My focus in the Department of Plant Biology and Division of Biological Sciences is teaching, and I’m currently an instructor for BIOL 1107. My research is in biology education, where the goal is to collect and analyze data for the purpose of improving student learning. My interests include:

Student Use of Procedural Knowledge in the Life Sciences

Procedural (algorithmic) knowledge is defined as knowledge of skills, methods, and criteria used to determine when to employ them. In contrast, conceptual knowledge refers to knowledge of the relationships among ideas. Although procedural knowledge is important for developing expertise in disciplines, such knowledge without conceptual understanding is detrimental. One example of this scenario is students using formulas to plug-and-chug answers, without recognizing concepts underlying the algorithms. Although a common strategy of students in chemistry and physics, I’m interested in determining the extent to which students rely on procedural knowledge in life sciences and the extent to which typical assessments in biology encourage this behavior.

Student Understanding of Phylogenetic Trees

My research in this area has demonstrated that students have difficulties interpreting phylogenetic trees, which are analytical tools and visual representations used in evolutionary biology. This work has also shown that students perform significantly better on interpretation and construction tasks when phylogenetic trees are drawn in the bracket rather than diagonal style. The next step in this investigation is to determine why students disproportionately struggle with diagonal phylogenetic trees and examine variables other than style, such as orientation and scaling.

phylogenetic tree