Campus News

New workshop to focus on ‘scientific teaching’ for better learning outcomes

Students in the sciences typically excel at memorizing information. Applying that information to new situations, however, often presents a challenge.

A five-day summer workshop at UGA sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Academies aims to help faculty members in the biological sciences use an approach known as scientific teaching to help students more effectively apply the knowledge they gain in class.

Workshop director Kathrin Stanger-Hall, an assistant professor of plant biology, explained that scientific teaching encourages faculty to begin their lesson planning by asking what they want students to be able to do to demonstrate their understanding at the end of a given class period—rather than simply asking what they want students to know—and then designing assessments such as exams and learning supports accordingly. In addition to this “backward design,” scientific teaching incorporates active learning through discussions and in-class activities while emphasizing the diversity of student learning styles and teaching methods.

The first National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education in Biology was held in 2004 in Madison, Wis. This year, the workshop has been expanded to seven regional institutes, with UGA hosting the Southeast Summer Institute. Stanger-Hall attended the 2008 Summer Institute and has implemented the techniques learned there and published studies evaluating their effectiveness.

“The Summer Institute gave me a new perspective on how to design learning activities for my students,” she said. “It also was a great experience meeting faculty from different institutions who had a shared passion for helping students learn biology.”

Faculty apply in institutional teams of two or three that typically consist of a junior and senior faculty member, sometimes accompanied by an instructional staff member or a postdoctoral researcher. Faculty teams from different institutions work together during the week to create a class component on a specific topic. After the institute, the components are incorporated in a class taught at the home institutions and used as a model to design other components.

The Southeast Summer Institute is scheduled for May 14-18 at the Tate Student Center. The registration deadline is March 15, and more information is available at or by contacting Stanger-Hall at In addition to offering the workshop for up to 36 faculty members, the Southeast Institute will offer 10 scholarships for UGA postdoctoral researchers and graduate students in the biological sciences to attend the morning sessions and presentations.