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Biology Education Research: Lessons and Future Directions

  • Susan R. Singer
  • Natalie R. Nielsen
  • Heidi A. Schweingruber

*Department of Biology, Carleton College, Northfield, MN 55057

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Address correspondence to: Natalie R. Nielsen ( E-mail Address: [email protected] ).

National Research Council, Washington, DC 20001

Biologists have long been concerned about the quality of undergraduate biology education. Indeed, some biology education journals, such as the American Biology Teacher , have been in existence since the 1930s. Early contributors to these journals addressed broad questions about science learning, such as whether collaborative or individual learning was more effective and the value of conceptualization over memorization. Over time, however, biology faculty members have begun to study increasingly sophisticated questions about teaching and learning in the discipline. These scholars, often called biology education researchers, are part of a growing field of inquiry called discipline-based education research (DBER).

DBER investigates both fundamental and applied aspects of teaching and learning in a given discipline; our emphasis here is on several science disciplines and engineering. The distinguishing feature of DBER is deep disciplinary knowledge of what constitutes expertise and expert-like understanding in a discipline. This knowledge has the potential to guide research focused on the most important concepts in a discipline and offers a framework for interpreting findings about students’ learning and understanding in that discipline. While DBER investigates teaching and learning in a given discipline, it is informed by and complementary to general research on human learning and cognition and can build on findings from K–12 science education research.

research topics on biology education

In this essay, we draw on the NRC report to highlight some of the insights that DBER in general and BER in particular have provided into effective instructional practices and undergraduate learning, and to point to some directions for the future. The views in this essay are ours as editors of the report and do not represent the official views of the Committee on the Status, Contributions, and Future Directions of Discipline-Based Education Research; the NRC; or the National Science Foundation (NSF).

CHALLENGES TO UNDERGRADUATE LEARNING IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING

DBER and related research on teaching and learning have illuminated several challenges undergraduate students face in learning science and engineering. Indeed, “these challenges can pose serious barriers to learning and acquiring expertise in a discipline, and they have significant implications for instruction, especially if instructors are not aware of them” ( NRC, 2012 , p. 191).

One major challenge is accurate conceptual understanding. In every discipline, students have incorrect ideas and beliefs about concepts fundamental to the discipline. They particularly struggle with the unseen and with very small or very large spatial and temporal scales, such as those involved in understanding the interaction of subatomic particles or natural selection. As an example, many students believe the mass of a tree trunk comes from the soil, rather than the CO 2 in the air, because they have difficulty believing that air has mass ( Koba and Tweed, 2009 ).

Students’ incorrect knowledge poses a challenge to learning, because it comes in many forms, ranging from a single idea to a flawed mental model that is based on incorrect understandings of several interrelated concepts ( Chi, 2008 ). It is less complicated to identify and address incorrect understandings of single ideas (e.g., all blood vessels have valves) than flawed mental models (e.g., the human circulatory system is a single loop rather than a double loop). Still, given that our goal is to help students progress toward more expert-like understandings, it is important for instructors to be aware of the misunderstandings that stand in the way of that goal and to have strategies for addressing those misunderstandings.

Understanding and using representations such as equations, graphs, models, simulations, and diagrams pose another major challenge for undergraduate students. Developing expertise in a discipline includes becoming familiar with representations unique to that discipline, such as evolutionary trees in biology, depictions of molecular structures in chemistry, and topographic maps in the geosciences. Experts in a discipline (here, professors) have long since mastered these representations and might no longer remember a time when these equations and images were new and confusing. However, in every discipline of science and engineering, students have difficulty understanding, interpreting, and creating representations that are unique and central to a given domain.

SOME INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES FOR IMPROVING LEARNING AND CONCEPTUAL UNDERSTANDING

DBER has shown that specific instructional strategies can improve students’ learning and understanding. For example, the use of “bridging analogies” can help students bring incorrect beliefs more in line with accepted scientific explanations in physics ( Brown and Clement, 1989 ). With bridging analogies, instructors provide a series of links between a student's correct understanding and the situation about which he or she harbors an erroneous understanding. Another approach, interactive lecture demonstrations—in which students predict the result of a demonstration, discuss their predictions with their peers, watch the demonstration, and compare their predictions with the actual result—have been shown to improve students’ conceptual understanding in chemistry and physics ( Sokoloff and Thornton, 1997 ).

Explicitly point out the relationship among different displays of the same information to help students see the similarities.

Explain the strengths and weaknesses of different representations for different purposes.

Provide extensive opportunities for students to practice creating and interpreting diagrams of the desired type.

More generally, DBER and related research provide compelling evidence that student-centered instructional strategies can positively influence students’ learning, achievement and knowledge retention, as compared with traditional instructional methods, such as lecture. These strategies include asking questions during lecture and having students work in groups to solve problems, make predictions, and explain their thinking to one another. As noted in the NRC report on DBER, the point is not to abandon lecture entirely, but to use a range of carefully chosen instructional approaches that can include lecture. When lectures are used, they should be designed with attention to how best they can support students’ learning.

Despite compelling evidence for the effectiveness of student-centered approaches such as interactive lectures and collaborative activities, these practices still are not widespread among science and engineering faculty. In fact, science and engineering faculty are more likely than faculty in other disciplines to rely on lecture ( Jaschik, 2012 ). Considering the many factors that influence decisions about instructional practices, it is not hard to understand why many faculty members hesitate to embrace more interactive classroom approaches. Even those who are interested in adopting research-based instructional methods might find challenges in departments and institutions that do not provide the needed supports for faculty to change their practices, from students who are resistant to change, and in reward systems that do not prioritize teaching. Still, with support from colleagues, professional societies, and others, many faculty members have overcome these and other challenges to transform their instructional practices.

THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF BER

What role has BER played in identifying students’ challenges in learning biology and in helping to promote the use of research-based practices among biology faculty members? Most BER since the mid-1990s has focused on identifying students’ conceptual understandings, developing concept inventories that measure students’ understanding of a given concept, and studying the effectiveness of different types of instructional approaches that promote greater student engagement ( Dirks, 2011 ). BER scholars use a variety of methods to study these problems. Depending on the questions being examined, these methods range from interview studies or classroom observations with a few or perhaps dozens of students, to quantitative comparisons of learning gains made with different instructional approaches across many courses or institutions. Much of this research focuses on students in the first 2 years of their undergraduate careers, typically in classroom settings in the context of large, introductory courses—the setting that provides the greatest challenge for generating engagement.

As the examples in the preceding sections illustrate, research in BER has produced some important insights into learning and, in some cases, guidance for improving teaching. A notable case of the latter comes from evolutionary biology, a field in which cognitive scientist Laura Novick and biologist Kefyn Catley have conducted extensive research about how students understand evolutionary relationships when different types of evolutionary tree representations are used ( Catley and Novick, 2008 ; Novick et al ., 2010 ). Their research shows that the form of representation that is most commonly used in undergraduate biology texts leads to the least understanding of this important evolutionary concept. As a result of their research, almost all introductory biology texts have now been changed to more effectively support undergraduate learning of evolutionary relationships, impacting the learning of hundreds of thousands of students each year.

These contributions notwithstanding, many opportunities exist to enhance the value of BER, and of DBER more generally. For example, despite the importance of fieldwork to biology, comparatively little BER has been conducted in the field. Other emerging areas of research in DBER—and in BER by extension—include longitudinal studies, studies that examine similarities and differences among different student groups, research related to the affective domain and the transfer of learning, and the development of assessments to measure student learning. According to the NRC's 2012 report on DBER, a specific challenge for BER scholars is to “identify instructional approaches that can help overcome the math phobia of many biology students and introduce more quantitative skills into the introductory curriculum, as computational biology and other mathematical approaches become more central to the field of biology” ( NRC, 2003 ).

As BER grows, clarity about supporting BER scholars versus implementing BER findings to improve undergraduate biology education will be helpful. Regarding the support of BER scholars, the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER) provides a venue for BER scholars to share their research and support the development of early-career BER scholars. Several life sciences professional societies, including the American Society for Cell Biology, the American Society for Microbiology, and the Society for Neuroscience, already offer professional development opportunities for faculty members to consider how to integrate BER findings into their teaching; others could use these models to do the same.

Findings from BER studies are increasingly accessible to those who are interested in using them to inform their teaching, as well as to those who might be interested in pursuing BER research programs. BER scholars publish their research on teaching and learning in a wide variety of journals. In a review of the BER literature from 1990–2010, Clarissa Dirks (2011) identified ∼200 empirical studies on college students’ learning, performance or attitudes. Although these articles appeared in more than 100 different journals, most were published in just four: the Journal of Research in Science Teaching , the Journal of College Science Teaching , Advances in Physiology Education , and CBE—Life Sciences Education ( LSE ). The past decade has seen a particularly rapid increase in the number of BER articles, especially in LSE .

Regarding the implementation of BER findings to improve undergraduate biology teaching, efforts are under way in several disciplines to help increase current and future faculty members’ use of research-based practices. In biology, two notable examples are the National Academies Summer Institute for Undergraduate Education in Biology and the NSF-sponsored Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching (FIRST) program. The Summer Institute works with teams of university faculty, emphasizing the application of teaching approaches based on education research, or “scientific teaching.” FIRST supports postdoctoral students interested in strengthening their teaching approaches. Although participants of the Summer Institute workshops reported substantial increases in their use of research-based instructional strategies over time ( Pfund et al ., 2009 ), an analysis of videotaped lessons from participants of the Summer Institute and the FIRST Program yielded mixed results concerning changes in practices ( Ebert-May et al ., 2011 ). It is important to note that alumni of the Summer Institute frequently reported that it took three or more years of experimentation before they could effectively implement learner-centered strategies ( Pfund et al ., 2009 ). As the NRC's 2012 report concludes, “These results suggest that measuring the influence of DBER and related research on teaching requires a nuanced, longitudinal model of individual behavior rather than a traditional ‘cause and effect’ model using a workshop or other delivery mechanism as the intervention” (p. 173).

Individual scholars in the BER community can promote the acceptance and use of DBER findings to improve undergraduate biology learning in two significant ways. One way is to enhance the quality of BER. As with any field, DBER has strengths and limitations. The greatest strength of DBER is the contribution of deep disciplinary knowledge to questions of teaching and learning in a discipline. In all disciplines, DBER could be enhanced by linking to other bodies of relevant research (including DBER in other disciplines), being explicitly grounded in theories of teaching and learning, using standardized measures for assessing learning gains and student attitudes, and conducting research on a larger scale than a single classroom and over longer periods of time than a single course. To link to other bodies of research, BER scholars could ask their DBER colleagues in physics, chemistry, and the geosciences to review draft manuscripts. SABER could help by establishing mechanisms to connect BER scholars to DBER studies in other disciplines; examples exist in engineering and the geosciences. And journal editors and reviewers could encourage the authors of BER articles to include citations of similar work in related fields.

BER scholars also can help to promote change at the departmental and institutional levels without assuming responsibility for sweeping reforms. Relatively straightforward strategies include disseminating key findings to colleagues or getting together on campus to discuss and strategize possible changes. BER scholars seeking a more active role in promoting institutional change might also help department chairs understand how to evaluate the research of BER faculty.

Given the unusually large number of diverse life sciences professional societies, the emerging coherence and focus of the biology undergraduate community on BER and improving learning in biology is notable. The growing body of BER literature and the professionalization of the field in the context of SABER in less than half a decade are cause for celebration. The American Association for the Advancement of Science Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology ( http://visionandchange.org ) efforts and the associated Vision and Change Leadership Fellows program ( www.pulsecommunity.org ) to drive department-level change in biology education emphasize implementation of widespread adoption of BER findings. The trajectory is promising.

1 To download a free PDF version of the report, visit www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13362 .

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  • Baylee A. Edwards ,
  • Chloe Bowen ,
  • M. Elizabeth Barnes , and
  • Sara E. Brownell
  • Tati Russo-Tait, Monitoring Editor
  • Characterizing Biology Education Research: Perspectives from Practitioners and Scholars in the Field Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, Vol. 22, No. 2
  • Exploring Biological Literacy: A Systematic Literature Review of Biological Literacy 15 July 2021 | European Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 10, No. 3
  • Predictive model of heavy metals inputs to soil at Kryvyi Rih District and its use in the training for specialists in the field of Biology Journal of Physics: Conference Series, Vol. 1840, No. 1
  • Impacts of the COVID‐19 pandemic on field instruction and remote teaching alternatives: Results from a survey of instructors 7 August 2020 | Ecology and Evolution, Vol. 10, No. 22
  • A full semester flow cytometry course improves graduate and undergraduate student confidence 12 November 2019 | Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, Vol. 48, No. 2
  • Infusing the Science of Learning Into a Higher Education Leadership Seminar at a Public University
  • Daniel L. Reinholz ,
  • Rebecca L. Matz ,
  • Renee Cole , and
  • Naneh Apkarian
  • Testing the novelty effect of an m-learning tool on internalization and achievement: A Self-Determination Theory approach Computers & Education, Vol. 128
  • Torstein Nielsen Hole
  • Hannah Sevian, Monitoring Editor
  • Children Nature Education About Names of Ocean Fish in Banyuwangi 1 June 2018 | IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science, Vol. 156
  • Personal microbiome analysis improves student engagement and interest in Immunology, Molecular Biology, and Genomics undergraduate courses 11 April 2018 | PLOS ONE, Vol. 13, No. 4
  • Biology students at work: Using blogs to investigate personal epistemologies 4 January 2019 | Cogent Education, Vol. 5, No. 1
  • Lucas M. Jeno ,
  • Arild Raaheim ,
  • Sara Madeleine Kristensen ,
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  • Mildrid J. Haugland , and
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  • Sarah L. Eddy, Monitoring Editor
  • American Society for Microbiology resources in support of an evidence-based approach to teaching microbiology 12 July 2016 | FEMS Microbiology Letters, Vol. 363, No. 16
  • ‘Idea Diversity’ within Biological Education Research 13 July 2016 | Journal of Biological Education, Vol. 50, No. 3
  • From the Editor-in-Chief: Questions of Gender Equity in the Undergraduate Biology Classroom Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, Vol. 17, No. 2
  • Sarah L. Eddy ,
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  • Oersted Lecture 2013: How should we think about how our students think? American Journal of Physics, Vol. 82, No. 6
  • The Role of Overseas Field Courses in Student Learning in the Biosciences 24 January 2014 | Bioscience Education, Vol. 60
  • Coming of Age 15 December 2015 | Bioscience Education, Vol. 21, No. 1

© 2013 S. R. Singer et al. CBE—Life Sciences Education © 2013 The American Society for Cell Biology. This article is distributed by The American Society for Cell Biology under license from the author(s). It is available to the public under an Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0).

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Published by Robert Bruce at August 29th, 2023 , Revised On September 5, 2023

Biology Research Topics

Are you in need of captivating and achievable research topics within the field of biology? Your quest for the best biology topics ends right here as this article furnishes you with 100 distinctive and original concepts for biology research, laying the groundwork for your research endeavor.

Table of Contents

Our proficient researchers have thoughtfully curated these biology research themes, considering the substantial body of literature accessible and the prevailing gaps in research.

Should none of these topics elicit enthusiasm, our specialists are equally capable of proposing tailor-made research ideas in biology, finely tuned to cater to your requirements. 

Thus, without further delay, we present our compilation of biology research topics crafted to accommodate students and researchers.

Research Topics in Marine Biology

  • Impact of climate change on coral reef ecosystems.
  • Biodiversity and adaptation of deep-sea organisms.
  • Effects of pollution on marine life and ecosystems.
  • Role of marine protected areas in conserving biodiversity.
  • Microplastics in marine environments: sources, impacts, and mitigation.

Biological Anthropology Research Topics

  • Evolutionary implications of early human migration patterns.
  • Genetic and environmental factors influencing human height variation.
  • Cultural evolution and its impact on human societies.
  • Paleoanthropological insights into human dietary adaptations.
  • Genetic diversity and population history of indigenous communities.

Biological Psychology Research Topics 

  • Neurobiological basis of addiction and its treatment.
  • Impact of stress on brain structure and function.
  • Genetic and environmental influences on mental health disorders.
  • Neural mechanisms underlying emotions and emotional regulation.
  • Role of the gut-brain axis in psychological well-being.

Cancer Biology Research Topics 

  • Targeted therapies in precision cancer medicine.
  • Tumor microenvironment and its influence on cancer progression.
  • Epigenetic modifications in cancer development and therapy.
  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors and their role in cancer immunotherapy.
  • Early detection and diagnosis strategies for various types of cancer.

Also read: Cancer research topics

Cell Biology Research Topics

  • Mechanisms of autophagy and its implications in health and disease.
  • Intracellular transport and organelle dynamics in cell function.
  • Role of cell signaling pathways in cellular response to external stimuli.
  • Cell cycle regulation and its relevance to cancer development.
  • Cellular mechanisms of apoptosis and programmed cell death.

Developmental Biology Research Topics 

  • Genetic and molecular basis of limb development in vertebrates.
  • Evolution of embryonic development and its impact on morphological diversity.
  • Stem cell therapy and regenerative medicine approaches.
  • Mechanisms of organogenesis and tissue regeneration in animals.
  • Role of non-coding RNAs in developmental processes.

