Archive for the ‘News’ Category

SF State receives $1 million to increase student diversity in science

By Jamie Oppenheim    Thursday, June 15, 2017


SF State is one of 24 schools participating in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence initiative focused on increasing diversity in the sciences.


Five-year grant aims to improve retention rates in biology among underrepresented minorities

The lack of representation of minority students in the sciences nationwide has been well documented. One-third of all college freshmen who plan to study science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are underrepresented minorities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, but only one-sixth of those students actually graduate with degrees in STEM. San Francisco State University’s Department of Biology hopes to chip away at this long-standing inequity with a five-year, $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the largest private funder of science education.

Out of 500 applicants, SF State was one of 24 other universities chosen to participate in the HHMI Inclusive Excellence initiative, which is designed to engage all students to be successful in science, especially underrepresented minorities and non-traditional students.

SF State data shows that 35 percent of freshman biology majors actually graduate with a degree in biology in six years or less. That percentage is significantly lower for African American, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander and Filipino students. While most universities have high failure rates among students in introductory chemistry and biology courses, SF State has an 80 percent success rate. Given these two points, SF State faculty are targeting biology classes at the junior and senior level as the place where minority students leave the major, according to the HHMI proposal.

SF State Professor of Biology Kimberly Tanner is overseeing the HHMI grant, in strong collaboration with the majority of SF State’s almost 60 biology instructors. Tanner is also the director of the University’s Science Education Partnership and Assessment Laboratory (SEPAL), and this new award builds on prior HHMI funding support for faculty efforts in innovative teaching. Tanner and her biology colleagues Blake Riggs, Laura Burrus and Carmen Domingo have developed a multi-pronged approach to retain underrepresented students in the major by focusing on teaching and coursework.

The main features of the grant are faculty partnerships with underrepresented advanced biology majors to serve as peer mentors in classrooms and to develop culturally relevant curriculum. Students working with faculty will receive credit for their efforts through a four-unit service-learning biology course. Post-doctoral research scholars will work with faculty-student teams and collect data to gauge the effectiveness of the programs.

Biology concepts can seem abstract, Tanner said, but when you learn something in the context of your community, evidence shows the information is more meaningful. For example, in one case study, students examine the death of Cynthia Lucero, a Latina scholar who died running the Boston Marathon. “Why did she die? It’s actually related to water balance in your body,” Tanner said. “Students can learn about osmosis over and over again and they don’t seem to understand it. But when they do the case study, it seems to click because they think, ‘That could be somebody in my family.’”

That’s only one example of putting biology into a culturally relevant context, Tanner added, and the partnership between faculty and students is designed to expand those examples and tease out what’s most meaningful to students. “If we love science and we want to understand complex problems, we have to engage people who think about the world in different ways,” she said.

Another component that could prove to be a real game changer is peer mentoring. Blake Riggs is a huge supporter of near peer-mentoring and said this could transform the culture within science. “Students go to their friends first for help,” Riggs said. “If we can harness that and they can now go to their peer mentor, who is more approachable than a professor, we can keep them on the right track.”









Go SEPAL Students!!

Congratulations to our own SEPAL grad student, Analisa Brown, (front row), Jackson Reeder (back row left, SCI 750 Alumni), and Lan Ma (front left next to Analisa, SCI 750 alumni) who went to the 2017 CSU-wide Research Competition!

Congratulations Nominee!!

Congratulation to Analisa Brown for her nomination as 2017 Graduate Distinguished Achievement Awards in Physiology and Behavior. 

How Do You Know if Your Students Are Engaged?

Check out Shannon Seidel’s work on active learning in the new Division of Natural Sciences newsletter: Synapse. Want more? Click here!

Discover your class!: Dr. Joseph Ross Explains his view on DART


As Owens’ manuscript suggests, this brings opportunity for institution-wide, automated analysis of teaching practices without having to have person-time in the classroom or watching (and coding) course videos. This is a game-changer. Read the manuscript for more potential benefits.

The reason I was so excited about DART this morning is because I pride myself on incorporating active learning in my courses at Fresno State. Plus (the BIG plus), I have years of lecture capture recordings that I could be analyzing RIGHT NOW! So, before getting ready for work this morning, I threw a few of my .mp4 file exports from ExplainEverything at DART.

Thus, a key benefit is those of us with stockpiles of audio can get straight to analysis. Today.

Further, with audio recording devices being dead cheap (ranging from dedicated digital audio recorders to cell phones, laptops, tablets…), everybody can (and should!) start analyzing their teaching style using this technique. Today. Except…

If you would like to read more, click here

Congratulations Genesis on UCSF!!

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Congratulations to SFSU and SEPAL SPIKE alumna, Genesis Vasconez, in her acceptance to the UCSF Masters Entry Program in

Loud and Clear with the DART App

Inside Higher Education writes its insight on the new DART App, used to measure the extent to which professors use active learning in their classrooms.

For more info, click here

New PNAS Publication on an Algorithm that Uses Sound to Identify Teaching Practices in College Classrooms!

Detecting active learning in college classrooms 

Researchers designed an algorithm that uses sound to identify teaching practices in college classrooms. Previous studies show that classes with active learning, when students learn through talking and problem solving, result in higher learning gains and student retention than lecture-only classes. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested to shift science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) college courses from the common lecture-based teaching style to more active learning. Kimberly Tanner and colleagues designed Decibel Analysis for Research in Teaching (DART), a machine-learning algorithm that rapidly analyzes classroom audio recordings, to quantify the frequency of different teaching practices in a classroom. For 1,486 recordings from 67 college courses across 21 community colleges and universities, DART distinguished the amount of classroom time spent with no voices or thinking/writing time, one voice or lecture/question-and-answer time, and multiple voices or discussion time. DART identified teaching styles with an approximately 90% accuracy rate and worked well in both small and large classes. The amount of time spent on active learning activities—both no voices and multiple voices activities—was higher for courses for STEM majors than courses for non-STEM majors, and 88% of courses analyzed here used active learning in at least half of class sessions. Given its efficiency, DART makes regular, systematic analyses of the use of active learning in classrooms possible for individual instructors, departments, institutions, and researchers, according to the authors.DART Trace

For more information, click here

Congratulations Analisa: Moving forward in the CSU Student Research Competition!!

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Congratulations on winning the SFSU level of the CSU Student Research Competition in the Area of Education and being chosen to compete at the CSU level for your biology research efforts investigating the experiences of Black students in the SFSU Biology department!!

Hello From Fresno at the Noyce Regional Conference!

SPIKE Alum Jake Campupos at the Noyce Regional Conference with a long time collaborator Dr. Seth Bush at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo!

Jake at Noyce Conference