Research Overview

We conduct discipline-based education research (DBER) on biology education and STEM equity through investigations of the causes and consequences of gaps in science literacy, and how educators can design their courses to minimize barriers to success. By developing an integrated experimental and theoretical research program we explore how classroom and social influences shape student learning, personal and professional development, and career trajectories. While our interests are broad, current research in the lab fits within the the following framework:

Evidence-based Teaching

Teaching practices should be based on the best available evidence rather than personal judgement or tradition. In the lab we critically examine instructor and student practices that maximize learning for all. Examples include using group work, self-regulated learning strategies, help-seeking behavior, and mixed-methods of assessment.

Ideological Awareness in introductory biology

Dominant ideologies and paradigms inform approaches to science and practice. How scientists conduct research is determined by their ideological stance. Ideological awareness (IA) is an understanding of biases, stereotypes, and assumptions that shape contemporary and historical science. In collaboration with researchers from South Alabama and Tuskegee University, we are interested in how contextualizing societal and ethical considerations into biology curricula impact student experiences and learning. A 3-year NSF grant will support our efforts to address this research!

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in STEM

Several institutional features impact patterns of success or attrition among historically excluded students in postsecondary biology. The lab is interested in the mechanisms that underlie learning and academic performance across biology courses, as well as scalable teaching strategies that promote equitable learning environments for all students. In collaboration with the EDU-STEM Research Coordination Network, we focus on researching and promoting equitable teaching practices in biology. Check out the website for more details (and information about our wonderful collaborators).

The impacts of high stakes assessments

A persistent “gender penalty” in exam performance disproportionately impacts women in large introductory science courses, where exam grades generally account for the majority of the students’ assessment of learning. Current and previous work in biology demonstrate that some external factors (e.g., class size, exam ‘stakes’) as well as social psychological factors (e.g., test anxiety) underlie these gender penalties.

The impacts of role models in biology instruction

The majority of scientists featured in undergraduate educational resources do not reflect the diversity within the scientific community, nor do they match the identities of students reached by these resources. In collaboration with researchers at Michigan State University and Project Biodiversify, we work to assess the impact of scientist role models in data literacy instruction on student attitudes and learning in biology. Read more about our 5-year NSF grant here!

From: Odom, S., Boso, H., Bowling, S., Brownell, S., Cotner, S., Creech, C., … & Ballen, C. J. (2021). Meta-analysis of gender performance gaps in undergraduate natural science courses. CBE—Life Sciences Education20(3), ar40.

From: Tracy, C., Driessen, E.P., Beatty, A.E., Lamb, T., Pruett, J., Botello, J., … & Ballen, C. J. Why students struggle in undergraduate biology: sources and solutions. CBE-Life Sciences Education. (in press)