Also read: Education research topics

Human Biology Research Topics

  • Genetic factors influencing susceptibility to infectious diseases.
  • Human microbiome and its impact on health and disease.
  • Genetic basis of rare and common human diseases.
  • Genetic and environmental factors contributing to aging.
  • Impact of lifestyle and diet on human health and longevity.

Molecular Biology Research Topics 

  • CRISPR-Cas gene editing technology and its applications.
  • Non-coding RNAs as regulators of gene expression.
  • Role of epigenetics in gene regulation and disease.
  • Mechanisms of DNA repair and genome stability.
  • Molecular basis of cellular metabolism and energy production.

Research Topics in Biology for Undergraduates

  • 41. Investigating the effects of pollutants on local plant species.
  • Microbial diversity and ecosystem functioning in a specific habitat.
  • Understanding the genetics of antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
  • Impact of urbanization on bird populations and biodiversity.
  • Investigating the role of pheromones in insect communication.

Synthetic Biology Research Topics 

  • Design and construction of synthetic biological circuits.
  • Synthetic biology applications in biofuel production.
  • Ethical considerations in synthetic biology research and applications.
  • Synthetic biology approaches to engineering novel enzymes.
  • Creating synthetic organisms with modified functions and capabilities.

Animal Biology Research Topics 

  • Evolution of mating behaviors in animal species.
  • Genetic basis of color variation in butterfly wings.
  • Impact of habitat fragmentation on amphibian populations.
  • Behavior and communication in social insect colonies.
  • Adaptations of marine mammals to aquatic environments.

Also read: Nursing research topics

Best Biology Research Topics 

  • Unraveling the mysteries of circadian rhythms in organisms.
  • Investigating the ecological significance of cryptic coloration.
  • Evolution of venomous animals and their prey.
  • The role of endosymbiosis in the evolution of eukaryotic cells.
  • Exploring the potential of extremophiles in biotechnology.

Biological Psychology Research Paper Topics

  • Neurobiological mechanisms underlying memory formation.
  • Impact of sleep disorders on cognitive function and mental health.
  • Biological basis of personality traits and behavior.
  • Neural correlates of emotions and emotional disorders.
  • Role of neuroplasticity in brain recovery after injury.

Biological Science Research Topics: 

  • Role of gut microbiota in immune system development.
  • Molecular mechanisms of gene regulation during development.
  • Impact of climate change on insect population dynamics.
  • Genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
  • Evolutionary relationships among vertebrate species based on DNA analysis.

Biology Education Research Topics 

  • Effectiveness of inquiry-based learning in biology classrooms.
  • Assessing the impact of virtual labs on student understanding of biology concepts.
  • Gender disparities in science education and strategies for closing the gap.
  • Role of outdoor education in enhancing students’ ecological awareness.
  • Integrating technology in biology education: challenges and opportunities.

Biology-Related Research Topics

  • The intersection of ecology and economics in conservation planning.
  • Molecular basis of antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria.
  • Implications of genetic modification of crops for food security.
  • Evolutionary perspectives on cooperation and altruism in animal behavior.
  • Environmental impacts of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Biology Research Proposal Topics

  • Investigating the role of microRNAs in cancer progression.
  • Exploring the effects of pollution on aquatic biodiversity.
  • Developing a gene therapy approach for a genetic disorder.
  • Assessing the potential of natural compounds as anti-inflammatory agents.
  • Studying the molecular basis of cellular senescence and aging.

Biology Research Topic Ideas

  • Role of pheromones in insect mate selection and behavior.
  • Investigating the molecular basis of neurodevelopmental disorders.
  • Impact of climate change on plant-pollinator interactions.
  • Genetic diversity and conservation of endangered species.
  • Evolutionary patterns in mimicry and camouflage in organisms.

Biology Research Topics for Undergraduates 

  • Effects of different fertilizers on plant growth and soil health.
  • Investigating the biodiversity of a local freshwater ecosystem.
  • Evolutionary origins of a specific animal adaptation.
  • Genetic diversity and disease susceptibility in human populations.
  • Role of specific genes in regulating the immune response.

Cell and Molecular Biology Research Topics 

  • Molecular mechanisms of DNA replication and repair.
  • Role of microRNAs in post-transcriptional gene regulation.
  • Investigating the cell cycle and its control mechanisms.
  • Molecular basis of mitochondrial diseases and therapies.
  • Cellular responses to oxidative stress and their implications in ageing.

These topics cover a broad range of subjects within biology, offering plenty of options for research projects. Remember that you can further refine these topics based on your specific interests and research goals.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What are some good research topics in biology?

A good research topic in biology will address a specific problem in any of the several areas of biology, such as marine biology, molecular biology, cellular biology, animal biology, or cancer biology.

A topic that enables you to investigate a problem in any area of biology will help you make a meaningful contribution. 

How to choose a research topic in biology?

Choosing a research topic in biology is simple. 

Follow the steps:

  • Generate potential topics. 
  • Consider your areas of knowledge and personal passions. 
  • Conduct a thorough review of existing literature.
  •  Evaluate the practicality and viability. 
  • Narrow down and refine your research query. 
  • Remain receptive to new ideas and suggestions.

Who Are We?

For several years, Research Prospect has been offering students around the globe complimentary research topic suggestions. We aim to assist students in choosing a research topic that is both suitable and feasible for their project, leading to the attainment of their desired grades. Explore how our services, including research proposal writing , dissertation outline creation, and comprehensive thesis writing , can contribute to your college’s success.

You May Also Like

Learn everything about meta synthesis literature review in this comprehensive guide. From definition and process to its types and challenges.

A preliminary literature review is an initial exploration of existing research on a topic, setting the foundation for in-depth study.

Should you use MLA or APA citation style in your dissertation, thesis, or research paper? Choose by reading this comprehensive blog.

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Biology Education Research

The CLSE is committed to using evidence-based practices in all of our courses. As part our mission, we pursue programmatic, curricular, and pedagogical innovations in biology teaching, we measure the impact of these changes on student learning, and we disseminate information about our best practices among faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students in the college, as well as to the larger community. We are actively conducting research designed to better understand how our programs and pedagogical innovations in biology teaching help students learn biology, increase their motivation to learn biology, and be retained in STEM fields. Below is a list recent publications and presentations.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

Kulesza, A.E, & Gallant, D.J. (2023). Initial Development and Validation of the Biology Teaching Assistant Role Identity Questionnaire (BTARIQ). Journal of College Science Teaching, 52 (5), 80-90.

Kulesza, A.E., Imtiaz, S., & Bernot, K.M. (2022). Building Connections to Biology and Community through Service-Learning and Research Experiences. JMBE , https://journals.asm.org/doi/10.1128/jmbe.00082-22

Brady, A. C., Hensley, L. C., Sovic, D., Kulesza, A., Wolters, C. A., & Breitenberger, C. (2022). What makes a study strategy intervention impactful? An interview-based study. College Student Affairs Journal, 40 (1), 17-31.

Miller, K.R., Ridgway, J.S., Marbach-Ad, G., Schussler, E.E., & Gardner GE. (2022). The BioTAP Professional Development model: Expanding empirical research on graduate student teaching professional development. CourseSource . https://doi.org/10.24918/cs.2021.44

Hensley, L., Kulesza, A., Peri, J., Brady, A. C., Wolters, C. A., Sovic, D., & Breitenberger, C. (2021). Supporting Undergraduate Biology Students’ Academic Success: Comparing Two Workshop Interventions. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 20 (4), DOI: 10.1187/cbe.21-03-0068

Newman-Griffis, A. H., Sypolt, E., Sagatelova, M., Cubonova, L., Danhart E., Kulesza, A.E. (2020). Data Analysis Recitation Activities Support Better Understanding in SEA-PHAGES CURE. CourseSource . https://doi.org/10.24918/cs.2020.48

Sovic, D.M., & Chordas, S.W. III. (2020). Tying it all together: An activity to help students connect course experiences to posted learning outcomes.  CourseSource .  https://doi.org/10.24918/cs.2020.15

Pieterson, E.C., & Ridgway, J.S. (2019). Development of an enhanced peer mentoring program: Partnering with novice teaching assistants in a teaching community of practice. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 30 (1), 51-75 .

Calhoon, E.A., Pieterson, E.C., & Gougherty, S. (2019). Plant Growth and Climate Change: Urban Trees’ Role as a Carbon Sink. Tested Studies in Laboratory Teaching , 40,  2019, Volume 40.

Herrmann, S. & Ligocki, I. (2019). Wetlands Ecology and Human Impacts Lab: Connecting Students with Their Local Environment. Tested Studies in Laboratory Teaching , 40,  2019, Volume 40.

Bernot, K.M., Kulesza, A.E., & Ridgway, J.S. (2017). Service learning as inquiry in an undergraduate science course. The American Biology Teacher , 79(5), 393-400.

Ridgway, J.S., Ligocki, I.Y., Horn, J.D., Szeyller, E., & Breitenberger, C.A. (2017). Teaching assistant and faculty perceptions of ongoing, personalized TA professional development: Initial lessons and plans for the future. Journal of College Science Teaching, 46 (5), 73.

Reeves, T.D., Marbach-Ad, G., Miller, K.R., Ridgway, J.S., Gardner, G.E., Schussler, E.E., & Wischusen, E.W. (2016). A conceptual framework for graduate teaching assistant professional development evaluation and research. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 15 (2), pii:es2

Holding, M.L., Denton, R.D., Kulesza, A.E., & Ridgway, J.S. (2014). Confronting scientific misconceptions by fostering a classroom of scientists in the introductory biology lab. The American Biology Teacher , 76 (8), 518-523.

Kulesza, A.E., Clawson, M.E., & Ridgway, J. S. (2014). Student success indicators associated with clicker-administered quizzes in an honor’s introductory biology course. Journal of College Science Teaching ,  43 (4), 73-79.

Book Chapters

Gardner, G., Ridgway, J., Schussler, E., Miller, K., & Marbach-Ad, G. (2020). Research Coordination Networks to Promote Cross-Institutional Change: A Case Study of Graduate Student Teaching Professional Development.   Transforming Institutions: Accelerating Systemic Change in Higher Education .

Conference Presentations: Talks

Roberts, T., Kulesza, A.E. (2023, October) Developing a Comprehensive Codebook for Analyzing Transcribed Interview Data on the Impact of Professional Development on Teaching Assistants and their Students: A Pilot Study.  Presentation at the 2023   BioTap (Biology Teaching Assistant Project) Virtual Conference.

Herrmann, S. & Szeyller, E. (2023, June). eBird Community Science Project: Engaging Non-Major Biology Students in Authentic and Meaningful Research. Major Workshop presented at the 44 th  Annual Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE) Conference. San Diego, CA.

Sovic, D. M. (2019, November) A Collaborative, Structured, Data-Driven Effort to Guide Instructional Redesign . Interactive Session presented at the 44 th  Annual POD Network Conference, Pittsburgh, PA.

Kulesza, A.E., Bernot, K.M., & Ridgway, J.S. (2019, July). Comparison of service-learning and research projects in an introductory biology class . Presentation at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER) annual meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

Kern, A., Esparza, D., Kulesza, A., Pieterson, C., Rivera, S., & Olimpo, J.T. (2019, June). Developing, Implementing, and Evaluating Professional Development Initiatives for Graduate Teaching Assistants Facilitating Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs). Mini Workshop presented at the 41st Annual Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE) meeting, Ottawa, ON.

Sovic, D. M. (2019, May). Ideas and instruments for course redesign: Part II – A new tool for course characterization . Presentation at the 13 th Annual Conference on Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Columbus, OH.

Kulesza, A.E., D’Agostino, J.V., & Ridgway, J.S. (2019, April). An evaluation of the differential effects of the prerequisite pathways on student performance in an introductory biology course . Presentation at the Accelerating Systematic Change Network (ASCN) meeting, Pittsburg, PA.

Schussler, E.E., Gardner, G., Marbach-Ad, G., Miller, K., & Ridgway, J. (2019, April). The biology teaching assistant project: Theory of change for a network . Presentation at the Accelerating Systematic Change Network (ASCN) meeting, Pittsburgh, PA.

Calhoon, E.A., Pieterson, E.C., & Gougherty, S. (2018, July). Plant Growth and Climate Change: Urban Trees’ Role as a Carbon Sink. Interactive Major Workshop presented at the 40th Annual Conference of the Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE), Columbus, OH.

Horn, J.D., & Szeyller, E. (2018, June). Creating collaborative, TA-centered weekly instructional meetings to support student-centered laboratory instruction . Extended Mini Workshop presented at the 40 th Annual Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE) meeting, Columbus, OH.

Kulesza, A.E., & Pearson, S.A. (2018, June). Training teaching assistants as active participants in large, active learning, lectures . Mini Workshop presented at the 40 th Annual Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE) meeting, Columbus, OH.

Miller, K., Ridgway, J.S., Coker, R., Price, K.E., Stewart, K., Gardner, G., Marbach-Ad, G., & Schussler, E. (2018, June). BioTAP 2.0 (Biology Teaching Assistant Project): Engaging individuals in scholarly research about biology . Mini Workshop presented at the 40 th Annual Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE) meeting, Columbus, OH.

Herrmann, S. & Ligocki, I. (2018, June). Wetlands Ecology and Human Impacts Lab: Connecting Students with Their Local Environment. Interactive Major Workshop presented at the 40th Annual Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE) meeting, Columbus, OH.

Conerly, C. & Nguyen, E. (2018, June). Understanding Marine and Aquatic Ecology in Biology Labs in a Microcosm: An Alternative Integration to the Curriculum. Mini Workshop presented at the 40th Annual Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE) meeting, Columbus, OH.

Chordas, S. & Breitenberger, C. (2018, June). The DNA Damage Game. Extended Mini Workshop presented at the 40th Annual Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE) meeting, Columbus, OH.

Szeyller, E., & Ridgway, J.S. (2018, June). Six lessons from administering a biology teaching professional development course . Mini Workshop presented at the 40 th Annual Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE) meeting, Columbus, OH.

Guannel, M., Kulesza, A.E., & Midden, W.R. (2018, June). Impacts of service learning on student engagement with science; examples from introductory courses at three higher education institutions . Presentation at the Network of STEM Education Centers (NSEC) annual meeting, Columbus, OH.

Marbach-Ad, G., Gardner, G., Miller, K., Ridgway, J., & Schussler, E. (2018, March). Network initiative to develop research skills in professional developers working with biology teaching assistants . Presentation at the 91th National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) annual meeting, Atlanta, GA.

Miller, K., Gardner, G., Marbach-Ad, G., Ridgway, J., Schussler, E., Fuselier, L., Trimby, C., Pavlova, I., Szeyller, E., Marion, A., Oran, A., Shortlidge, E., Chouinard, A., Floyd, J., Serreyn, M., Abney, N., Lee, S., Nelson, K., Olimpo, J., Raut, S., & Vance-Chalcraft, H. (2017, June).  BioTAP 2.0 (Biology Teaching Assistant Project): Engaging individuals in scholarly research about biology . Mini Workshop presented at the 39th Annual Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE) meeting, Madison, WI.

Reid, J., Chen, M., Carroll, P.A., Gardner, G., Marbach-Ad, G., Miller, K.R., Ridgway, J., &  Schussler, E. (2017, November). A critical review of the literature on biology graduate teaching assistant professional development . Presentation at the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) National Meeting, St. Louis, MO.

Sovic, D.M. (2017, November). Identifying best practices in the use of learning outcomes: Transforming administrative artifacts into tools for metacognitive practice . Presentation at the 37 th Annual Original Lilly Conference on College Teaching, Oxford, OH.

Breitenberger, C. A., Ridgway, J. S., Szeyller, E., Sovic, D., & Kulesza, A. E. (2017, May) Multiple professional development on-ramps into teaching communities of practice . Presentation at the 11th Annual Ohio State University Conference on Excellence in Teaching & Learning, Columbus, OH.

Gardner, G., Schussler, E., Marbach-Ad, G., Miller, K., & Ridgway, J. (2017, February). The biology teaching assistant project 2.0: Advancing research, synthesizing evidence . Presentation at the annual meeting of the Tennessee STEM Education Research Conference hosted by Tennessee STEM Education Center (TSEC), Murfreesboro, TN.

Kulesza, A.E., Ridgway, J.S., Shawver, B., Gordon, A. & Bernot, K.M. (2017, January). Community engagement through a health-related honors biology service-learning project . Presentation at the Community Engagement Conference, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH.

Kulesza, A.E., Bernot, K.M., Ridgway, J.S., & Pieterson, E.C. (2014, July). Comparison of service learning and research projects in an introductory biology class . Presentation at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER) annual meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

Kulesza, A.E., Clawson, M.E., & Ridgway, J.S. (2012, November). Investigation of student learning gains associated with clicker use in an introductory biology course . Presentation at the Lilly International Conference on College Teaching, Miami University, Oxford, OH.

Conference Presentations: Posters

Kulesza, A.E., D’Agostino, S., & L.B. Chacón-Diaz. (2023). Investigating Effects of Emergency Remote Teaching on Biology Teaching Assistants and their Approaches to Teaching . SABER, Minneapolis, MN.

