Biology Department Updates and Modernizes General Bio Lab

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Patrick Yurco testing a thermal cycler [Morgan Smith]

Morgan Smith, Staff Writer

The General Biology lab has been completely redesigned by a committee of faculty from the Biology Department in preparation for next fall.

“We’re looking at more substantive revisions simply because there are so many changes that have happened in the field of biology and we need to make sure that students are getting the best experience they can get,” said Sherilyn Smith, an associate professor in the Biology Department.

The new lab will take a more modern approach to teaching introductory biology by using up-to-date techniques and technology, according to Patrick Yurco, the chair of the Biology Department. The lab will use three modules to teach students about fieldwork, the scientific method, experimental design, data collection and lab skills that include culturing, microscope use and working in a biosafety cabinet. During these modules, students will learn how to use techniques like field collection, sampling, gel electrophoresis, statistical analysis and DNA spectrophotometry. Each respective module will have students working with slugs, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and plants.

In addition to revising the lab exercises, the department purchased new equipment, including thermal cyclers, gel electrophoresis apparatus and centrifuges.

“Technology itself is really just part of biology these days, and science in general,” said Yurco. “You can’t really perform a lot of science today without some form of technology.”

Yurco hopes that the new equipment will be used in other courses, as well as the General Biology lab, to help enhance student learning and give them more experience with using current techniques and technology to better prepare them for their future careers.

Emily Ledgerwood, an assistant professor in the Biology Department, said current course assessments show that students struggle with interpreting data and using statistics to analyze data.

“We’re going to have them introduced to R, which is a statistical program, and so they’ll be able to have some experience with coding, and some things that our students don’t have now,” Ledgerwood said. “The goal eventually would be that all of the upper levels have some element designed in their courses to build upon that, and so they’ll be more prepared as they move through their undergraduate career.”

Ledgerwood added that the method of assessing students in the lab would be changed as well. Currently, students are assessed using quizzes and lab practicals which test the students on their knowledge of the material. The revised lab will focus more on teaching students how to communicate their findings and experiences through oral presentations, writing lab reports and making conference posters.

“In addition to all the fun stuff they’ll learn in the lab, they’ll also be better equipped for preparing those types of documents,” Ledgerwood said. “Right now they don’t really get that. They get a crash course in Gen Bio, writing a short lab report, but they don’t really get that until their sophomore year.”

All three professors said they are very excited about the revisions to the lab, and they’re hoping that the students will share that excitement. Yurco said he thinks the revised lab will better reinforce the lecture section of General Biology, which will better help students learn the material.