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Coursework that is dependent on experiential learning, such as that offered in the laboratory-based sciences, can present barriers for a variety of students. These barriers can be magnified for students who experience disabilities that impact their access to the full depth of the course content and materials. Our unique perspective was formed primarily by supporting two blind students at two institution types across multiple biological science departments. In this paper, we explain the barriers we find are currently impacting blind and visually impaired (VI) students' access to STEM as well as some tools to navigate creating more equitable and accessible spaces to support blind/VI students in STEM. More specifically, we provide general recommendations for working with blind/VI students using a student-centered approach to planning and daily interactions, followed by tips and tools for preparing accessible materials and a case study on how to use learning outcomes to modify course activities to be more useful for blind/VI students, and lastly we provide recommendations for important collaborations.
One of the important mechanisms in cancer cell metastasis is the cellular function of a specific cell type called myofibroblast cells. Myofibroblast cells are unique cell types that play an important role in the cancer cell microenvironment. As a step toward integrating the latest peer-reviewed cancer research findings into a general biology remote learning setting, we developed an innovative guest speaker talk to engage first-year undergraduates to develop a prediction on tumor microenvironment. In our article, we describe integrated remote approaches using Jamboard and reflective mentoring to validate and reflect on undergraduate team responses within an inclusive and equitable framework. These teaching and mentoring strategies provide a framework for senior undergraduates to be transformative role model scholars that inspire the next generation of Latinx and Native American undergraduates in important topics related to health and environment and the process of science for general biology undergraduates.
Gene therapy has fascinated clinicians, scientists, and patients since decades ago because of its potential to treat a disease at the genetic level. This can be achieved in many ways, including replacing a disease-causing gene with a healthy copy. Gene therapy must overcome complex tissue and cellular barriers to introduce genetic modifications into the nucleus of the target cells to drive a high level of gene expression. Moreover, the genetically corrected cells must be present in significantly large numbers in the body to reverse the diseased condition and yet able to escape immunological recognition and survive in the long term to sustain the benefit. This paper reviews the early work as well as recent developments in gene therapy, including improvements to viral vectors and novel treatment strategies, diseases targeted, approved gene therapies, and current challenges and prospects for future progress.
The use of virtual reality (VR) as a medium for education can contribute to the learning efficiency of students. This study aimed to assess the effectiveness of VR application in advanced biology courses, specifically in enhancing the comprehension and understanding of high school students toward the topic of human organs and other related systems. Four high school teachers and 138 high school students selected from three separate classes participated in this study. To determine the impact of VR education from both teachers' and students' perspectives, learning satisfaction and the effectiveness of instructional material were assessed with questionnaires. We found that from teachers' perspective, VR was an efficient teaching tool that enhanced students' attention and contributed to the improvement of learning outcomes. From the students' perspective, they were willing to use VR instructional material and were satisfied with this learning method. Applying VR technology in the classroom should be encouraged. However, some students identified dizziness as a concern when VR glasses were used for longer periods of time. Therefore, we suggest that VR glasses be limited to 30 minutes of use at a time.
Plants are a vital component of human life on Earth; they provide us with food and essential nutrients as well as the oxygen we breathe. However, the science education community struggles to find ways to make plant processes less abstract and more understandable for learners. In this article we demonstrate how we make plant processes more understandable for learners by observing the behaviors of a specific plant structure, a stoma, which is a microscopic opening that plays a role in the movement of matter into and out of a plant. Recent research across plant-related science fields centers on plant stomata because they protect plants from various environmental strains, including attacks from pathogens. Translating this research into science classroom instruction has not occurred extensively. A key impediment is that few common methods to make stomata visible or demonstrate their dynamic nature to learners are available. The activities we share here make stomata visible utilizing a specific plant, Tradescantia zebrina, and common laboratory equipment. In the first activity, we share how to demonstrate stomata closing and opening by manipulating a combination of these environmental factors. In the second activity, we describe how to create a visual simulation of stomata response to attacks from microorganisms.
How to eat healthily is a question that has received much attention. It is important to find an easy way to help students figure out answers. Here we used a meta-analysis–based life expectancy calculator from recent research to let students self-test and to educate students about the impact of food choices and how to make good diet decisions. This activity can also let students experience the advancing role of big data meta-analysis in nutrition research and real life. In addition, it allows students to discuss the complexity of scientific research and its limitations.
Ask most students to draw or color a bee, and their sketch will likely feature a large-bodied, circular, fuzzy, black and yellow striped insect resembling a bumblebee or indicating some honey-producing behavior. There is a large propensity for society to perceive of all bees in one generic group, as popular bee images across media are often portrayed morphologically and/or behaviorally incorrect, or misidentified entirely. By recognizing our own misperceptions, a focused drawing activity can provide the opportunity to introduce awareness and highlight the diversity of bees or other insects in an engaging manner.
Students are often intimidated by genetic evolution equations because they do not relate to everyday concepts. We developed and piloted an instructional scaffolding patterned after income tax return forms that students use to calculate Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, natural selection, and mutation-selection balance of alleles. Students sequentially solve these evolution equations by entering variables into a series of cascading calculations similar to an Internal Revenue Service Tax Form 1040. We discuss suggestions for implementation of this exercise and demonstrate through assessment data that students have improved understanding of these equations after its application.
Molecular cloning is an invaluable research tool in modern molecular biology. However, it is often difficult for students to grasp conceptually without visual aids and even more difficult to understand how to successfully set up a cloning experiment. Here, we describe a flipped classroom activity that simulates cloning using donuts as models of plasmids. Students noted in semistructured interviews that the interactive nature of this activity made it an engaging introduction to molecular cloning.