Szeyller, E., & Ridgway, J.S. (2022, November) Connecting STEM Instructors with Appropriate Student-centered Teaching Professional Development . Poster Presentation at the 47 th  Annual POD Network Conference, Seattle, WA.

Szeyller, E., Ridgway, J.S., & Breitenberger, C.A. (2019, November). Creating Links: Promoting Motivation and Community in Online Instruction . Poster Presentation at the 44 th  Annual POD Network Conference, Pittsburgh, PA.

Kulesza, A.E., D’Agostino, J.V., & Ridgway, J.S. (2019, June). Exploration of the differential effects of prerequisite pathways on student performance in an introductory biology course using predictive models . Poster Presentation at the Gordon Research Conference Undergraduate Biology Education meeting, Lewiston, ME.

Kulesza, A.E., D’Agostino, J.V., & Ridgway, J.S. (2019, June). The use of hierarchical linear modeling to evaluate the differential effects of prerequisite pathways on student performance in an introductory biology course . Poster Presentation at the Gordon Research Seminar Undergraduate Biology Education Research meeting, Lewiston, ME.

Sovic, D.M. (2018, October). Course learning outcomes: Administrative artifacts or tools for student success? Poster Presentation at the Franklin Scholars Showcase: Innovations in Leadership and Learning, Columbus, OH.

Gardner G., Schussler, E., Miller, K., Marbach-Ad, G., Ridgway, J., Reid, J., & Chen, M. (2018, July). Current literature on biology graduate teaching assistant teaching professional development (GTA TPD): Mapping a research agenda . Poster Presentation at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER) annual meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

Kulesza, A.E., Bernot, K.M., & Breitenberger, C.A. (2018, July). Evaluating the impact of service learning by exploring student long term memory and emotion .  Poster Presentation at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education (SABER) annual meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

Pieterson, E.C., Bolen, D.S., Calhoon, E.A., McCarthy, R.L., Miriti, M., & Curtis, P.S. (2018, June). Collaborative (Re)design of Ecology Lab Exercises. Poster presentation at the 40th Annual Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE) meeting, Columbus, OH.

Marbach-Ad, G., Ridgway, J., Gardner,G., Miller, K., & Schussler,E. (2018, June). Biology Teaching Assistant Project (BioTAP 2.0): A Network to Build a Capacity for Collaborative Research on Biology Graduate Teaching Assistant Teaching Professional Development (GTA TPD) . Poster Presentation at the Network of STEM Education Centers annual meeting (NSEC), Columbus, OH.

Kulesza, A.E., Bernot, K.M., & Breitenberger, C.A. (2017, July).   Memory, motivation, and making connections: Long-term outcomes associated with service-learning and research experiences . Poster Presentation at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education (SABER) annual meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

Schussler, E., Gardner, G., Marbach-Ad, G., Miller, K., & Ridgway, J. (2017, July). Networking for change: Assessing the capacity for research on graduate student teaching professional development. Poster Presentation at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER) annual meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

Marbach-Ad, G., Schussler, E., Gardner, G., Miller, K., & Ridgway, J. (2017, November). A network for research on biology graduate teaching assistant teaching professional development. Poster Presentation at the AAC&U Transforming STEM Higher Education Conference, San Francisco, CA.

Kulesza, A.E., Bernot, K., Ridgway, J.S., & Pieterson, E.C. (2015, July). Comparison of service-learning and research projects in an honors introductory biology class . Poster Presentation at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education (SABER) annual meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

Ridgway, J.S., Kulesza, A.E., & Breitenberger, C.A. (2015, July). Changes in student motivation and scientific literacy associated with participation in course-based undergraduate research experiences . Poster Presentation at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education (SABER) annual meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

Bernot, K.M., Kulesza, A.E., & Ridgway, J.S. (2013, November). Use of service learning to integrate real world application in an honors introductory biology course . Poster Presentation at the Lilly International Conference on College Teaching, Miami University, Oxford, OH.

Conference Presentations: Roundtables

Kern, A., Esparza, D., Kulesza, A.E., Pieterson, C., Rivera, S., & Olimpo, J.T. (2019, July).   Designing professional development initiatives for graduate teaching assistants facilitating course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs). Roundtable Presentation at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education (SABER) annual meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

Sovic, D.M. (2018, June). Learning outcomes…Administrative artifacts or tools for instructor and student metacognitive practice? Roundtable Presentation at the Network of STEM Educators (NSEC) annual meeting, Columbus, OH.

Ridgway, J.S., Wheeler, L., Szeyller, E., Horn, J.D., & Pieterson, E.C. (2018, June). STEM teaching assistants: Two models for supporting TAs in learning, valuing, and implementing evidence-based instructional practices . Roundtable Presentation at the Network of STEM Educators (NSEC) annual meeting, Columbus, OH.

Ridgway, J.S., Breitenberger, C.A., Kulesza, A.E., & Sovic, D.M. (2018, June). Faculty professional development offered four ways . Roundtable Presentation at the Network of STEM Education Centers (NSEC) annual meeting, Columbus, OH.

Kulesza, A.E., Bernot, K.M., & Ridgway, J.S. (2016, July).  Long-term outcomes associated with high impact practices in an honors biology course . Roundtable Presentation at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education (SABER) annual meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

Faust, S., Ridgway, J.S., Kulesza, A.E., & Breitenberger, C.A. (2015, July). Changes in introductory biology student content knowledge and motivation associated with participation in peer-led team learning . Roundtable Presentation at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education (SABER) annual meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

Pieterson, E.C., & Ridgway, J.S. (2015, July). Changes in teaching anxiety, attitudes, and behaviors associated with a TA peer mentoring program . Roundtable Presentation at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education (SABER) annual meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

Schussler, E., Ridgway, J.S., Gardner, G., Miller, K., & Marbach-Ad, G. (2015, July). Networking to promote the assessment of GTA professional development . Roundtable Presentation at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education (SABER) annual meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

Szeyller, E., Ridgway, J.S., & Breitenberger, C.A. (2015, July). Online vs. race-to-face human biology instruction: Does format matter for student experience? Roundtable Presentation at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education (SABER) annual meeting, Minneapolis, MN.

  • Position paper
  • Open access
  • Published: 02 December 2019

Biology education research: building integrative frameworks for teaching and learning about living systems

  • Ross H. Nehm   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-5029-740X 1  

Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Science Education Research volume  1 , Article number:  15 ( 2019 ) Cite this article

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This critical review examines the challenges and opportunities facing the field of Biology Education Research (BER). Ongoing disciplinary fragmentation is identified as a force working in opposition to the development of unifying conceptual frameworks for living systems and for understanding student thinking about living systems. A review of Concept Inventory (CI) research is used to illustrate how the absence of conceptual frameworks can complicate attempts to uncover student thinking about living systems and efforts to guide biology instruction. The review identifies possible starting points for the development of integrative cognitive and disciplinary frameworks for BER. First, relevant insights from developmental and cognitive psychology are reviewed and their connections are drawn to biology education. Second, prior theoretical work by biologists is highlighted as a starting point for re-integrating biology using discipline-focused frameworks. Specifically, three interdependent disciplinary themes are proposed as central to making sense of disciplinary core ideas: unity and diversity; randomness, probability, and contingency; and scale, hierarchy, and emergence. Overall, the review emphasizes that cognitive and conceptual grounding will help to foster much needed epistemic stability and guide the development of integrative empirical research agendas for BER.

Introduction

Many policy documents emphasize that student understanding of living systems requires the integration of concepts that span levels of biological organization, encompass the tree of life, and cross different fields of study (AAAS, 2011 ; NRC, 2009 ; NSF, 2019 ). Yet the institutional, disciplinary, and curricular structuring of the life sciences often works in opposition to these pursuits. More so than in physics and chemistry, “biology” encompasses an expansive array of disciplines, each of which is often housed in a different academic department (e.g., microbiology, botany, genetics). These disciplines often organize into different academic societies, communicate through different journals, embrace different methodological frameworks, and gather at separate scientific conferences. Such fragmentation is evident at many universities, which lack “biology” departments altogether, and may instead be organized by taxonomy (e.g., botany, zoology, microbiology departments), concept (e.g., genetics, ecology, evolution departments), unit or scale (e.g., cell biology, biochemistry). There is no organizational blueprint characteristic of biology departments in the United States, for example. Given that most universities have not identified a singular solution for structuring the life sciences, it is unsurprising that diverse structures also characterize biology education research. Disciplinary (and corresponding educational) fragmentation works against attempts at fostering an integrative understanding of living systems for students, which is arguably a foundational goal of biology education.

In this critical review I examine some of the conceptual challenges facing the field of Biology Education Research (BER). These challenges reflect the substantial disciplinary fragmentation of BER, but they also highlight opportunities for advancing student understanding of living systems. I focus on the conceptual foundations of the discipline because they are a unique feature of biology education and have received substantially less attention than education practices (e.g., active learning, course-based research experiences, inclusive pedagogies). I begin by documenting the disciplinary fragmentation of the biological sciences and the corresponding heterogeneity and conceptual fragmentation of BER efforts. A consequence of such compartmentalization has been the lack of attention to the development and testing of unifying conceptual frameworks for (i) living systems and (ii) student thinking about living systems (in contrast to individual concepts, such as mutation, heredity, or genetic drift). This finding aligns with prior reviews that have also noted limited empirical-theoretical coordination within BER. The lack of attention to unifying frameworks for both biology and BER has consequences for biology education. A review of Concept Inventory (CI) research is used to illustrate how the absence of robust conceptual frameworks can complicate attempts to uncover student thinking about living systems and to guide biology instruction. The reviews of BER scholarship and CIs are used to motivate discussion of possible blueprints for BER-specific frameworks. First, findings from developmental and cognitive psychology are proposed as central to the development of cognitive frameworks. Second, possible disciplinary frameworks for BER are proposed after summarizing attempts by biologists to establish unifying themes for living systems that transcend individual subdisciplines. These themes include unity and diversity; randomness, probability, and contingency; and scale, hierarchy, and emergence. The review ends by emphasizing that the most significant opportunity for strengthening and unifying BER lies in the formulation of conceptual frameworks that account for how learners make sense of living systems as they progress through ontogeny and formal education. Such frameworks are much-needed tools for organizing and executing field-specific disciplinary research agendas.

The disciplinary structures of biology and biology education research

Many journals focus on BER and have grown out of the disciplinary structures and educational needs of academic departments; this history helps to make sense of the fragmented structure currently characterizing BER. Many biological disciplines have produced associated educational journals that serve as examples: Microbiology ( Journal of Biology and Microbiology Education ), Evolution (e.g., Evolution: Education and Outreach ), and Neuroscience (e.g., Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education ) (see Table  1 ). In many respects, this situation mirrors the explosion of discipline-specific journals in the life sciences.

Many of the research questions addressed within BER subdisciplines are an outgrowth of the educational contexts in which biological specialists have worked. The pressure to update curricula to reflect discipline-specific advances, for example, is a challenge inherent to all of the biological sciences (perhaps to a greater degree than in introductory physics and chemistry, where the content has remained relatively stable for the past century). Indeed, entirely new research areas (e.g., microbiomes, ancient DNA [deoxyribonucleic acid]) and methods (e.g., bioinformatics, CRISPR [clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats]) emerge with increasing tempo each decade. Keeping students up-to-date with discipline-specific understanding is an ongoing challenge that has spurred educational reform, innovation, and ongoing professional development within biological subdisciplines (e.g., physiology) and their associated journals.

A second feature of the fragmented nature of biology education is the seemingly unique learning challenges that have been identified within each disciplinary context (e.g., microbiology, evolution, genetics). The challenge of addressing the student misconception that bacteria are primarily pathogenic, for example, is of particular concern within microbiology; developing approaches to tackle goal-driven reasoning about evolutionary change is central to evolution education; and helping students recognize the genetic similarity of eye cells and liver cells is foundational to genetics and genomics. Many educational efforts in biology education have arisen from attempts to tackle domain-specific learning challenges, including the development of tools for diagnosing topic-specific misunderstandings (see Student Thinking about Living Systems, below). Perhaps as a consequence of disciplinary isolation, markedly less work in BER has sought to identify common threads in the fabric of student confusion and to weave them into unified models of biological reasoning that are capable of explaining seemingly disparate educational challenges (although see Coley & Tanner, 2012 ; Opfer et al., 2012 , for cognition-based examples of such efforts).

The fragmentation of BER efforts and journals could be viewed as an historically contingent outcome of the disciplinary structure of the biological sciences and the unique challenges that characterize them. But a less myopic view might reveal cross-cutting commonalities across disciplines (see below). Indeed, recent efforts in the United States and elsewhere have attempted to reform the biology curriculum and highlight cross-cutting concepts that undergird many different subdisciplines (e.g., Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education , AAAS, 2011 ). Efforts have also been made to bring different biology education communities together under new organizational arrangements (e.g., SABER: Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research; ERIDOB: European Researchers In the Didactics Of Biology). Following these biology-specific unification efforts, the National Research Council ( 2012 ) has also attempted to define and unite the efforts of chemistry, physics, and biology education researchers under the umbrella of “Discipline-Based Educational Research” (DBER). It is clear that the disciplinary structure of biology education, like that of other educational research disciplines, is in flux. Attempts to integrate pockets of disciplinary research activity is ongoing, and it is too soon to characterize the outcomes of these efforts. But disciplinary unification is often fostered by conceptual frameworks that encompass the needs and goals of stakeholders (Miller, 1978 ). Such work will be invaluable for guiding educational integration.

In summary, the range and diversity of BER journals and research efforts (Table 1 ) continue to mirror the tangled disciplinary and academic roots from which they grew. Unifying the paradigms and perspectives being generated from multiple BER journals and scientific societies is challenging, yet a worthy goal if true conceptual unification into a “BER community” (or an even larger “DBER community”) is to be achieved. In the following sections, some cross-cutting themes from this expansive body of work are identified, reviewed, and critiqued. Much like BER itself, there are many alternative frameworks that could effectively characterize this evolving area of scholarship. But a persistent question that emerges from a review of this fractured body of work is whether there are sufficient conceptual and theoretical frameworks capable of supporting the challenge of disciplinary unification (and corresponding educational unification).

Conceptual and theoretical frameworks for biology education research

Theory building linked to causal explanation is a central goal of scientific and social-science research, although the two fields often differ in the number of theories used to explain particular phenomena. In both realms “… research emanates from the researcher’s implicit or explicit theory of the phenomenon under investigation” (Rocco & Plakhotnik, 2009 , p. 121). Therefore, clear specification of theoretical framing and grounding is essential to the research enterprise (Imenda, 2014 ). A question in need of attention is what conceptual or theoretical frameworks help to frame, ground, and unite BER as a standalone field of educational inquiry (cf. Nehm, 2014 )? Two of the more recent reviews of BER history and scholarship are notable in that they did not identify (or propose) discipline-specific educational frameworks (Dirks, 2011 ; deHaan, 2011 ). In her characterization of BER studies from 1990 to 2010, for example, Dirks ( 2011 ) identified three categories of scholarship: (1) student learning or performance, (2) student attitudes and beliefs, and (3) concept inventories and validated instruments. Within each category, Dirks examined the theoretical frameworks that were used to guide the empirical work that she reviewed. Few studies in these three categories linked empirical investigations to explicit theoretical frameworks. Instead, BER scholars framed their investigations in terms of ‘problem description.’ In cases where theoretical frameworks were hinted at, they were quite general (e.g., Bloom’s Taxonomy, Ausubel’s emphasis on prior knowledge and learning). The vast majority of studies in Dirks’s ( 2011 ) review lacked discipline-based educational framing and conceptual grounding, and no BER-specific theoretical frameworks were identified.

deHaan’s ( 2011 ) review of the history of BER also touched upon the theoretical frameworks that have been used to guide BER. Three frameworks--constructivism, conceptual change, and “others” (i.e., social interdependence and theories of intelligence)--were identified. It is notable that these frameworks did not originate within BER (they are frameworks developed in education and psychology) and they are not discipline-specific (i.e., educational frameworks unique to BER). Although not inherently problematic, one might expect (or indeed require) a discipline-focused educational enterprise to pursue and establish discipline-focused frameworks. If such frameworks are lacking, then the question arises as to what unifies and organizes the pursuits of affiliated scholars. A superficial, a-theoretical, and unsatisfying answer to this question could be that “BER focuses on biology education.” Overall, these reviews and a corresponding examination of studies from a variety of journals (Table 1 ) suggest that BER typically lacks discipline-specific conceptual or theoretical frameworks.

