GREENVILLE, Pa.—Thiel College Professor of Biology Fatimata Palé, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor of Neuroscience Neil Lax, Ph.D., participated in a multi-year, multi-investigator study to improve learning and understanding at the foundational first-year student level in biology.
The study, “Evaluating the Use of Avida ED Digital Organisms to Teach Evolution and Natural Selection,” has been recently accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal The American Biology Teacher and will be printed in the forthcoming issue.
The project stems from an evolution teaching workshop attended by Palé and former Thiel College Professor of Biology Delbert Abi Abdallah, Ph.D., in an effort to improve biology teaching at Thiel and revamp the Foundations of Biology labs (a first-year student biology course at Thiel College). The investigating team also included former Thiel College Professor of Biology Christopher Fonner, Ph.D., and Thiel alumnus and environmental science major Matthew Babeji ’19. The new method employs the use of Avida-ED software developed by scientists at Michigan State University to simulate evolution in a laboratory setting. What is unique about this software is that it allows students to manipulate the environment, change the genetics of the virtual organism and track offspring in real-time.
Using this software, the investigators redesigned labs in Thiel’s Foundations of Biology curriculum and tested student understanding of evolutionary concepts before and after deploying the teaching software. They tracked student data variables from multiple course sections over three years and were able to show statistically significant improvements in student comprehension of evolutionary concepts.
“Our results show that Avida ED could be a useful tool in helping students comprehend crucial evolution-based ideas and in helping instructors combat established notions about evolution,” Palé said. “This is a great example of how faculty can involve students in meaningful research leading to publications.”
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