Newswise — Kimberly D. Tanner, a professor in the Biology Department at San Francisco State University, will receive the Bruce Alberts Award for Excellence in Science Education from the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB), for her tireless work to build local and national capacity for evidence-based teaching and biology education research. Tanner will accept the award and present a talk on December 4 at the 2017 ASCB|EMBO Meeting in Philadelphia.

“Tanner is breaking new ground with this work—drawing from diverse, relevant knowledge bases such as physics education research and cognitive science to understand how individuals at various stages of their biology training think about fundamental ideas in the discipline,” says Erin Dolan, one of her nominators.

Tanner says a disconnect exists between training great researchers and training great teachers. “We train scientists to be outstanding researchers and then we parachute them into college and university classrooms with no training in how to effectively communicate their expertise to others,” Tanner says. As one consequence, she explained, the majority of students who are initially enthusiastic about science leave the field, “with disproportionate losses for women, students of color, and first-generation college-going students. Yet, we have extensive research literature from science education, psychology, and more recently discipline-based education research that if science faculty used more interactive teaching methods, we could both improve learning and prevent this loss of talent.”

At her talk in Philadelphia Tanner will discuss a new technological innovation—the Decibel Analysis for Research in Teaching tool (DART). “It’s like a Fitbit tool for faculty,” Tanner says. “If I lectured 95% of last class session, can I innovate such that I get that number down to 90% next class session?” To positively change the experience of science students, “we need large numbers of science faculty to make small changes in their teaching, reducing the amount of lecture and increasing the amount of time that students have to talk, think, and write in class with their colleagues about the science they are learning…. Through our DART tool, we hope to support faculty in monitoring and iteratively shifting how they spend time in class with students.”

In describing her goals, Tanner states, “Through evidence-based teaching, I strive to make all science classrooms more equitable, fair, and inclusive of students from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. If we as scientists want to solve the complex problems that are facing us in the natural world…we must make our learning environments purposefully inclusive so as to retain the incredible talent from diverse communities that we are currently losing from our scientific disciplines at an alarming rate.”

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2017 ASCB|EMBO Meeting, Dec 4