Although many BER studies lack explicit anchoring in conceptual or theoretical frameworks unique to living systems, some work has attempted to build such frameworks. Conceptual frameworks for the disciplinary core ideas of (i) information flow in living systems and (ii) evolutionary change illustrate how different concepts and empirical findings may be related to one another and integrated into a framework that explains, predicts, and guides research in biology education (Fig.  1 ). Shea et al. ( 2015 ), for example, elaborated on Stewart et al.’s ( 2005 ) genetics literacy model and presented a tripartite framework showing the interrelationships among content knowledge use, argumentation quality, and the role of item surface features in genetic reasoning (Fig. 1 a). This conceptual framework is biology-specific (i.e., addresses student reasoning about the disciplinary core idea of information flow at various scales) and applicable to most living systems (i.e., attends to phylogenetic diversity). The addition of argumentation to this model is valuable but not necessarily unique to this topic (argumentation is a practice central to all of science). This framework is a useful example because it (i) synthesizes prior empirical work, (ii) explains why student reasoning about information flow may fail to reach performance expectations, (iii) guides future research agendas and associated studies, (iv) applies broadly to living systems, and (v) motivates the development of particular curricular and pedagogical strategies.

figure 1

Examples of conceptual frameworks developed for biology education research. a A three-part conceptual framework for genetics literacy encompassing situational features, content knowledge use, and argumentation quality (modified from Shea et al. 2015 ). b A conceptual framework for evolutionary reasoning encompassing long-term memory, problem-solving processes, and item features (similar to the situational features of Shea et al. 2015 ). Modified from Nehm ( 2018 )

The second conceptual framework focuses on student reasoning about evolutionary change (Fig. 1 b). Nehm ( 2018 ) presents a conceptual framework that integrates aspects of Information Processing Theory, empirical findings on novice-expert evolutionary reasoning, and student challenges with evolutionary mechanisms (Fig. 1 b; see also Ha & Nehm 2014 ; Nehm & Ha, 2011 , Nehm and Ridgway 2011 ). When encountering tasks (or situations) that prompt for explanations of evolutionary change, sensitivity to item features (e.g., familiar plant species that have or lack thorns) impacts internal problem representation, which in turn affects the recruitment of individual concepts and schemas from long-term memory into working memory. The utilization of different assemblages of cognitive resources is driven by the features of the living systems. Like Shea et al.’s ( 2015 ) conceptual framework, Nehm’s ( 2018 ) conceptual framework (i) integrates existing theory (i.e., information processing theory) with prior empirical work, (ii) accounts for why student reasoning about evolutionary change may fail to reach performance expectations, (iii) guides future research agendas, and (iv) motivates the development of curricular and pedagogical strategies to address particular cognitive bottlenecks noted in the framework. Both of these frameworks attend to fundamental features of living systems (i.e., information flow, evolution) that transcend individual cases and exemplars (i.e., they consider diversity as a core feature of biological reasoning). Although both examples are simple, they organize a range of concepts central to understanding disciplinary thinking.

In summary, many factors work to maintain division among life science subfields (e.g., separate departments, conferences, journals, language; Table 1 ), and few counteracting factors promote unification (e.g., curricular cohesion, conceptual frameworks). Fragmentation of BER is an inevitable result. Interestingly, life scientists have long been concerned with a parallel challenge: the lack of attention to theoretical grounding and conceptual unification. The next section briefly reviews prior attempts to promote the development of conceptual frameworks for the life sciences. Although these frameworks do not address educational research specifically, they identify unifying concepts and principles that are essential starting points for building more robust conceptual foundations and frameworks for BER.

Conceptual frameworks for biology and biology education research

The past 60 years included several formal attempts to generate a conceptual framework for living systems and articulate a corresponding vision for the life sciences (e.g., Gerard and Stephens 1958 ; Miller, 1978 ; AAAS, 2011 ; NSF, 2019 ). The importance of theoretical foundations for biology was raised by Weiss ( 1958 , p. 93): “… the question [is] whether present-day biology is paying too little attention to its conceptual foundations, and if so, why.” In the 1950’s, the Biology Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences invited eminent biologists (e.g., Rollin Hotchkiss, Ernst Mayr, Sewell Wright) to explore the conceptual foundations of the life sciences given apparent disciplinary fragmentation. The report that emerged from their discussions and deliberations (NRC, 1958 ) attempted to re-envision biology through a more theoretical lens and generate a conceptual and hierarchical reconceptualization of the study of life. Conceptually, it included the broad categories of “Methods,” “Disciplines,” and “Concepts.” Methods organized life science research by the approaches used to generate understanding (e.g., immune tests, breeding, staining, factor analysis). Disciplines (structure [architecture, spatial relations, negative entropy]), and “Concepts” (history [origin]). Each of these categories—Methods, Disciplines, and Concepts--were then uniquely characterized at different biological scales (i.e., molecule, organelle, cell, organ, individual, small group, species, community/ecosystem, and total biota).

Three salient features of this early work include: (1) acknowledging the importance of conceptual grounding for the life sciences in light of disciplinary fragmentation; (2) situating academic topics and disciplines (e.g., anatomy, microbiology, ecology) within a conceptual superstructure (i.e., Structure, Equilibrium, History) and (3) highlighting the centrality of scale when considering life science Concepts, Methods, and Disciplines.

The U.S. National Research Council report Concepts of Biology ( 1958 ), while concerned with conceptual and disciplinary unification, did not lose sight of inherent connections to educational pursuits and outcomes: “Any success in improving the intellectual ordering of our subject would contribute to improved public relations, to the recruitment of more superior students, and to a better internal structure which would favor better teaching and research and in turn attract more students and support” (Weiss, 1958 , p. 95). These and many other significant efforts (e.g., Miller, 1978 ) confirm that the struggle for conceptual and educational unification of the life sciences has been ongoing, and repeated calls for unity suggest that the successes of these early efforts have been limited.

Although the history of BER illuminates the deeper roots of disciplinary challenges (deHaan 2011 ), attention to recent progress should also be noted. The efforts to develop and deploy unified conceptual and curricular frameworks for biology education that mirror expert conceptualizations are ongoing (e.g., AAAS, 2011 ; NSF, 2019 ). In the United States, for example, the past two decades have witnessed substantial progress on how to structure and reform undergraduate and K-12 biology education. Emerging from interactions among many different stakeholders and scholars (see Brownell, Freeman, Wenderoth, & Crowe, 2014 , their Table 1 ) and mirroring curricular innovations by working groups of biologists (e.g., Klymkowsky, Rentsch, Begovic, & Cooper, 2016 ) arose Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education (AAAS, 2011 ) and, later, the Next Generation Science Standards (NRC, 2013 ). Both initiatives have attempted to winnow down the expansive range of biological topics that students experience and reorganize them into a more cohesive conceptual and curricular framework (much like NRC 1958 and Miller 1978 ). This framework is notable in that it continues to move the life sciences away from historically-based disciplinary structures focused on taxon (e.g., microbiology, botany, zoology) and towards more theoretical, principle-based schemes (e.g., structure and function) that transcend individual biological scales.

For example, Vision and Change reorganized biological knowledge according to five core concepts (AAAS, 2011 , pp. 12–14): (1) Evolution (The diversity of life evolved over time by processes of mutation, selection, and genetic change); (2) Structure and Function (Basic units of structure define the function of all living things); (3) Information Flow, Exchange, and Storage (The growth and behavior of organisms are activated through the expression of genetic information in context); (4) Pathways and Transformations of Energy and Matter (Biological systems grow and change by processes based upon chemical transformation pathways and are governed by the laws of thermodynamics); and (5) Systems (Living systems are interconnected and interacting). Many of these ideas are in alignment with previous conceptual work by Gerard and Stephens ( 1958 ) and Miller ( 1978 ). Vision and Change , however, provides a very limited characterization of these core concepts and does not explicitly discuss their interrelationships across biological scales (e.g., gene, organism, species, ecosystem).

The BioCore Guide (Brownell et al., 2014 ) was developed to provide more fine-grained and longer-term guidance for conceptualizing and implementing the goals of Vision and Change . Specifically, principles and statements were derived for each of the five Vision and Change core concepts in order to structure undergraduate degree learning pathways (Brownell et al., 2014 ). Efforts have also been made to stimulate change within institutions. Partnership for Undergraduate Life Science Education (PULSE Community, 2019 ), for example, has been developed to encourage adoption of these curricular innovations and self-reflection by life science departments.

Collectively, these conceptually-grounded curriculum frameworks (e.g., Vision and Change , BioCore) and associated reform efforts (PULSE) are important, new unifying forces counteracting the fragmented structure of the biological sciences. They also form necessary (but insufficient) substrates for constructing conceptual frameworks for BER. They are insufficient because, from an educational vantage point, identifying the concepts, schemas, and frameworks of a discipline is only one aspect of the challenge; these ideas must articulate in some way with how students think, reason, and learn about biological concepts and living systems. The next section reviews progress and limitations of biology educators’ attempts to understand student thinking about living systems in light of these disciplinary frameworks (e.g., NRC, 1958 ; Miller, 1978 ; AAAS, 2011 ).

Student thinking about living systems

Educational efforts to foster cognitive and practice-based competencies that align with disciplinary frameworks (such as Vision and Change ) must consider what is known about student thinking about living systems. It is therefore essential to consider how the BER community has approached this challenge, what they have learned, and what remains to be understood about living systems (e.g., NRC, 1958 ; Miller, 1978 ; AAAS, 2011 ).

The absence of robust conceptual and theoretical frameworks for the life sciences has not prevented teachers and educational researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds (e.g., microbiology, ecology) from identifying domain-specific learning challenges and misunderstandings (Driver et al. 1994 ; Pfundt & Duit, 1998 ; NRC, 2001 ). Hundreds of individual concepts (e.g., osmosis, recombination, genetic drift, trophic levels, global warming) are typically presented to students in textbooks and taught in classrooms (NRC, 1958 ). Biology teachers have correspondingly noticed, and biology researchers have empirically documented, an array of misunderstandings about these individual concepts and topics (for reviews, see Pfundt & Duit, 1998 ; Reiss and Kampourakis 2018 ). When attempting to solve biological problems, for example, many university students: convert matter into energy in biological systems; adopt use-and-disuse inheritance to explain changes in life over time; and account for differences between eye and liver cells as a result of DNA differences. Many of the same misunderstandings have been documented in young children (Driver, Squires, Rushworth, & Wood-Robinson, 1994 ; Pfundt & Duit, 1998 ).

The ubiquity and abundance of these non-normative conceptions and reasoning patterns has led biology educators in different subfields (see Table 1 ) to develop concept-specific assessment tools or instruments (so-called “Concept Inventories”) in order to document the ideas (both normative and non-normative) that students bring with them to biology classrooms (Table  2 ). For particular topics or concepts, researchers have consolidated studies of student misunderstandings by category (e.g., Driver et al., 1994 ; Pfundt & Duit, 1998 ), confirmed and refined descriptions of these misunderstandings using clinical interviews, and developed associated suites of assessment items relevant to a particular idea (i.e., concept, principle).

CIs typically contain items offering one normative scientific answer option along with a variety of commonly held misconception foils. These instruments are designed for instructors to uncover which non-normative ideas are most appealing to students and measure general levels of normative understanding. CIs have been developed for many topics in the biological subfields of cell biology, genetics, physiology, evolution, and ecology. The number of biology CIs continues to grow each year, providing valuable tools for uncovering student thinking about specific biological ideas (Table 2 ).

Biology CIs have advanced prior work on student misconceptions (Pfundt & Duit, 1998 ) by: (1) focusing attention on the core ideas of greatest importance to concept or topic learning (e.g., osmosis and diffusion), (2) attending to a broad range of common misunderstandings (previously identified in a variety of separate studies), (3) quantitatively documenting student understanding using large participant samples (in contrast to smaller-scale, qualitative studies); and (4) establishing more generalizable claims concerning students’ mastery of biology concepts (facilitated by easy administration and multiple-choice format). As noted by Dirks ( 2011 ), concept inventory development was an important advance for the BER community by helping biologists recognize the ubiquity of biology misunderstandings and learning difficulties throughout the educational hierarchy.

Given the importance of CI development to BER (Dirks, 2011 ; see above), a critical review of this work is in order. I identify six limitations in order to illustrate some of the remaining challenges to understanding student thinking about living systems. The first major limitation of BER CI development is that it continues to be largely descriptive, a-theoretical, and lacking in explicit grounding in cognitive or conceptual frameworks (BER-specific or otherwise) (e.g., NRC, 2001 ). I will illustrate the practical significance of frameworks for living systems and theoretical frameworks for measurement using the National Research Council’s ( 2001 ) “assessment triangle”. In brief, the assessment triangle encompasses the three most central and necessary features for embarking upon studies of student understanding (and CI development): cognition, observation, and interpretation (as well as interconnections thereof; see Fig. 1 ). Cognition refers to the relevant features and processes of the cognitive system that are used to frame and ground the development of assessment tasks. Observation refers to the tangible artifacts (e.g., verbal utterances, written text, diagrams) that are generated as a result of engaging with such tasks. Interpretation refers to the inferences drawn from analyses of the observations produced by the tasks.

All three corners of the assessment triangle are inextricably interrelated (Fig. 1 ). For example, interpretation relies on appropriate analyses of the observations , and the observations only have meaning when viewed in light of the cognitive models used to construct the assessment tasks. Misinterpretations and faulty inferences about student understanding may arise from implicit and unexamined (or false) assumptions at any corner of the triangle (e.g. inappropriate tasks, inappropriate analyses of observations, inappropriate theoretical grounding). The NRC assessment triangle identifies the central features involved in making inferences about student reasoning (e.g., reasoning about biological systems). Remarkably few biology CIs have attended to all of these central features.

The cognition corner of the NRC’s ( 2001 ) assessment triangle demands focused attention on what is known about how students conceptualize and process information in general and biological systems in particular. That is, theories of cognition and theories of biological reasoning should undergird and support claims about what CI tasks are seeking to capture. The majority of CIs examined lack grounding in well-established theories of cognition (e.g., information processing theory, situated cognition theory) or theories of biological thinking and reasoning (e.g., categorization of living vs. non-living; see below). As a result, the necessary features of assessment design (Fig.  2 ) are lacking; this generates an unstable base for task design, data interpretation, and claims about biological thinking (Opfer et al., 2012 ).

figure 2

The NRC Assessment Triangle. Measurement and assessment of student understanding requires the integration of cognitive models, observations, and interpretations of observations in light of cognitive models. Models of thinking about living systems—the cognition corner—are therefore crucial to the development, application, and evaluation of assessments

A practical example may help to elucidate how the interplay among assessment triangle vertices impact claims drawn from CIs. Consider the role that the diversity of life might play in biological reasoning, for example. If the cognitive model (e.g., information processing theory) undergirding CI task design assumes that students will activate different ideas depending upon the taxon used in the assessment task (e.g., plant, non-human animal, human animal, fungus, bacteria), then multiple taxonomic contexts will be necessary in order to gather relevant observations and to draw robust inferences about how students think. If, on the other hand, the cognitive model assumes that students process information using abstractions of concepts, then attention to taxonomy in task design is unnecessary and most biological exemplars will suffice. The items that are developed and the corresponding scores that emerge from these two different cognitive perspectives are likely to be different. Cognition, observation, and interpretation (Fig. 2 ) emerge as necessary considerations in biology CI development, implementation, and score interpretations. Most CIs (Table 2 ) lack explicit alignment with the NRC’s ( 2001 ) assessment triangle, contain implicit or unexamined cognitive assumptions, and as a result may generate ambiguous or debatable claims about student thinking about living systems (and, ultimately, cloud the field’s attempt to make sense of how students think about living systems) (Tornabene, Lavington, & Nehm, 2018 ).

In addition to the lack of attention to theoretical grounding (i.e., NRC, 2001 ), a second limitation of CIs relates to their practical utility for biology education (Table  3 ). Given that hundreds of topics are typically included in textbooks and taught in biology classes (NRC, 1958 ), and dozens of CIs have now been developed (e.g., Table 2 ), the question arises as to what to do with them; what, in other words, is the broader aim of building this expansive test battery? Assessing all of the major domains for which CIs have been developed would require substantial amounts of time and effort. Devoting class time to all of the biological preconceptions and alternative conceptions uncovered by all of these instruments would require eliminating many other learning objectives or reorganizing biology instruction. The field has not developed practical strategies for aligning the numerous isolated insights generated from CIs with the practical realities of instruction, or the broader goals for BER.

One practical solution for making use of the broad array of CIs would be to develop and deploy Computer Adaptive Tests (CATs) capable of automatically diagnosing levels of conceptual understanding (as opposed to administering all assessment items from all of the CIs) and delivering personalized instructional resources aligned with documented learning difficulties. These digital tools could be provided as pre-class assignments or as supplemental resources. Another solution more closely tied with the focus of this critical review would be to identify learning challenges apparent across CIs (e.g., difficulties in reasoning about living systems) and to develop corresponding instructional materials to address these broader misunderstandings or promote cognitive coherence. This approach circles attention back to the question of how conceptual frameworks for biology and biology education could be leveraged to unify understanding of diverse misconceptions across subdisciplines (see Conceptual and Theoretical Frameworks for Biology Education Research, above).

A third limitation of biology CIs relates to the design of assessment tasks and the inferences that are drawn from their scores. When employing open-ended assessment tasks and clinical interviews, some BER research has shown that a majority of students utilize mixtures of normative and non-normative ideas together in their biological explanations (Nehm & Schonfeld, 2008 , 2010 ). Most CI instrument items nevertheless continue to employ multiple-choice (MC) formats and only permit students to choose between a normative or a non-normative answer option. This format may, in turn, introduce noise into the measurement process and weaken validity inferences. Multiple-True-False (MTF) items are one solution to this problem. Using MTF formats, students are permitted to indicate whether they consider each answer option to be correct or incorrect, thereby breaking the task design constraint evident in either-or item options. This limitation is another example of how consideration of both cognition (i.e., mixed cognitive models exist) and task design (MC vs. MTF) work together to impact the quality and meaning of inferences about biological thinking drawn from CI scores (i.e., observations).

