement, but not all implementation strategies exhibit the same magnitude of gains.  In this study, we developed an instrument to characterize how active learning is carried out in a classroom and correlate scores on this instrument with differences in student performance.  Although multiple tools exist for documenting active learning, none have been used to explain variation in student achievement. Our instrument documents not only the amount of time students are active in the classroom, but also how closely an instructor’s use of active learning aligns with best practices from the education research literature.  We are in the initial phase of testing which elements of the rubric are correlated with student exam achievement.  To capture a range of classroom types, we are using archival footage of 27 introductory biology instructors.  We will use principle components analysis and linear models to identify which elements of the rubric best predict student performance after controlling for variability in student ability and exam challenge between classes. With this baseline data, we will be able to discuss the use of the rubric to help faculty assess the effectiveness of their in-class instruction strategies.

Gender Inequity in the Undergraduate Biology Classroom

Eddy, S.L.*, S.E. Brownell*, M.P.Wenderoth. Gender gaps in achievement and participation in multiple introductory biology classrooms. (in revision 10/28/13 to CBE- Life Science Education) * contributed equally

Meta-analysis of Active Learning in STEM college classrooms

Freeman S., S.L. Eddy, M. McDonough, M.K. Smith, N. Okoroafor, H. Jordt, M.P. Wenderoth. Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. (in revision PNAS 2/1/14)

CLOSE the GAP: Curricular Learning to Optimize Science Education

This project is testing the hypothesis that a highly structured course design, developed and tested in one quarter of the 3-quarter introductory biology sequence for majors at the University of Washington (UW), can be implemented by instructors who teach introductory biology at three institutions diverse as to mission (from community college to an R1 institution) and class size (from 40 to 700).

Intellectual merit: Recent work by this group (Haak et al (2011) Science 332 1213-1216, has shown that the highly structured course design–which combines intensive active learning in lecture-free class sessions with daily and weekly formative assessments in the form of on-line quizzes–increased overall student performance and lowered the achievement gap between students from disadvantaged versus advantaged backgrounds.

Broadening participation: The current goal is to determine if the course materials can produce similar results in the hands of other instructors, working with other student populations (at Eastern Michigan and Eastern Washington Universities and at Everett (Washington) Community College). The course content at these institutions overlaps completely or substantially with Biology 180 at the University of Washington, the course that is already supported with evidence-based, high-structure materials. When the project is completed, data will be available from institutions ranging from selective to open enrollment, from R1s to community colleges, and with class enrollments from 700 to 40. The efficacy of the materials in the hands of an instructor with minimal teaching experience-specifically–a post-doctoral research associate or a newly hired, tenure-track research faculty member of the UW Department of Biology–is also being investigated within the same course to enable comparison of materials on performance in the same student population, when delivered by experienced versus inexperienced faculty.

GATEWAY Learning in Introductory Biology: Guided Activities To Enhance Ways of Learning

The Guided Group Activities To Enhance Ways of Learning in Biology (GATEWAY Learning in Biology) project is testing the efficiency of GATEWAY activities–in-class, pencil-and-paper exercises done by small groups in a large lecture setting–designed to increase student understanding of three particularly important and difficult challenges for students in introductory biology: understanding the processes of evolution; developing the ability to interpret phylogenetic trees; and appreciating the principles of experimental design. These concepts are fundamental but are particularly susceptible to misconceptions and present well-defined teaching problems.

Intellectual Merit
The work is one of the first examples of “2nd-generation” research in STEM education, where investigators test alternative active learning exercises instead of comparing active-learning to passive-learning approaches. The alternative small-group approaches being compared in the large lecture setting are guided, in-class activities to be completed by groups of 3-4 students. The GATEWAY exercises are being added to a large-enrollment course at the University of Washington (UW) that has already implemented such innovations as peer Teaching Assistants, weekly practice exams, automated response systems (clickers), and inquiry-based labs, but not extensive small-group work. The guided activities are also being tested in a small lecture class at a 2-year community college to ascertain their effectiveness in classes with a different student population, class size, and institutional setting. Involvement of numerous undergraduates in conducting the research is: (1) providing a conduit for student feedback on the design of the in-class activities; (2) exposing students to STEM education research early in their careers; and (3) providing insight into students’ thought processes that lead to misconceptions of key concepts in biology.

Broader Impact
The GATEWAY activities developed and tested in this research have the potential to impact the approximately 300,000 students who take introductory biology in the U.S. each year. The use of graduate students as research assistants and undergraduates as research advisors for this study helps broaden the base of young professionals with experience in STEM education research and contributes to the development of a growing and vibrant national STEM education research network.

This project is being co-funded by funds from the Directorate for Biological Sciences, Emerging Frontiers Division.

NSF 0942215—-3/17/2010 to 5/21/2009 $245,598

Brownell, S.E., M.P., Wenderoth, R.J. Theobald, O. Okoroafor, M. Koval., S. Freeman, Walcher, C., and A.J. Crowe. 2013 How students think about experimental design: Novel conceptions revealed by in-class activities. BioScience 2013:doi: 10.1093/biosci/bit016

Eddy, S.L., M.P.Wenderoth, A.J. Crowe, and S.F. Freeman. 2013. How should we teach tree thinking? An experimental test of two hypotheses. Evolution Education and Outreach 6:13

Freeman, S., R.J. Theobald, A.J. Crowe, and M.P. Wenderoth. 2014 Likes attract in a college classroom. (in revision)

Theobald, E.J., J. HilleRisLambers, , M.P., Wenderoth, A.J. Crowe, and S. Freeman. 2014 How should we teach climate change? An experimental test of two hypotheses. (in preparation)