Faculty Profile: Mark Grimes

mark grimes and lauren foltz

Dr. Mark Grimes, Associate Professor in the Division of Biological Sciences, became interested in active learning after attending the week-long intensive Summer Institute for Scientific Teaching at The University of Wisconsin in 2007. He had always felt obligated as a scientist to represent science to the public, including students, and that idea was underscored by an institute presenter who said, “You might be the instructor of the last biology class that these students will have; you want them to get something out of it.”

The institute was structured for groups to work together to create a deliverable using principles of backwards design. They decided on learning outcomes for a teaching lesson, taught the lesson using active learning techniques (e.g. voting with clickers), and then measured to see if the outcomes had been achieved. This scientific approach to teaching resonated with Grimes, and he brought the active learning strategies back to UM. However, the idea of active learning did not take off with the speed with which Grimes had hoped it would.

Grimes says, “There was a reluctance by faculty and students to make the change to active learning since it takes more effort by the faculty member and the student alike than the more traditional lecture-regurgitation paradigm.”

For his classes, Grimes makes videos of his lectures and posts them along with his lecture slides and group activities in the online learning management system, Moodle. He asks the students to watch the videos, read their textbook assignments, and prepare questions prior to coming to class. These steps allow them to wrestle with more difficult topics during the actual class meeting time. He reports that the students who take the time to prepare for class in these ways have shown greater learning outcomes. He also suggests that students study together, and explain concepts to each other, to make studying more active.

Despite initial slow adoption of active learning strategies, now there is increasing interest in them. Because of the efforts of Grimes and Amy Kinch, director of UM’s Faculty Development Office, UM was a host for the Mobile Summer Institute on Scientific Teaching (MoSI) last June. There was even a waiting list to be an institute participant. There will be another MoSI this summer, June 10-14.

These summer institutes are off-shoots from the Wisconsin Summer Institute that Grimes attended, which are part of a nationwide NSF- and HHMI-funded effort to expand and sharpen participants’ teaching skills through workshops facilitated by national science teaching experts. This summer’s institute will focus on evidence-based active learning strategies that have been shown to improve student understanding and success in STEM courses. Participants will develop an original, peer reviewed course module that incorporates backwards design and learning activities on the topic of their choice. They will be named Scientific Teaching Fellows by Yale's Center for Teaching and Learning at the end of the workshop.

Grimes is enthused by the interest that there has been in the summer institutes and is hopeful that as time continues, there will be more incentives and recognition for faculty members who are doing innovative teaching.


Image: Professor Grimes listens to doctoral student, Lauren Foltz, as she shares results from her research on stem cells. Foltz worked as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for Grimes previously and is now working in the Grimes Lab.