A fourth limitation of BER CIs concerns the authenticity of the assessment tasks themselves. Most CIs assess pieces of knowledge using MC items. It is not clear if students who are able to achieve high scores (i.e., select the constellation of normative answer options across multiple items) understand the concept as a whole (Nehm & Haertig, 2012 ). For example, just because students select the normative ideas of mutation , heritability , environmental change , and differential survival from a pool of normative and non-normative item options does not necessarily mean that they would assemble these ideas in a scientifically correct manner. A student could, for example, use the aforementioned ideas to build an explanation in which environmental change in a particular habitat causes heritable mutations which in turn help these organisms differentially survive . Thus, non-normative models may be assembled from normative “pieces.” This is another example of how inferences about students’ biological understandings are tied to assessment and cognitive frameworks.

One solution to this challenge is to utilize Ordered Multiple Choice (OMC) items. These items prompt students to choose from among explanatory responses integrating many normative and non-normative combinations (as opposed to asking students to select individual ideas or conceptual fragments). These explanatory models could be designed to mirror hypothesized levels of conceptual understanding or biological expertise (e.g., learning progressions). OMC items have the potential to capture more holistic and valid characterizations of student reasoning (see Todd et al., 2017 for an example from genetics).

A fifth limitation of biology CIs centers on the “interpretation” corner of the assessment triangle (Fig. 2 ); robust validation methods aligned with contemporary psychometric frameworks are often lacking in biology CI studies (Boone, Staver, & Yale, 2014 ; Neumann, Neumann, & Nehm, 2011 ; Sbeglia & Nehm, 2018 , 2019 ). Rasch Analysis and Item Response Theory (IRT) are slowly supplanting traditional Classical Test Theory (CTT) methods for biology CI validation. In addition to psychometric limitations, validation studies of many biology instruments remain restricted to singular educational settings or demographically-restrictive samples (Mead et al. 2019 ; Campbell & Nehm, 2013 ). These methodological choices introduce uncertainty about the generalizability of CI score inferences across demographic groups, educational institutions, and international boundaries. Particular care must be made when drawing inferences from CI scores to inform instructional decisions or evaluate learning efficacy given these limitations (Table 3 ).

The sixth and final limitation of extant biology CIs returns to the topic of discipline-based conceptual frameworks. Few if any of the biology CIs and assessment instruments have been designed to target foundational disciplinary themes identified over the past 60 years (e.g., reasoning across biological scales) or the disciplinary formulations advanced in Vision and Change (AAAS, 2011 ). BER assessment tools remain aligned to concepts or topics characteristic of a particular subdiscipline, biological scale, or taxon (e.g., human animals). Despite significant progress in documenting concept understanding (and misunderstanding), biology educators have directed much less attention to assessing the foundational features of living systems that are most closely tied to disciplinary frameworks (i.e., NRC, 1958 ; Miller, 1978 ; AAAS, 2011 ). That is, analogous to many biology curricula, BER CI work has assembled a valuable but disarticulated jumble of information (in this case, lists of student learning difficulties) lacking deep structure or coherence.

In summary, a critical review of BER efforts to understand student thinking about living systems has revealed significant progress and significant limitations. Significant progress has been made in: identifying a range of important topics and concepts relevant to disciplinary core ideas; developing instruments that measure many of the learning difficulties uncovered in prior work (Table 2 ); and documenting widespread patterns of limited content mastery and numerous misunderstandings. Significant limitations have also been identified (Table 3 ). Many of the biology assessment tools lack: explicit grounding in psychometric and cognitive theory; task authenticity mirroring biological practice and reasoning; robust validation methods aligned with contemporary psychometric frameworks; robust inferences drawn from cognitively-aligned tasks; and implementation guidelines aligned with the practical realities of concept coverage in textbooks and classrooms. Collectively, much is now known about a scattered array of topics and concepts within biological subdisciplines; few if any tools are available for studying foundational and cross-disciplinary features of living systems identified by biologists over the past 60 years (e.g., identifying emergent properties across biological scales; considering stochasticity and determinism in biological causation; predicting biological outcomes using systems thinking; NRC, 1958 ; Miller, 1978 ; AAAS, 2011 ). BER requires discipline-specific frameworks that illuminate biological reasoning. Cognitive perspectives will be foundational to developing these frameworks.

What cognitive frameworks could guide BER?

A productive trend in BER involves efforts to link cognitive perspectives developed in other fields (e.g., education, psychology) with discipline-specific challenges characteristic of teaching and learning about living systems (Inagaki and Hatano, 1991 ; Kelemen and Rosset 2009 ). The fields of cognitive and developmental psychology serve as essential resources for understanding the roots of student reasoning about living systems. Developmental psychologists have generated many crucial insights into the foundations of human reasoning about living systems, including animacy, life, death, illness, growth, inheritance, and biological change (e.g., Opfer and Gelman 2010 ; Table  4 ). In particular, studies of human thinking have explored (1) whether ontogenetic development is characterized by reformulations of mental frameworks about living systems or by more continuous and less structured change, and (2) whether these early frameworks impact adult reasoning about living systems.

One of the more illuminating and well-studied examples of the linkages between cognitive and disciplinary frameworks concerns human thinking about plants (Opfer and Gelman 2010 ). Some psychologists consider the origins of biological thought to first emerge as young children ponder the question of what is alive and what is not (Goldberg & Thompson-Schill, 2009 ). For example, it is well established that young children initially conceptualize and classify plants as non-living entities. As cognitive development proceeds, plants are reclassified into an expanded category of “living” (e.g., plants + animals). An important question is whether early reasoning about biological categories and phenomena plays a significant role in later learning difficulties--including those documented in university undergraduates.

Plants provide a useful example for drawing possible connections among cognitive development, biological reasoning, and discipline-based conceptual frameworks. Plants comprise a central branch on the tree of life and are essential for human existence (i.e., sources of matter and energy). Yet, plants have posed significant challenges for life science educators (Wandersee & Schussler, 1999 ). These challenges range from students’ lack of perception of plants altogether (coined “plant blindness”) to fundamental misconceptions about how plants reproduce, transform matter and energy, and impact the chemical composition of the atmosphere (Wandersee & Schussler, 1999 ). The early reformulations of biological categories in young children--such as the reorganization of plants into the category of “living things”--appear to persist into adulthood.

A study by Goldberg and Thompson-Schill ( 2009 , p. 6) compared reasoning about plants relative to other living (e.g., animal) and non-living (e.g., rock) entities in undergraduates and biology professors. Under time pressure, it took biology professors significantly longer to recognize plants as living things (compared to animals and non-living entities). Goldberg and Thompson-Schill noted that “[t] he same items and features that cause confusions in young children also appear to cause underlying classification difficulties in university biology professors.” This case is not unique. Children’s reasoning about other biological phenomena, such as teleo-functional biases, also display continuities with adult thinking about evolutionary change (e.g., Kelemen and DiYanni, 2005 ). Work in cognitive and developmental psychology indicate that young children’s early formulations about living systems might not be “re-written”, but instead persist into adulthood, require active suppression, and impact later learning. Ongoing research in cognitive and developmental psychology has great potential for enriching our understanding of thinking in young adults, and for providing deeper insights into the causes of entrenched biology misunderstandings that often appear resistant to concerted educational efforts.

Studies at the other extreme--expert biologists--also have great potential for informing the development of unifying cognitive frameworks for BER. Comparative studies of experts and novices in different subject areas have been central to understanding domain-general and domain-specific features of problem representation and problem-solving performance for nearly a century (reviewed in Novick and Bassok, 2012 ). Novice-expert comparisons have seen comparatively little use in BER, although some notable exceptions include studies in genetics (Smith, 1983 ), evolution (Nehm & Ridgway, 2011 ), and genetically-modified organisms (Potter et al. 2017 ). These studies offer a range of insights into how novices and experts conceptualize problems, plan solutions, and utilize concepts and frameworks in problem-solving tasks. These insights could be leveraged to help elucidate expert frameworks of biological systems, as well as to identify conceptual, procedural, and epistemic barriers in novice reasoning. In a study of evolution, for example, novices performed poorly on problem-solving tasks not because of a lack of domain-specific knowledge, but because of the ways in which they used superficial task features (different organisms) to cognitively represent the problems at hand (i.e., in fundamentally different ways than the experts). Here the tension in student thinking about the unity and diversity of living systems is revealed—which is also a disciplinary idea unique to BER (Dobzhansky, 1973 ). Helping students perceive unity across the diversity of life emerges as a crucial (but often neglected) instructional goal. Comparing expert and novice problem-solving approaches could reveal unknown barriers to biology learning and illuminate potential features of a theoretical conceptualization of BER. These frameworks become central to the “cognition” corner of the assessment triangle (NRC, 2001 ) and efforts to design CIs and measure educational impact.

In addition to tracing the origination, persistence, and modification of cognitive structures about living systems through ontogeny and expertise, it is useful to ask whether the disciplinary organization of the biological sciences and associated degree programs, curricula, and textbook organizations (cf. Nehm et al., 2009 ) contribute to students’ fragmented models of living systems (e.g., Botany courses and textbooks focus on plants; Microbiology courses and textbooks focus on bacteria; Zoology courses and textbooks focus on animals). Few biologists would doubt that taxon-specific learning outcomes are essential for understanding the unique aspects of particular living systems. But an unanswered question is whether an effective balance between diversity and unity been achieved, or whether the scales have been tipped towards a focus on diversity-grounded learning (and corresponding cognitive fragmentation in biology students). It is notable that most biology textbook chapters, courses, and degree programs maintain organizational structures at odds with most conceptual reformulations of the life sciences (e.g., NRC, 1958 ; Miller, 1978 ; AAAS, 2011 ). Resolving these contradictions may help to conceptualize a more unified and principled framework for BER.

In summary, one of the most underdeveloped areas of BER concerns the formulation of conceptual and theoretical frameworks that account for how learners make sense of the similarities and differences within and across living systems as they progress through ontogeny and educational experiences. Cognitive and developmental psychology provide rich but largely untapped resources for enriching cognitively-grounded frameworks. In addition to studies of biological reasoning in young children, studies of expert thinking also offer considerable promise for uncovering barriers to expert-like conceptualizations of living systems. Collaborations with cognitive and developmental psychologists, and greater application of expert-novice comparisons, will be essential to advancing the cognitive frameworks for assessment design, curriculum development, and BER research.

What disciplinary frameworks could guide BER?

Although frameworks and models from psychology will be invaluable for crafting cognitive frameworks for BER, there are unique features of living systems that must also be explicitly considered in light of more broadly applicable cognitive models. To foster disciplinary unification and more integrative models of BER, these features should (1) span different biological subdisciplines and (2) undergird broad learning challenges about core ideas about living systems. Three areas--unity and diversity; randomness, probability, and contingency; and scale, hierarchy, and emergence—are likely to be valuable ideas for the development of discipline-grounded conceptual frameworks for BER. Each is discussed in turn below (Fig. 3 ).

figure 3

Integrating conceptual frameworks into BER: student reasoning about unity and diversity; scale, hierarchy, and emergence; and randomness, probability, and historical contingency. Note that all three ideas interact to generate understanding about living systems, including processes within them (e.g., information flow)

Unity and Diversity in biological reasoning

A foundational (yet undertheorized) disciplinary challenge inherent to BER concerns the development of conceptual models of student sensemaking about the similarities and differences within and across living systems (NRC 1958 ; Klymkowsky et al., 2016 ; Nehm, 2018 ; Nehm et al., 2012 ; Shea, Duncan, & Stephenson, 2015 ). A key argument often missed in Dobzhansky’s ( 1973 ) seminal paper expounding the importance of evolution to all of biology was “[t] he unity of life is no less remarkable than its diversity” (p. 127). Indeed, a core goal of all biological disciplines is to develop and deploy causal models that transcend particular scales, lineages, and phenomenologies. Biology educators have, for the most part, documented myriad student learning difficulties within disciplinary contexts (e.g., microbiology, heredity, evolution, ecology) that are likewise bound to particular scales, concepts, and taxonomic contexts. Much less work has explored reasoning across these areas and the extent to which conceptual unity is achieved as students progress through biology education (Garvin-Doxas & Klymkowsky, 2008 ).

A core need for BER is the development of explicit models of how student understanding of living systems changes in response to formal and informal educational experiences (e.g., exposure to household pets, gardens, books, zoos, digital media, formal schooling). Throughout ontogeny, learners experience a wide range of life forms and their associated phenomenologies (e.g., growth, function, behavior, death). As learners engage with the diversity of the living world, a foundational question for BER is whether students construct increasingly abstract models of living systems (i.e. conceptual unity) or whether their sense-making remains rooted in taxonomic contexts, experiential instances, and case examples (i.e. conceptual diversity; Fig.  4 ).

figure 4

One example of unity and diversity in biological reasoning. Note that examples using a broader set of scales (e.g., ecosystem) could be utilized. a Within a biological scale (in this case, the scale of organism), reasoning about living systems lacks unification and is organized by taxonomic contexts, experiential instances, and case examples. b Within a biological scale (in this case, the scale of organism) reasoning about living systems is characterized by abstract models transcending organismal type or lineage (i.e. conceptual unity). c Among biological scales (in this case, molecule, cell, organism), reasoning about living systems lacks unification and is organized by macroscopic (organismal), microscopic (cellular), and molecular (biochemical) levels of biological organization. d Among biological scales (in this case, molecule, cell, organism), reasoning about living systems at is characterized by abstract models linking biological scales (i.e. conceptual unity)

The limited body of work exploring student reasoning about the unity and diversity of living systems has uncovered different findings. In some cases, research suggests that in older children and young adults, reasoning about living systems may remain highly fragmented and taxon-specific at particular scales (Fig. 4 a; e.g., Freidenreich et al. 2011 ; Kargbo et al., 1980 ; Nehm & Ha, 2011 ). In other cases, research has shown that student reasoning may develop into unified problem-solving heuristics within a biological scale (Fig. 4 b; e.g., Schmiemann et al., 2017 ). Much less work has explored student reasoning about biological phenomena across biological scales (Fig. 4 c, d). Work in genetics education suggests that crossing these ontological levels or scales is inherently challenging for students (Freidenreich et al. 2011 ; Kargbo et al., 1980 ; Nehm & Ha, 2011 ; Nehm, 2018 ). For example, students may develop conceptual understanding within a biological level (Fig. 4 c) but be unable to conceptually link processes as they unfold over multiple scales (e.g., molecular, cellular, organismal; Fig. 4 d). Given that unity and diversity are foundational features of living systems, the development of conceptual and theoretical frameworks guiding empirical studies about student thinking about living systems is long overdue. Such frameworks could be used to synthesize past work, connect researchers from different life science sub-disciplines, and establish a unifying research agenda for BER.

Randomness, probability, and contingency

Many students and teachers have a tacit awareness that biology is different from the physical sciences. Yet, explicit frameworks illuminating these conceptual similarities and differences are often lacking in biology education (Klymkowsky et al., 2016 ). The behavior of biological systems is complex for many reasons, although the simultaneous operation of numerous causes each of which produces weak effects is an important one (Lewontin, 2000 ). Biological systems are also impacted by multiple probabilistic interactions with and among scales (e.g., molecular, cell, organismal, ecological) (Garvin-Doxas & Klymkowsky, 2008 ). For these reasons, biological patterns and processes are characterized by “...a plurality of causal factors, combined with probabilism in the chain of events …” across scales (Mayr, 1997 , p. 68). This messy situation often stands in sharp relief to student learning experiences in physics and chemistry, where fewer causes with stronger effects and more deterministic outcomes are encountered (Lewontin, 2000 ). Given the special properties of biological systems (at least in terms of the topics explored by students), a BER research program exploring how students make sense of randomness, probability, and determinism across lineages and biological scales emerges as an essential consideration (Garvin-Doxas & Klymkowsky, 2008 ).

Student learning difficulties with randomness and probability in biology are well established (Garvin-Doxas & Klymkowsky, 2008 ). Large numbers of university undergraduates previously exposed to natural selection falsely consider it to be a “random” process (Beggrow and Nehm, 2012 ); genetic drift misconceptions--many of which are closely tied to ideas of chance--are abundant (Price et al. 2014 ); and reasoning about osmosis and diffusion, which require thinking about probability at molecular scales, remains challenging for students at advanced levels of biology education (Garvin-Doxas & Klymkowsky, 2008 ). Many fundamental but very basic biological phenomena (i.e. in terms of the number of interacting causes within and among levels of organization) pose substantial challenges. But much like the discipline-specific documentation of other learning challenges, difficulties with randomness and probability are often discussed in the context of specific biological concepts (e.g., Punnett squares, Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium) rather than as unifying features of biological systems. What is currently lacking in BER is an organizing framework that cuts across instances (e.g., diffusion, meiosis, selection, drift) and guides systematic review and synthesis of different biology learning challenges relating to randomness and probability.

