My pedagogical research interests are focused upon the following areas:
(1) Novel undergraduate research laboratory experiences
This project is integrated directly with my research and teaching practices. The goal is to develop undergraduate, laboratory research projects that foster scientific skills and involve students early in novel, primary research questions.
1) The Nematode Diversity Project began with students completing Honours theses or projects with myself and Dr.Bhagwati Gupta. Each year, 5 to 8 students have completed a 6-unit project or a 9-unit thesis in which they collect and characterize a novel strain of nematode. Currently we are scaling this up to two 3-unit courses that could manage 20 to 24 students per term. Each 3 unit course would have a different focus: Fall: collection and morphological characterization; Winter: molecular, genetic, and behavioural analysis.
Dr. Gupta and I have received funding through the Academic Science Fund to develop these two courses and prepare an interactive laboratory manual in the form of an iBook. Funding proposal: ASF-Nematode Diversity Project – Dej and Gupta
Current funding to assay the effect of this research project on student experience and learning is provided by a Paul R. MacPherson Fellowship. This funding is also being used to expand the application of the iBook to other peer-based research projects.
2) The Human Amylase Project puts 1000+ level 1 students into the centre of a primary research project as scientists and as subjects. The students learn basic laboratory skills in the context of a collecting and analyzing original data. This project is in collaboration with Dr.Robin Cameron, Alison Cowie, and Alastair Tracey. Funding proposal: FWI – Feasibility study for amylase gene evolution lab – Tracey, Cowie, Dej, Cameron
(2) Preconceptions and Misconceptions: Math Concept Inventories in Life Sciences
Concept inventories are tools designed to evaluate a student’s understanding of the concepts and principles that underpin are understanding of science, rather them measuring rote-knowledge of facts and formulae. These inventories find their origin in the Force Concept Inventories developed for undergraduate physics programs (Hestenes, Wells, and Swackhamer, 1992). There are now several concept inventories that are being applied in various fields of the biosciences (http://bioliteracy.colorado.edu/). These include genetics inventories (Smith, Wood, Knight, 2008) and biochemical inventories (http://www.asbmb.org/NSF/NSFPage.aspx?id=11828). There is also recent work to establish calculus concept inventories (http://www.flaguide.org/tools/diagnostic/calculus_concept_inventory.php).
My interest is focused upon mathematics and statistics concept inventories for Life Sciences students in Biology, Biochemistry, and Psychology. These inventories are exploring a student’s understanding of the mathematical concepts essential to interpreting and understanding biological processes.
Hestenes, D., Wells, M., and Swackhamer, G. (1992). “Force Concept Inventory,”The Physics Teacher, 30 (3), 141–151.
Smith, M., Wood, W.B., and Knight, J.K. 2008. The Genetics Concept Assessment: A new concept inventory for gauging student understanding of genetics. CBE Life Sci Educ . 7 (4): 422-430.
(3) Scientific Literacy in the Life Sciences
Scientific literacy skills encompass many different practical aspects of reading, writing, and analyzing scientific information. At its core, however, scientific literacy is the commitment to evidence over preconceptions.
In addition to engaging students in my courses in evidence-based scientific discourse, I have also had several undergraduate thesis students that have completed projects that address such topics as: online tools for promoting scientific literacy skills, peer-teaching in developing a habit of scientific discourse, gender differences in group-learning, online problem-based learning modules.