Science and Speed Dating Go Hand in Hand

“If you walked past my classroom during speed dating you’d think ‘Are they learning anything?’ They are.” said Dr. Marcy Kelly, Professor in the Department of Biology and Health Sciences.

Taking a cue from modern courtship, undergraduates in Marcy Kelly’s Biology 264 class speed date to the beat of notifiable diseases (diseases that pose a public health threat and must be reported to the Centers for Disease Control). Each student is assigned a disease, and each week students pair up to swap information about their respective conditions. They have five minutes to exchange as much detail as possible before time is up and it’s time to move on to the next partner. Class is lively and the students are energized, and by the end of the year, they will have learned the causes, symptoms, risk factors and treatments of approximately 30 diseases. Who knew learning about diphtheria could be such fun?

Dr. Kelly is an early implementer of Vision and Change, a call to action by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to transform the way undergraduate biology is taught.

Traditionally, biology students are taught through lecture, memorization and study. A key component of Vision and Change seeks to transform this model by engaging undergraduates as active participants. “The traditional way of teaching doesn’t teach students how to be scientists; it teaches them how to memorize and follow lab protocols,” said Dr. Kelly. Data from earlier versions of Dr. Kelly’s program suggests that active engagement does, in fact, have a positive impact upon on learning and the appreciation of science in general.

“Through this novel teaching approach, our students learn how to think like a scientist and gain a strong foundational knowledge, develop an open mind to generate hypotheses, and have patience with experimentation. We give them the tools they need to succeed in the real world.”

In 2012, President Obama announced the priority goal of increasing the number of students who receive undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by one million over the next decade. Retention of science majors is critical to the United States economy and global competitiveness. At current graduation rates, it is projected that the United States will need one million more STEM professionals over the next decade to meet workforce needs.