Student learning difficulties may be traced to many causes, which raises the question of whether there is empirical evidence that probabilistic reasoning is responsible for the aforementioned learning difficulties. Recent work by Fiedler et al. ( 2019 ) has quantified the contribution of probabilistic reasoning to biology understanding. In a large sample of university biology students, Fiedler et al. ( 2019 ) demonstrated that statistical reasoning (in the contexts of mathematics and evolution) displayed significant and strong associations with knowledge of evolution. Although this result is perhaps unsurprising given previous work (Garvin-Doxas & Klymkowsky, 2008 ), it is notable that statistical reasoning was also found to have significant and strong associations with the acceptance of evolution. Fiedler et al. ( 2019 ) affirm the significant role of probabilistic thinking in biological reasoning, and open the door to empirical explorations of many other topics in the life sciences. Although Fiedler et al. ( 2019 ) do not propose a framework for conceptualizing randomness and probability in the life sciences, they do argue that statistical reasoning is a core feature of reasoning about living systems (as opposed to an ancillary tool for studying living systems). This perspective reformulates the role of statistics in biological competence. Clearly, the development of a conceptual framework focusing on randomness, probability, and contingency could offer great potential for uniting research efforts across biological subdisciplines (e.g., molecular biology, genetics, evolution).

Scale, hierarchy, and emergence

The hierarchical structure of life, and its corresponding biological scales (e.g., cell, tissue, organ, organism, population, species, ecosystem) are repeatedly acknowledged as important considerations about biological systems in nearly every textbook and classroom. Although most (if not all) biology education programs draw student attention to the concepts of scale and hierarchy, they rarely explore how scale and hierarchy elucidate and problematize the functioning of biological systems. For example, an understanding of the interdependence of patterns and processes across scales (e.g., upward and downward causation) as well as the emergence of novel properties at higher levels (e.g., the whole is more than the sum of its parts), is necessary for making sense of nearly all of the core ideas unifying the life sciences (e.g., information flow, matter and energy transformation, evolution). Yet, a review of the literature reveals that an explicit curriculum for helping students engage in the meaning of this hierarchical arrangement appears lacking.

Extending discussions of the unity and diversity of life (see Fig. 4 , above), reasoning about living systems may also display unity or diversity across hierarchical levels. For example, reasoning about living systems may lack unification, and knowledge structures or mental models may be organized by macroscopic (organismal), microscopic (cellular), and molecular (biochemical) levels of biological organization (Fig. 4 c). In such cases, knowledge structures and reasoning are bound to particular scales or levels , and conceptual linkages among these scales (e.g., upward and downward causation, emergent properties) may be lacking. Alternatively, reasoning about living systems may be characterized by abstract models unifying biological scales (i.e. conceptual unity) (Fig. 4 d). In such cases, knowledge structures and mental models transcend scale and utilize level-specific understanding. The main point is that hierarchical scale is an important aspect of biological reasoning that may facilitate or constrain student understanding. The principles of scale, hierarchy, and emergence are central to biological reasoning, yet BER lacks a robust conceptualization of these concepts and their role in student understanding of living systems. Theoretical and conceptual frameworks for scale, hierarchy, and emergence could help to guide systematic review and synthesis of different biology learning challenges and guide research efforts in BER.

In summary, this critical review, as well as prior reviews of BER, have found few discipline-specific conceptual or theoretical frameworks for the field (Dirks, 2011 ; deHaan, 2011 ). The fragmented disciplinary history and structure of the life sciences (see above) has been a concern noted by eminent biologists and professional organizations for at least 60 years (e.g., NRC, 1958 ). Despite progress in conceptual unification in the biological sciences, the BER community to a significant degree remains compartmentalized along historical, institutional, and disciplinary boundaries (e.g., microbiology, biochemistry, evolution). Efforts by BER researchers to understand and measure student understanding of living systems have likewise progressed along disciplinary themes, concepts, and topics.

Many core features of living systems offer opportunities for crafting discipline-specific educational frameworks for BER. Given the fragmentation of the life sciences and BER, it is presumptuous and unrealistic for any single scholar or subfield to impose such a framework. Three interconnected themes--unity and diversity; randomness, probability, and contingency; and scale, hierarchy, and emergence—have been identified in prior synthesis efforts and offered as potential starting points for a cross-disciplinary discussion of possible field-specific frameworks. Such frameworks are critical to the epistemic foundations of BER. They have immense potential for enriching a wide array of research efforts spanning different subfields, organizing the growing list of student learning difficulties, and building casual frameworks capable of grounding empirical research agendas.

Limitations

This critical review has identified significant opportunities and challenges for BER. The most pressing opportunity noted throughout this review is the development of discipline-specific conceptual and theoretical frameworks. The absence of explicit disciplinary frameworks raises questions about disciplinary identity (e.g., “What is BER?”) and encourages superficial and dissatisfying answers (e.g., “BER studies biology education”). The perspective advanced in this review is that the absence of cognitive and disciplinary frameworks generates epistemic instability (e.g., a-theoretical empiricism) and clouds our ability to rigorously understand student thinking about living systems. There are, however, alternative perspectives on the significance of discipline-specific frameworks for BER; two are discussed below.

First, if BER-affiliated scholars were to ignore or abandon the National Research Council’s ( 2013 ) conceptualization and definition of BER (and the broader topic of DBER), then biology-related educational research efforts could easily be subsumed within the field of Science Education (cf. Nehm, 2014 ). In this case, discipline-focused theoretical frameworks become less of a concern because frameworks from science education could guide epistemic aims and corresponding research agendas. Attention to the unique aspects of biological concepts (e.g., inheritance, photosynthesis, phylogenetics) would fade (but not disappear) and educational frameworks (e.g., socio-cognitive theory, constructivism) would come into sharper focus. This alternative conceptualization foregrounds educational frameworks and backgrounds disciplinary frameworks. The rationale for BER as a standalone field consequently weakens, along with arguments concerning the critical nature of discipline-focused conceptual frameworks.

A second perspective concerns the necessity of conceptual and theoretical frameworks for BER (and perhaps other scholarly efforts) altogether. Theory building linked to causal explanation is widely-recognized as a central goal of scientific and social-science research (cf. Brigandt, 2016 ; Rocco & Plakhotnik, 2009 ). Some BER scholars, however, do not appear to consider such frameworks as central epistemic features of their work (as indicated by much of the work reviewed here). Indeed, there are numerous examples of implicit or a-theoretical hypothesis testing in the BER journals listed in Table 1 . This stance minimizes the importance of conceptual or theoretical frameworks in scholarly work, and in so doing eliminates the central concern advanced in this review.

One final and significant limitation of this critical review is that it has adopted a Western, and largely American, perspective. Many of the conclusions drawn are unlikely to generalize to other nations or cultures. It is well known that the structure of biology education research differs around the world (e.g., Indonesia, China, Korea, Germany). Studies of biology learning may be situated within university education departments or biology departments (or combinations thereof). Teacher training in biology may be housed in colleges exclusively devoted to biology education, or departments focusing on general biology education (e.g., medicine, conservation).

International comparison studies (e.g., Ha, Wei, Wang, Hou, & Nehm, 2019 ; Rachmatullah, Nehm, Ha, & Roshayanti, 2018 ) are likely to offer rich insights into the relationships between biology education research agendas, institutional contexts, and the conceptual and theoretical frameworks used to make sense of student thinking about living systems. Indeed, what are the affordances and constraints of different institutional and epistemic arrangements to knowledge discovery in biology education? Collectively, how could these alternative arrangements enhance our ability to foster deeper understanding of the living world? Further reviews from a broader array of stakeholders will enhance our collective understanding of BER around the world.

This critical review examined the challenges and opportunities facing the field of Biology Education Research (BER). Ongoing fragmentation of the biological sciences was identified as a force working in opposition to the development of (i) unifying conceptual frameworks for living systems and (ii) unifying frameworks for understanding student thinking about living systems. Institutional, disciplinary, and conceptual fragmentation of the life sciences aligns with the finding that BER generally lacks unique, unifying, and discipline-focused conceptual or theoretical frameworks. Biology concept inventory research was used to illustrate the central role that conceptual frameworks (both cognitive and disciplinary) play in making sense of student thinking about living systems. Relevant insights from developmental and cognitive psychology were reviewed as potential starting points for building more robust cognitive frameworks, and prior theoretical work by biologists was leveraged to generate possible starting points for discipline-focused frameworks. Three interconnected themes--unity and diversity; randomness, probability, and contingency; and scale, hierarchy, and emergence—were identified as central to thinking about living systems and were linked to ongoing BER research efforts. The review emphasized that the development of conceptual frameworks that account for how learners make sense of similarities and differences within and across living systems as they progress through ontogeny and formal education will help to foster epistemic stability and disciplinary unification for BER.

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Abbreviations

Biology Education Research

Computer Adaptive Test

Concept Inventory

Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats

Classical Test Theory

Discipline-Based Education Research

Deoxyribonucleic Acid

European Researchers In the Didaktics of Biology

Item Response Theory

Multiple True False

National Research Council

Ordered Multiple Choice

Partnership for Undergraduate Life Science Education

Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research

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200+ Unique And Interesting Biology Research Topics For Students In 2023

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Table of Contents

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25. Analyzing the role of biotechnology in food production, including GMOs.

26. Studying the development of biopharmaceuticals and monoclonal antibodies.

27. Investigating the use of bioremediation to clean up polluted environments.

28. Studying the potential of synthetic biology for creating novel organisms.

29. Analyzing the ethical and social implications of biotechnological advancements.

30. Investigating the use of biotechnology in forensic science, such as DNA analysis.

Molecular Biology Research Topics For Undergraduates

31. Studying the structure and function of DNA and RNA molecules.

32. Analyzing the regulation of gene expression in eukaryotic cells.

33. Investigating the mechanisms of DNA replication and repair.

34. Studying the role of non-coding RNAs in gene regulation.

35. Analyzing the molecular basis of genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis.

36. Investigating the epigenetic modifications that control gene activity.

37. Studying the molecular mechanisms of protein folding and misfolding.

38. Analyzing the molecular pathways involved in cancer progression.

39. Investigating the molecular basis of neurodegenerative diseases.

40. Studying the use of molecular markers in genetic diversity analysis.

Life Science Research Topics For High School Students

41. Investigating the effects of different diets on human health.

42. Analyzing the impact of exercise on cardiovascular fitness.

43. Studying the genetics of inherited traits and diseases.

44. Investigating the ecological interactions in a local ecosystem.

45. Analyzing the diversity of microorganisms in soil or water samples.

46. Studying the anatomy and physiology of a specific organ or system.

47. Investigating the life cycle of a local plant or animal species.

48. Studying the effects of environmental pollutants on aquatic organisms.

49. Analyzing the behavior of a specific animal species in its habitat.

50. Investigating the process of photosynthesis in plants.

Biology Research Topics For Grade 12

51. Investigating the genetic basis of a specific inherited disorder.

52. Analyzing the impact of climate change on a local ecosystem.

53.Studying the biodiversity of a particular rainforest region.

54. Investigating the physiological adaptations of animals to extreme temperatures.

55. Analyzing the effects of pollution on aquatic ecosystems.

56. Studying the life history and conservation status of an endangered species.

57. Investigating the molecular mechanisms of a specific disease.

58. Studying the ecological interactions within a coral reef ecosystem.

59. Analyzing the genetics of plant hybridization and speciation.

60. Investigating the behavior and communication of a particular bird species.

Marine Biology Research Topics

61. Studying the impact of ocean acidification on coral reefs.

62. Analyzing the migration patterns of marine mammals.

63. Investigating the physiology of deep-sea creatures under high pressure.

64. Studying the ecology of phytoplankton and their role in the marine food web.

65. Analyzing the behavior of different species of sharks.

66. Investigating the conservation of sea turtle populations.

67. Studying the biodiversity of deep-sea hydrothermal vent communities.

68. Analyzing the effects of overfishing on marine ecosystems.

69. Investigating the adaptation of marine organisms to extreme cold in polar regions.

70. Studying the bioluminescence and communication in marine organisms.

AP Biology Research Topics

71. Investigating the role of specific enzymes in cellular metabolism.

72. Analyzing the genetic variation within a population.

73. Studying the mechanisms of hormonal regulation in animals.

74. Investigating the principles of Mendelian genetics through trait analysis.

75. Analyzing the ecological succession in a local ecosystem.

76. Studying the physiology of the human circulatory system.

77. Investigating the molecular biology of a specific virus.

78. Studying the principles of natural selection through evolutionary simulations.

79. Analyzing the genetic diversity of a plant species in different habitats.

80. Investigating the effects of different environmental factors on plant growth.

Cell Biology Research Topics

81. Investigating the role of mitochondria in cellular energy production.

82. Analyzing the mechanisms of cell division and mitosis.

83. Studying the function of cell membrane proteins in signal transduction.

84. Investigating the cellular processes involved in apoptosis (cell death).

85. Analyzing the role of endoplasmic reticulum in protein synthesis and folding.

86. Studying the dynamics of the cytoskeleton and cell motility.

87. Investigating the regulation of cell cycle checkpoints.

88. Analyzing the structure and function of cellular organelles.

89. Studying the molecular mechanisms of DNA replication and repair.

90. Investigating the impact of cellular stress on cell health and function.

Human Biology Research Topics

91. Analyzing the genetic basis of inherited diseases in humans.

92. Investigating the physiological responses to exercise and physical activity.

93. Studying the hormonal regulation of the human reproductive system.

94. Analyzing the impact of nutrition on human health and metabolism.

95. Investigating the role of the immune system in disease prevention.

96. Studying the genetics of human evolution and migration.

97. Analyzing the neural mechanisms underlying human cognition and behavior.

98. Investigating the molecular basis of aging and age-related diseases.

99. Studying the impact of environmental toxins on human health.

100. Analyzing the genetics of organ transplantation and tissue compatibility.

Molecular Biology Research Topics

101. Investigating the role of microRNAs in gene regulation.

102. Analyzing the molecular basis of genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis.

103. Studying the epigenetic modifications that control gene expression.

104. Investigating the molecular mechanisms of RNA splicing.

105. Analyzing the role of telomeres in cellular aging.

106. Studying the molecular pathways involved in cancer metastasis.

107. Investigating the molecular basis of neurodegenerative diseases.

108. Studying the molecular interactions in protein-protein networks.

109. Analyzing the molecular mechanisms of DNA damage and repair.

110. Investigating the use of CRISPR-Cas9 for genome editing.

Animal Biology Research Topics

111. Studying the behavior and communication of social insects like ants.

112. Analyzing the physiology of hibernation in mammals.

113. Investigating the ecological interactions in a predator-prey relationship.

114. Studying the adaptations of animals to extreme environments.

115. Analyzing the genetics of inherited traits in animal populations.

116. Investigating the impact of climate change on animal migration patterns.

117. Studying the diversity of marine life in coral reef ecosystems.

118. Analyzing the physiology of flight in birds and bats.

119. Investigating the molecular basis of animal coloration and camouflage.

120. Studying the behavior and conservation of endangered species.

  • Neuroscience Research Topics
  • Mental Health Research Topics

Plant Biology Research Topics

121. Investigating the role of plant hormones in growth and development.

122. Analyzing the genetics of plant resistance to pests and diseases.

123. Climate change and plant phenology are being examined.

124. Investigating the ecology of mycorrhizal fungi and their symbiosis with plants.

125. Investigating plant photosynthesis and carbon fixing.

126. Molecular analysis of plant stress responses.

127. Investigating the adaptation of plants to drought conditions.

128. Studying the role of plants in phytoremediation of polluted environments.

129. Analyzing the genetics of plant hybridization and speciation.

130. Investigating the molecular basis of plant-microbe interactions.

Environmental Biology Research Topics

131. Analyzing the effects of pollution on aquatic ecosystems.

132. Investigating the biodiversity of a particular ecosystem.

133. Studying the ecological consequences of deforestation.

134. Analyzing the impact of climate change on wildlife populations.

135. Investigating the use of bioremediation to clean up polluted sites.

136. Studying the environmental factors influencing species distribution.

137. Analyzing the effects of habitat fragmentation on wildlife.

138. Investigating the ecology of invasive species in new environments.

139. Studying the conservation of endangered species and habitats.

140. Analyzing the interactions between humans and urban ecosystems.

Chemical Biology Research Topics

141. Investigating the design and synthesis of new drug compounds.

142. Analyzing the molecular mechanisms of enzyme catalysis.

143.Studying the role of small molecules in cellular signaling pathways.

