Research Projects in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

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Title of Abstract: Research Projects in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Name of Author: Emina Stojkovic
Author Company or Institution: Northeastern Illinois University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Bioinformatics, Biophysics
Course Levels: Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: Assessment, Material Development
Keywords: Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Research, Peer-led Team Learning,

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The overall goal is to develop confident and collaborative scientists comfortable with the conduct of authentic research including data analysis and discussion of conclusions and future directions. Intended outcomes of this project are student-centered and listed below: a) Functioning as a member of a team, the student will design and present experimental procedure to address a scientific question. b) The student will be able to apply the principles underpinning protein structure and function to illustrate data analysis and conclusions through computer-based presentation.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The methods used are based on the semester-long research projects integrating regular course curriculum with weekly laboratory exercises in upper-level Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Lecture material and laboratory exercises are not independent of each other and regular student attendance and participation is important for student success. Weekly laboratories are developed to specifically encourage team learning through experimental design. Students appreciate potential impact of their research through dissemination at undergraduate research symposia and publications in appropriate journals. In Biochemistry, students complete experiments involving protein expression and purification, analysis of purified protein using SDS-PAGE, UV-vis absorption spectroscopy, protein crystallization, and X-ray diffraction experiments. In Molecular Biology, students focus on site-directed mutagenesis including design of primers for PCR reactions that would introduce single amino acid mutations in the protein of interest. They complete PCR reactions, select for possible mutants, submit DNA samples for sequencing, and analyze and interpret DNA sequencing chromatograms. To support student learning and success, we use Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) as a method of integrating student-centered learning through power of peer-group communication.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: The evaluation is based on the assessment data collected through a questionnaire administered to students at the beginning and at the end of each semester. In addition, students are required to fill out course evaluation form that involves essay-based questions involving curriculum design and research. Example of assessment: On scale 1-5 (with 1-strongly disagree and 5-strongly agree) students’ average response is 4.5 to following statements: I. Laboratory exercises helped me learn and understand the basic experimental techniques used in protein biochemistry. II. Overall, I think that experiments conducted in BIO-362 laboratory setting were a positive learning experience.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Students have been able to reference research experiences from Biochemistry and Molecular Biology courses during their job and/or graduate school interviews. This is in particular helpful to students who have not been able to get a summer research internship during their undergraduate education. My colleagues, encouraged by positive comments that I have received from students, are starting to incorporate smaller research projects (4-6 weeks) in their courses. In particular, we started to incorporate smaller research projects in our General Biology Courses for majors.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Students show resistance to reading primary literature relevant to their research project in the lab. To solve this problem, I assigned research articles at the beginning of the semester and asked students to work in pairs. We would finish the semester with student presentations where each pair of students would present their assigned research article to other students in the class.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Students are encouraged to present their research projects at Northeastern Illinois Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium. In addition, students want to continue being involved in research once the semester is over. Depending on their availability, students are asked to develop future directions and/or continue data analysis. Several of them are asked to come back as Peer Leaders the following academic year. We are also finalizing a manuscript for Education Journal where we plan to report on methodologies used to ensure success of research projects and their design in upper level Biochemistry. Manuscript was prepared and written by students who took the course in the past.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank my colleagues and my department chair, Dr. John Kasmer, for continued support and constructive feedback in developing research-based curriculum.