Assessing learning outcomes from a novel formative assessment in a large enrollment graduate life science course

Awardees: Madhvi Venkatesh and Ronald Jason Heustis (HMS)

Summary: Awardees will evaluate whether delivering a chalk talk in response to an open-ended experimental design question is an effective method to drive improvements in the general practice and articulation of experimental design, as measured through responses to subsequent written experimental design questions.

Experimental design is considered an essential skill for developing critical thinking abilities and pursuing research careers in many disciplines. Several studies have addressed modalities for teaching and assessing experimental design skills in undergraduate biosciences courses, but few published studies have directly addressed these topics at the graduate level. Research Associate Madhvi Venkatesh and Lecturer Ronald Jason Heustis aim to address this gap by embedding training and assessment of experimental design into a large enrollment graduate-level course Principles of Molecular Biology, which enrolls approximately 80 students per year from a variety of life sciences graduate programs.

Their goals are to 1) develop the materials necessary to assess experimental design ability before and after the completion of the chalk talk; 2) assess the immediate impact of preparing and delivering an experimental design chalk talk; and 3) assess the persistence of experimental design skills gained from preparing and delivering an experimental design chalk talk over the course of a semester.

Awardees hope the study will lead to a peer-reviewed research publication that explicitly addresses teaching and assessing experimental design at the graduate level, adding a significant work of scholarship to a relatively understudied field.