144. Investigating the development of chemical probes for biological research.

145. Studying the chemistry of protein-ligand interactions.

146. Analyzing the use of chemical biology in cancer therapy.

147. Investigating the synthesis of bioactive natural products.

148. Studying the role of chemical compounds in microbial interactions.

149. Analyzing the chemistry of DNA-protein interactions.

150. Investigating the chemical basis of drug resistance in pathogens.

Medical Biology Research Topics

151. Investigating the genetic basis of specific diseases like diabetes.

152. Analyzing the mechanisms of drug resistance in bacteria.

153. Studying the molecular mechanisms of autoimmune diseases.

154. Investigating the development of personalized medicine approaches.

155. Studying the role of inflammation in chronic diseases.

156. Analyzing the genetics of rare diseases and genetic syndromes.

157. Investigating the molecular basis of viral infections and vaccines.

158. Studying the mechanisms of organ transplantation and rejection.

159. Analyzing the molecular diagnostics of cancer.

160. Investigating the biology of stem cells and regenerative medicine.

Evolutionary Biology Research Topics

161. Studying the evolution of human ancestors and early hominids.

162. The genetic variety of species and between species is being looked at.

163. Investigating the role of sexual selection in animal evolution.

164. Studying the co-evolutionary relationships between parasites and hosts.

165. Analyzing the evolutionary adaptations of extremophiles.

166. Investigating the evolution of developmental processes (evo-devo).

167. Studying the biogeography and distribution of species.

168. Analyzing the evolution of mimicry in animals and plants.

169. Investigating the genetics of speciation and hybridization.

170. Studying the evolutionary history of domesticated plants and animals.

Cellular Biology Research Topics

171. Investigating the role of autophagy in cellular homeostasis.

172. Analyzing the mechanisms of cellular transport and trafficking.

173. Studying the regulation of cell adhesion & migration.

174. Investigating the cellular responses to DNA damage.

175. Analyzing the dynamics of cellular membrane structures.

176. Studying the role of cellular organelles in lipid metabolism.

177. Investigating the molecular mechanisms of cell-cell communication.

178. Studying the physiology of cellular respiration and energy production.

179. Analyzing the cellular mechanisms of viral entry and replication.

180. Investigating the role of cellular senescence in aging and disease.

Good Biology Research Topics Related To Brain Injuries

181. Analyzing the molecular mechanisms of traumatic brain injury.

182. Investigating the role of neuroinflammation in brain injury recovery.

183. Studying the impact of concussions on long-term brain health.

184. Analyzing the use of neuroimaging in diagnosing brain injuries.

185. Investigating the development of neuroprotective therapies.

186. Studying the genetics of susceptibility to brain injuries.

187. Analyzing the cognitive and behavioral effects of brain trauma.

188. Investigating the role of rehabilitation in brain injury recovery.

189. Studying the cellular and molecular changes in axonal injury.

190. Looking into how stem cell therapy might be used to help brain injuries.

Biology Quantitative Research Topics

191. Investigating the mathematical modeling of population dynamics.

192. Analyzing the statistical methods for biodiversity assessment.

193. Studying the use of bioinformatics in genomics research.

194. Investigating the quantitative analysis of gene expression data.

195. Studying the mathematical modeling of enzyme kinetics.

196. Analyzing the statistical approaches for epidemiological studies.

197. Investigating the use of computational tools in phylogenetics.

198. Studying the mathematical modeling of ecological systems.

199. Analyzing the quantitative analysis of protein-protein interactions.

200. Investigating the statistical methods for analyzing genetic variation.

Importance Of Choosing The Right Biology Research Topics

Here are some importance of choosing the right biology research topics: 

1. Relevance to Your Interests and Goals

Choosing the right biology research topic is important because it should align with your interests and goals. Studying something you’re passionate about keeps you motivated and dedicated to your research.

2. Contribution to Scientific Knowledge

Your research should contribute something valuable to the world of science. Picking the right topic means you have the chance to discover something new or solve a problem, advancing our understanding of the natural world.

3. Availability of Resources

Consider the resources you have or can access. If you pick a topic that demands resources you don’t have, your research may hit a dead end. Choosing wisely means you can work efficiently.

4. Feasibility and Manageability

A good research topic should be manageable within your time frame and capabilities. If it’s too broad or complex, you might get overwhelmed. Picking the right topic ensures your research is doable.

5. Real-World Impact

Think about how your research might benefit the real world. Biology often has implications for health, the environment, or society. Choosing a topic with practical applications can make your work meaningful and potentially change lives.

Resources For Finding Biology Research Topics

There are numerous resources for finding biology research topics:

1. Online Databases

Look on websites like PubMed and Google Scholar. They have lots of biology articles. Type words about what you like to find topics.

2. Academic Journals

Check biology magazines. They talk about new research. You can find ideas and see what’s important.

3. University Websites

Colleges show what their teachers study. Find teachers who like what you like. Ask them about ideas for your own study.

4. Science News and Magazines

Read science news. They tell you about new things in biology. It helps you think of research ideas.

5. Join Biology Forums and Communities

Talk to other people who like biology online. You can ask for ideas and find friends to help you. Use websites like ResearchGate and Reddit for this.

Conclusion 

Biology Research Topics offer exciting opportunities for exploration and learning. We’ve explained what biology is and stressed the importance of picking a good research topic. Our tips and extensive list of over 200 biology research topics provide valuable guidance for students.

Selecting the right topic is more than just getting good grades; it’s about making meaningful contributions to our understanding of life. We’ve also shared resources to help you discover even more topics. So, embrace the world of biology research, embark on a journey of discovery, and be part of the ongoing effort to unravel the mysteries of the natural world.

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Biology Education

The  Biology Education Area  is a group for people who are interested in teaching and in teaching-related research.  Our common goal is to promote high quality instruction and enhance learning by applying educational research to course and curricular design.  This area transcends sub-disciplinary boundaries by working with other research areas to help answer discipline-specific questions related to teaching and learning methodology.

Faculty and students who affiliate with other research areas may affiliate secondarily with Biology Education (and vice-versa) if their teaching-related work or research may be supported by interactions within the Biology Education Area.  Therefore, members and affiliates of our area include:

research-active faculty who complement their discipline-specific research with educational innovation

faculty whose primary role is now teaching

faculty members who primarily affiliate with the  Purdue International Biology Education Research Group  (PIBERG), and 

non tenure-track instructors.

In the  Biology Education Area , we focus on improving the quality of biology education at Purdue and around the world. Members of our area participate in a range of interdisciplinary activities that attempt to promote student success in biology by improving study and teaching methods.  Scholarship in the Biology Education research area focuses on:

  • developing Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs)
  • innovating classroom and laboratory instruction to improve teaching and learning effectiveness
  • promoting retention and graduation of graduate and undergraduate students in Biology
  • faculty development
  • education of and outreach to High School Biology teachers

Download a letter from our Convener (PDF: 334KB) about opportunities for graduate students. By highlighting what our faculty, graduate students, post-doctoral scholars, and other affiliates have been doing to promote student success in biology, the Biology Education Area is mobilizing the department, the university, and professional societies to educate the next generation to develop the advanced reasoning and problem-solving abilities that are so critical to new discoveries in the life sciences. Note: these projects are externally funded.

Biology Education News

  • The road not taken: host infection status influences parasite host-choice
  • Pelaez elected Fellow of American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science
  • A CURE for learning about experimentation
  • Pelaez, Gardner and Anderson Presented Advancing Competencies in Experimentation - Biology (ACE-Bio) at SABER
  • A community-building framework for collaborative research coordination across the education and biology research disciplines
  • Of mice and worms: are co-infections with unrelated parasite strains more damaging to definitive hosts?
  • Research Area Members
  • Adler, Jacob
  • Bartlett, Edward
  • Bernal, Ximena
  • Camarillo, Ignacio
  • Gardner, Stephanie
  • Guzey, Siddika
  • Humphrey, Sean
  • Minchella, Dennis
  • Sahley, Chris

Purdue University Biological Sciences, 915 Mitch Daniels Boulevard, West Lafayette, IN 47907

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Grad Coach

Research Topics & Ideas: Education

170+ Research Ideas To Fast-Track Your Project

Topic Kickstarter: Research topics in education

If you’re just starting out exploring education-related topics for your dissertation, thesis or research project, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll help kickstart your research topic ideation process by providing a hearty list of research topics and ideas , including examples from actual dissertations and theses..

PS – This is just the start…

We know it’s exciting to run through a list of research topics, but please keep in mind that this list is just a starting point . To develop a suitable education-related research topic, you’ll need to identify a clear and convincing research gap , and a viable plan of action to fill that gap.

If this sounds foreign to you, check out our free research topic webinar that explores how to find and refine a high-quality research topic, from scratch. Alternatively, if you’d like hands-on help, consider our 1-on-1 coaching service .

Overview: Education Research Topics

  • How to find a research topic (video)
  • List of 50+ education-related research topics/ideas
  • List of 120+ level-specific research topics 
  • Examples of actual dissertation topics in education
  • Tips to fast-track your topic ideation (video)
  • Free Webinar : Topic Ideation 101
  • Where to get extra help

Education-Related Research Topics & Ideas

Below you’ll find a list of education-related research topics and idea kickstarters. These are fairly broad and flexible to various contexts, so keep in mind that you will need to refine them a little. Nevertheless, they should inspire some ideas for your project.

  • The impact of school funding on student achievement
  • The effects of social and emotional learning on student well-being
  • The effects of parental involvement on student behaviour
  • The impact of teacher training on student learning
  • The impact of classroom design on student learning
  • The impact of poverty on education
  • The use of student data to inform instruction
  • The role of parental involvement in education
  • The effects of mindfulness practices in the classroom
  • The use of technology in the classroom
  • The role of critical thinking in education
  • The use of formative and summative assessments in the classroom
  • The use of differentiated instruction in the classroom
  • The use of gamification in education
  • The effects of teacher burnout on student learning
  • The impact of school leadership on student achievement
  • The effects of teacher diversity on student outcomes
  • The role of teacher collaboration in improving student outcomes
  • The implementation of blended and online learning
  • The effects of teacher accountability on student achievement
  • The effects of standardized testing on student learning
  • The effects of classroom management on student behaviour
  • The effects of school culture on student achievement
  • The use of student-centred learning in the classroom
  • The impact of teacher-student relationships on student outcomes
  • The achievement gap in minority and low-income students
  • The use of culturally responsive teaching in the classroom
  • The impact of teacher professional development on student learning
  • The use of project-based learning in the classroom
  • The effects of teacher expectations on student achievement
  • The use of adaptive learning technology in the classroom
  • The impact of teacher turnover on student learning
  • The effects of teacher recruitment and retention on student learning
  • The impact of early childhood education on later academic success
  • The impact of parental involvement on student engagement
  • The use of positive reinforcement in education
  • The impact of school climate on student engagement
  • The role of STEM education in preparing students for the workforce
  • The effects of school choice on student achievement
  • The use of technology in the form of online tutoring

Level-Specific Research Topics

Looking for research topics for a specific level of education? We’ve got you covered. Below you can find research topic ideas for primary, secondary and tertiary-level education contexts. Click the relevant level to view the respective list.

Research Topics: Pick An Education Level

Primary education.

  • Investigating the effects of peer tutoring on academic achievement in primary school
  • Exploring the benefits of mindfulness practices in primary school classrooms
  • Examining the effects of different teaching strategies on primary school students’ problem-solving skills
  • The use of storytelling as a teaching strategy in primary school literacy instruction
  • The role of cultural diversity in promoting tolerance and understanding in primary schools
  • The impact of character education programs on moral development in primary school students
  • Investigating the use of technology in enhancing primary school mathematics education
  • The impact of inclusive curriculum on promoting equity and diversity in primary schools
  • The impact of outdoor education programs on environmental awareness in primary school students
  • The influence of school climate on student motivation and engagement in primary schools
  • Investigating the effects of early literacy interventions on reading comprehension in primary school students
  • The impact of parental involvement in school decision-making processes on student achievement in primary schools
  • Exploring the benefits of inclusive education for students with special needs in primary schools
  • Investigating the effects of teacher-student feedback on academic motivation in primary schools
  • The role of technology in developing digital literacy skills in primary school students
  • Effective strategies for fostering a growth mindset in primary school students
  • Investigating the role of parental support in reducing academic stress in primary school children
  • The role of arts education in fostering creativity and self-expression in primary school students
  • Examining the effects of early childhood education programs on primary school readiness
  • Examining the effects of homework on primary school students’ academic performance
  • The role of formative assessment in improving learning outcomes in primary school classrooms
  • The impact of teacher-student relationships on academic outcomes in primary school
  • Investigating the effects of classroom environment on student behavior and learning outcomes in primary schools
  • Investigating the role of creativity and imagination in primary school curriculum
  • The impact of nutrition and healthy eating programs on academic performance in primary schools
  • The impact of social-emotional learning programs on primary school students’ well-being and academic performance
  • The role of parental involvement in academic achievement of primary school children
  • Examining the effects of classroom management strategies on student behavior in primary school
  • The role of school leadership in creating a positive school climate Exploring the benefits of bilingual education in primary schools
  • The effectiveness of project-based learning in developing critical thinking skills in primary school students
  • The role of inquiry-based learning in fostering curiosity and critical thinking in primary school students
  • The effects of class size on student engagement and achievement in primary schools
  • Investigating the effects of recess and physical activity breaks on attention and learning in primary school
  • Exploring the benefits of outdoor play in developing gross motor skills in primary school children
  • The effects of educational field trips on knowledge retention in primary school students
  • Examining the effects of inclusive classroom practices on students’ attitudes towards diversity in primary schools
  • The impact of parental involvement in homework on primary school students’ academic achievement
  • Investigating the effectiveness of different assessment methods in primary school classrooms
  • The influence of physical activity and exercise on cognitive development in primary school children
  • Exploring the benefits of cooperative learning in promoting social skills in primary school students

Secondary Education

  • Investigating the effects of school discipline policies on student behavior and academic success in secondary education
  • The role of social media in enhancing communication and collaboration among secondary school students
  • The impact of school leadership on teacher effectiveness and student outcomes in secondary schools
  • Investigating the effects of technology integration on teaching and learning in secondary education
  • Exploring the benefits of interdisciplinary instruction in promoting critical thinking skills in secondary schools
  • The impact of arts education on creativity and self-expression in secondary school students
  • The effectiveness of flipped classrooms in promoting student learning in secondary education
  • The role of career guidance programs in preparing secondary school students for future employment
  • Investigating the effects of student-centered learning approaches on student autonomy and academic success in secondary schools
  • The impact of socio-economic factors on educational attainment in secondary education
  • Investigating the impact of project-based learning on student engagement and academic achievement in secondary schools
  • Investigating the effects of multicultural education on cultural understanding and tolerance in secondary schools
  • The influence of standardized testing on teaching practices and student learning in secondary education
  • Investigating the effects of classroom management strategies on student behavior and academic engagement in secondary education
  • The influence of teacher professional development on instructional practices and student outcomes in secondary schools
  • The role of extracurricular activities in promoting holistic development and well-roundedness in secondary school students
  • Investigating the effects of blended learning models on student engagement and achievement in secondary education
  • The role of physical education in promoting physical health and well-being among secondary school students
  • Investigating the effects of gender on academic achievement and career aspirations in secondary education
  • Exploring the benefits of multicultural literature in promoting cultural awareness and empathy among secondary school students
  • The impact of school counseling services on student mental health and well-being in secondary schools
  • Exploring the benefits of vocational education and training in preparing secondary school students for the workforce
  • The role of digital literacy in preparing secondary school students for the digital age
  • The influence of parental involvement on academic success and well-being of secondary school students
  • The impact of social-emotional learning programs on secondary school students’ well-being and academic success
  • The role of character education in fostering ethical and responsible behavior in secondary school students
  • Examining the effects of digital citizenship education on responsible and ethical technology use among secondary school students
  • The impact of parental involvement in school decision-making processes on student outcomes in secondary schools
  • The role of educational technology in promoting personalized learning experiences in secondary schools
  • The impact of inclusive education on the social and academic outcomes of students with disabilities in secondary schools
  • The influence of parental support on academic motivation and achievement in secondary education
  • The role of school climate in promoting positive behavior and well-being among secondary school students
  • Examining the effects of peer mentoring programs on academic achievement and social-emotional development in secondary schools
  • Examining the effects of teacher-student relationships on student motivation and achievement in secondary schools
  • Exploring the benefits of service-learning programs in promoting civic engagement among secondary school students
  • The impact of educational policies on educational equity and access in secondary education
  • Examining the effects of homework on academic achievement and student well-being in secondary education
  • Investigating the effects of different assessment methods on student performance in secondary schools
  • Examining the effects of single-sex education on academic performance and gender stereotypes in secondary schools
  • The role of mentoring programs in supporting the transition from secondary to post-secondary education

Tertiary Education

  • The role of student support services in promoting academic success and well-being in higher education
  • The impact of internationalization initiatives on students’ intercultural competence and global perspectives in tertiary education
  • Investigating the effects of active learning classrooms and learning spaces on student engagement and learning outcomes in tertiary education
  • Exploring the benefits of service-learning experiences in fostering civic engagement and social responsibility in higher education
  • The influence of learning communities and collaborative learning environments on student academic and social integration in higher education
  • Exploring the benefits of undergraduate research experiences in fostering critical thinking and scientific inquiry skills
  • Investigating the effects of academic advising and mentoring on student retention and degree completion in higher education
  • The role of student engagement and involvement in co-curricular activities on holistic student development in higher education
  • The impact of multicultural education on fostering cultural competence and diversity appreciation in higher education
  • The role of internships and work-integrated learning experiences in enhancing students’ employability and career outcomes
  • Examining the effects of assessment and feedback practices on student learning and academic achievement in tertiary education
  • The influence of faculty professional development on instructional practices and student outcomes in tertiary education
  • The influence of faculty-student relationships on student success and well-being in tertiary education
  • The impact of college transition programs on students’ academic and social adjustment to higher education
  • The impact of online learning platforms on student learning outcomes in higher education
  • The impact of financial aid and scholarships on access and persistence in higher education
  • The influence of student leadership and involvement in extracurricular activities on personal development and campus engagement
  • Exploring the benefits of competency-based education in developing job-specific skills in tertiary students
  • Examining the effects of flipped classroom models on student learning and retention in higher education
  • Exploring the benefits of online collaboration and virtual team projects in developing teamwork skills in tertiary students
  • Investigating the effects of diversity and inclusion initiatives on campus climate and student experiences in tertiary education
  • The influence of study abroad programs on intercultural competence and global perspectives of college students
  • Investigating the effects of peer mentoring and tutoring programs on student retention and academic performance in tertiary education
  • Investigating the effectiveness of active learning strategies in promoting student engagement and achievement in tertiary education
  • Investigating the effects of blended learning models and hybrid courses on student learning and satisfaction in higher education
  • The role of digital literacy and information literacy skills in supporting student success in the digital age
  • Investigating the effects of experiential learning opportunities on career readiness and employability of college students
  • The impact of e-portfolios on student reflection, self-assessment, and showcasing of learning in higher education
  • The role of technology in enhancing collaborative learning experiences in tertiary classrooms
  • The impact of research opportunities on undergraduate student engagement and pursuit of advanced degrees
  • Examining the effects of competency-based assessment on measuring student learning and achievement in tertiary education
  • Examining the effects of interdisciplinary programs and courses on critical thinking and problem-solving skills in college students
  • The role of inclusive education and accessibility in promoting equitable learning experiences for diverse student populations
  • The role of career counseling and guidance in supporting students’ career decision-making in tertiary education
  • The influence of faculty diversity and representation on student success and inclusive learning environments in higher education

Free Webinar: How To Find A Dissertation Research Topic

Education-Related Dissertations & Theses

While the ideas we’ve presented above are a decent starting point for finding a research topic in education, they are fairly generic and non-specific. So, it helps to look at actual dissertations and theses in the education space to see how this all comes together in practice.

Below, we’ve included a selection of education-related research projects to help refine your thinking. These are actual dissertations and theses, written as part of Master’s and PhD-level programs, so they can provide some useful insight as to what a research topic looks like in practice.

  • From Rural to Urban: Education Conditions of Migrant Children in China (Wang, 2019)
  • Energy Renovation While Learning English: A Guidebook for Elementary ESL Teachers (Yang, 2019)
  • A Reanalyses of Intercorrelational Matrices of Visual and Verbal Learners’ Abilities, Cognitive Styles, and Learning Preferences (Fox, 2020)
  • A study of the elementary math program utilized by a mid-Missouri school district (Barabas, 2020)
  • Instructor formative assessment practices in virtual learning environments : a posthumanist sociomaterial perspective (Burcks, 2019)
  • Higher education students services: a qualitative study of two mid-size universities’ direct exchange programs (Kinde, 2020)
  • Exploring editorial leadership : a qualitative study of scholastic journalism advisers teaching leadership in Missouri secondary schools (Lewis, 2020)
  • Selling the virtual university: a multimodal discourse analysis of marketing for online learning (Ludwig, 2020)
  • Advocacy and accountability in school counselling: assessing the use of data as related to professional self-efficacy (Matthews, 2020)
  • The use of an application screening assessment as a predictor of teaching retention at a midwestern, K-12, public school district (Scarbrough, 2020)
  • Core values driving sustained elite performance cultures (Beiner, 2020)
  • Educative features of upper elementary Eureka math curriculum (Dwiggins, 2020)
  • How female principals nurture adult learning opportunities in successful high schools with challenging student demographics (Woodward, 2020)
  • The disproportionality of Black Males in Special Education: A Case Study Analysis of Educator Perceptions in a Southeastern Urban High School (McCrae, 2021)

As you can see, these research topics are a lot more focused than the generic topic ideas we presented earlier. So, in order for you to develop a high-quality research topic, you’ll need to get specific and laser-focused on a specific context with specific variables of interest.  In the video below, we explore some other important things you’ll need to consider when crafting your research topic.

Get 1-On-1 Help

If you’re still unsure about how to find a quality research topic within education, check out our Research Topic Kickstarter service, which is the perfect starting point for developing a unique, well-justified research topic.

Research Topic Kickstarter - Need Help Finding A Research Topic?

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Research topics and ideas in psychology

53 Comments

Watson Kabwe

This is an helpful tool 🙏

Musarrat Parveen

Special education

Akbar khan

Really appreciated by this . It is the best platform for research related items

Angel taña

Research title related to students

Ngirumuvugizi Jaccques

Good idea I’m going to teach my colleagues

Anangnerisia@gmail.com

You can find our list of nursing-related research topic ideas here: https://gradcoach.com/research-topics-nursing/

FOSU DORIS

Write on action research topic, using guidance and counseling to address unwanted teenage pregnancy in school

Samson ochuodho

Thanks a lot

Johaima

I learned a lot from this site, thank you so much!

Rhod Tuyan

Thank you for the information.. I would like to request a topic based on school major in social studies

Mercedes Bunsie

parental involvement and students academic performance

Abshir Mustafe Cali

Science education topics?

Karen Joy Andrade

How about School management and supervision pls.?

JOHANNES SERAME MONYATSI

Hi i am an Deputy Principal in a primary school. My wish is to srudy foe Master’s degree in Education.Please advice me on which topic can be relevant for me. Thanks.

NKWAIN Chia Charles

Every topic proposed above on primary education is a starting point for me. I appreciate immensely the team that has sat down to make a detail of these selected topics just for beginners like us. Be blessed.

Nkwain Chia Charles

Kindly help me with the research questions on the topic” Effects of workplace conflict on the employees’ job performance”. The effects can be applicable in every institution,enterprise or organisation.

Kelvin Kells Grant

Greetings, I am a student majoring in Sociology and minoring in Public Administration. I’m considering any recommended research topic in the field of Sociology.

Sulemana Alhassan

I’m a student pursuing Mphil in Basic education and I’m considering any recommended research proposal topic in my field of study

Kupoluyi Regina

Kindly help me with a research topic in educational psychology. Ph.D level. Thank you.

Project-based learning is a teaching/learning type,if well applied in a classroom setting will yield serious positive impact. What can a teacher do to implement this in a disadvantaged zone like “North West Region of Cameroon ( hinterland) where war has brought about prolonged and untold sufferings on the indegins?

Damaris Nzoka

I wish to get help on topics of research on educational administration

I wish to get help on topics of research on educational administration PhD level

Sadaf

I am also looking for such type of title

Afriyie Saviour

I am a student of undergraduate, doing research on how to use guidance and counseling to address unwanted teenage pregnancy in school

wysax

the topics are very good regarding research & education .

William AU Mill

Can i request your suggestion topic for my Thesis about Teachers as an OFW. thanx you

ChRISTINE

Would like to request for suggestions on a topic in Economics of education,PhD level

Would like to request for suggestions on a topic in Economics of education

George

Hi 👋 I request that you help me with a written research proposal about education the format

Sarah Moyambo

l would like to request suggestions on a topic in managing teaching and learning, PhD level (educational leadership and management)

request suggestions on a topic in managing teaching and learning, PhD level (educational leadership and management)

Ernest Gyabaah

I would to inquire on research topics on Educational psychology, Masters degree

Aron kirui

I am PhD student, I am searching my Research topic, It should be innovative,my area of interest is online education,use of technology in education

revathy a/p letchumanan

request suggestion on topic in masters in medical education .

D.Newlands PhD.

Look at British Library as they keep a copy of all PhDs in the UK Core.ac.uk to access Open University and 6 other university e-archives, pdf downloads mostly available, all free.

Monica

May I also ask for a topic based on mathematics education for college teaching, please?

Aman

Please I am a masters student of the department of Teacher Education, Faculty of Education Please I am in need of proposed project topics to help with my final year thesis

Ellyjoy

Am a PhD student in Educational Foundations would like a sociological topic. Thank

muhammad sani

please i need a proposed thesis project regardging computer science

also916

Greetings and Regards I am a doctoral student in the field of philosophy of education. I am looking for a new topic for my thesis. Because of my work in the elementary school, I am looking for a topic that is from the field of elementary education and is related to the philosophy of education.

shantel orox

Masters student in the field of curriculum, any ideas of a research topic on low achiever students

Rey

In the field of curriculum any ideas of a research topic on deconalization in contextualization of digital teaching and learning through in higher education

Omada Victoria Enyojo

Amazing guidelines

JAMES MALUKI MUTIA

I am a graduate with two masters. 1) Master of arts in religious studies and 2) Master in education in foundations of education. I intend to do a Ph.D. on my second master’s, however, I need to bring both masters together through my Ph.D. research. can I do something like, ” The contribution of Philosophy of education for a quality religion education in Kenya”? kindly, assist and be free to suggest a similar topic that will bring together the two masters. thanks in advance

betiel

Hi, I am an Early childhood trainer as well as a researcher, I need more support on this topic: The impact of early childhood education on later academic success.

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49 Most Interesting Biology Research Topics

August 21, 2023

biology research topics

In need of the perfect biology research topics—ideas that can both showcase your intellect and fuel your academic success? Lost in the boundless landscape of possible biology topics to research? And afraid you’ll never get a chance to begin writing your paper, let alone finish writing? Whether you’re a budding biologist hoping for a challenge or a novice seeking easy biology research topics to wade into, this blog offers curated and comprehensible options.

And if you’re a high school or transfer student looking for opportunities to immerse yourself in biology, consider learning more about research opportunities for high school students , top summer programs for high school students , best colleges for studying biomedical engineering , and best colleges for studying biology .

What is biology?

Well, biology explores the web of life that envelops our planet, from the teeny-tiny microbes to the big complex ecosystems. Biology investigates the molecular processes that define existence, deciphers the interplay of genes, and examines all the dynamic ways organisms interact with their environments. And through biology, you can gain not only knowledge, but a deeper appreciation for the interconnectedness of all living things. Pretty cool!

There are lots and lots of sub-disciplines within biology, branching out in all directions. Throughout this list, we won’t follow all of those branches, but we will follow many. And while none of these branches are truly simple or easy, some might be easier than others. Now we’ll take a look at a few various biology research topics and example questions that could pique your curiosity.

Climate change and ecosystems

The first of our potentially easy biology research topics: climate change and ecosystems. Investigate how ecosystems respond and adapt to the changing climate. And learn about shifts in species distributions , phenology , and ecological interactions .

1) How are different ecosystems responding to temperature changes and altered precipitation patterns?2) What are the implications of shifts in species distributions for ecosystem stability and functioning?

2) Or how does phenology change in response to climate shifts? And how do those changes impact species interactions?

3) Which underlying genetic and physiological mechanisms enable certain species to adapt to changing climate conditions?

4) And how do changing climate conditions affect species’ abilities to interact and form mutualistic relationships within ecosystems?

Microbiome and human health

Intrigued by the relationship between the gut and the rest of the body? Study the complex microbiome . You could learn how gut microbes influence digestion, immunity, and even mental health.

5) How do specific gut microbial communities impact nutrient absorption?

6) What are the connections between the gut microbiome, immune system development, and susceptibility to autoimmune diseases?

7) What ethical considerations need to be addressed when developing personalized microbiome-based therapies? And how can these therapies be safely and equitably integrated into clinical practice?

8) Or how do variations in the gut microbiome contribute to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression?

9) How do changes in diet and lifestyle affect the composition and function of the gut microbiome? And what are the subsequent health implications?

Urban biodiversity conservation

Next, here’s another one of the potentially easy biology research topics. Examine the challenges and strategies for conserving biodiversity in urban environments. Consider the impact of urbanization on native species and ecosystem services. Then investigate the decline of pollinators and its implications for food security or ecosystem health.

10) How does urbanization influence the abundance and diversity of native plant and animal species in cities?

11) Or what are effective strategies for creating and maintaining green spaces that support urban biodiversity and ecosystem services?

12) How do different urban design and planning approaches impact the distribution of wildlife species and their interactions?

13) What are the best practices for engaging urban communities in biodiversity conservation efforts?

14) And how can urban agriculture and rooftop gardens contribute to urban biodiversity conservation while also addressing food security challenges?

Bioengineering

Are you a problem solver at heart? Then try approaching the intersection of engineering, biology, and medicine. Delve into the field of synthetic biology , where researchers engineer biological systems to create novel organisms with useful applications.

15) How can synthetic biology be harnessed to develop new, sustainable sources of biofuels from engineered microorganisms?

16) And what ethical considerations arise when creating genetically modified organisms for bioremediation purposes?

17) Can synthetic biology techniques be used to design plants that are more efficient at withdrawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere?

18) How can bioengineering create organisms capable of producing valuable pharmaceutical compounds in a controlled and sustainable manner?

19) But what are the potential risks and benefits of using engineered organisms for large-scale environmental cleanup projects?

Neurobiology

Interested in learning more about what makes creatures tick? Then this might be one of your favorite biology topics to research. Explore the neural mechanisms that underlie complex behaviors in animals and humans. Shed light on topics like decision-making, social interactions, and addiction. And investigate how brain plasticity and neurogenesis help the brain adapt to learning, injury, and aging.

20) How does the brain’s reward circuitry influence decision-making processes in situations involving risk and reward?

21) What neural mechanisms underlie empathy and social interactions in both humans and animals?

22) Or how do changes in neural plasticity contribute to age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases?

23) Can insights from neurobiology inform the development of more effective treatments for addiction and substance abuse?

24) What are the neural correlates of learning and memory? And how can our understanding of these processes be applied to educational strategies?

Plant epigenomics

While this might not be one of the easy biology research topics, it will appeal to plant enthusiasts. Explore how epigenetic modifications in plants affect their ability to respond and adapt to changing environmental conditions.

25) How do epigenetic modifications influence the expression of stress-related genes in plants exposed to temperature fluctuations?

26) Or what role do epigenetic changes play in plants’ abilities to acclimate to changing levels of air pollution?

27) Can certain epigenetic modifications be used as indicators of a plant’s adaptability to new environments?

28) How do epigenetic modifications contribute to the transgenerational inheritance of traits related to stress resistance?

29) And can targeted manipulation of epigenetic marks enhance crop plants’ ability to withstand changing environmental conditions?

Conservation genomics

Motivated to save the planet? Conservation genomics stands at the forefront of modern biology, merging the power of genetics with the urgent need to protect Earth’s biodiversity. Study genetic diversity, population dynamics, and how endangered species adapt in response to environmental changes.

30) How does genetic diversity within endangered species influence their ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions?

31) What genetic factors contribute to the susceptibility of certain populations to diseases, and how can this knowledge inform conservation strategies?

32) How can genomic data be used to inform captive breeding and reintroduction programs for endangered species?

33) And what are the genomic signatures of adaptation in response to human-induced environmental changes, such as habitat fragmentation and pollution?

34) Or how can genomics help identify “hotspots” of biodiversity that are particularly important for conservation efforts?

Zoonotic disease transmission

And here’s one of the biology research topics that’s been on all our minds in recent years. Investigate the factors contributing to the transmission of zoonotic diseases , like COVID-19. Then posit strategies for prevention and early detection.

35) What are the ecological and genetic factors that facilitate the spillover of zoonotic pathogens from animals to humans?

36) Or how do changes in land use, deforestation, and urbanization impact the risk of zoonotic disease emergence?

37) Can early detection and surveillance systems be developed to predict and mitigate the spread of zoonotic diseases?

38) How do social and cultural factors influence human behaviors that contribute to zoonotic disease transmission?

39) And can strategies be implemented to improve global pandemic preparedness?

Bioinformatics

Are you a data fanatic? Bioinformatics involves developing computational tools and techniques to analyze and interpret large biological datasets. This enables advancements in genomics, proteomics, and systems biology. So delve into the world of bioinformatics to learn how large-scale genomic and molecular data are revolutionizing biological research.

40) How can machine learning algorithms predict the function of genes based on their DNA sequences?

41) And what computational methods can identify potential drug targets by analyzing protein-protein interactions in large biological datasets?

42) Can bioinformatics tools be used to identify potential disease-causing mutations in human genomes and guide personalized medicine approaches?

43) What are the challenges and opportunities in analyzing “omics” data (genomics, proteomics, transcriptomics) to uncover novel biological insights?

44) Or how can bioinformatics contribute to our understanding of microbial diversity, evolution, and interactions within ecosystems?

Regenerative medicine

While definitely not one of the easy biology research topics, regenerative medicine will appeal to those interested in healthcare. Research innovative approaches to stimulate tissue and organ regeneration, using stem cells, tissue engineering, and biotechnology. And while you’re at it, discover the next potential medical breakthrough.

45) How can stem cells be directed to differentiate into specific cell types for tissue regeneration, and what factors influence this process?

46) Or what are the potential applications of 3D bioprinting in creating functional tissues and organs for transplantation?

47) How can bioengineered scaffolds enhance tissue regeneration and integration with host tissues?

48) What are the ethical considerations surrounding the use of stem cells and regenerative therapies in medical treatments?

49) And can regenerative medicine approaches be used to treat neurodegenerative disorders and restore brain function?

Biology Research Topics – