Laboratories Engaging students in the Application and Process of Science (LEAPS) in College-Level Introductory Biology

Project No.
PI Name
Traci Ness
Armstrong State University


Abstract 1

Laboratories Engaging students in the Application and Process of Science (LEAPS) in College-Level Introductory Biology

Presentation Type
Traci Ness, Jennifer Brofft Bailey, Geneva DeMars, Melanie Link-P�rez, and Scott C. Mateer


Undergraduate STEM education must engage students early in 1) the curriculum to increase retention in the major and 2) inquiry-based research to prepare students for their programs. Several obstacles prevent widespread research opportunities for all undergraduates; therefore, novel curricular models incorporating research experiences at the introductory level are essential to engaging the most students.


The LEAPS project aims to 1) develop and implement an authentic research experience that engages students in the process and application of science, 2) increase students� understanding of molecular biology concepts and skills, 3) increase students� understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of science, and 4) promote faculty development and foster a community dedicated to teaching students about the process and application of science.


Each lab is structured to support student success: pre-lab assignments prepare students for full engagement, while integrated discussions and post-lab assignments encourage synthesis and application skills. Students collaborate to collect local insects, identify them to Order, examine the literature, and develop hypotheses regarding the potential for the infection of their insects with the common bacterial endosymbiont Wolbachia. Students extract DNA, perform PCR to detect insect and Wolbachia DNA, analyze Wolbachia sequences to determine their novelty, propose mechanisms for local Wolbachia spread, and organize and communicate results in a final PowerPoint presentation. Various resources, including an instructor manual, workshops, and weekly meetings, are provided to enhance faculty development and promote a cohesive group of dedicated instructors.


In 2.5 years, we have implemented this curriculum into 112 lab sections (2 campuses), impacting ~2500 STEM and allied health students. The exercises have been published in student and instructor manuals. According to survey data, students have increased confidence in quantitative analysis, technical skills, scientific communication, and information literacy. Objective assessments indicate student gains in understanding molecular biology concepts and skills as well as the interdisciplinary nature of science. Twenty-four faculty have participated as course instructors, whereas 10 others have participated in professional development associated with the curriculum. Future efforts will focus on continued project assessment and dissemination.

Broader Impacts

Our strategy of integrating research into the curriculum can be adopted by other institutions and is applicable across STEM disciplines. This approach has also impacted the scholarship of teaching and learning of our faculty and has led to the development of a second community of scholars dedicated to the reformation of the second course in our introductory biology sequence using the LEAPS curriculum as a model. Additionally, our faculty have begun to introduce engaging and active teaching strategies into other course offerings in the department. While our students have developed skills that prepare them for success in STEM disciplines, they have also compiled novel data regarding local Wolbachia distribution, helped develop our curriculum, became teaching assistants and peer-mentors, and have even been recruited to be research collaborators. Results from LEAPS have been disseminated at regional and national conferences, and one manuscript is currently under peer review.

Unexpected Challenges

The magnitude of prep required for a 20+ section molecular biology course on 2 campuses exceeded our expectations. With 3 different lab managers in 2 years with a range of molecular biology experience, we have been unable to coordinate a seamless plan for weekly prep. We are increasing the detail and organization of the prep notes eliminating the need for prior experience. Additionally, assessment of learning objectives/skills requires more effort than other lab courses causing resistance to faculty buy-in. We continue to work on streamlining assessments without compromising their value.


Jennifer Zettler, Scott Mateer, Melanie Link-Perez, Jennifer Bailey, Geneva DeMars, and Traci Ness. 'To key or not to key: simplifying and improving accuracy of insect identification in the classroom,' American Biology Teacher. Submitted Oct 5, 2015. In review.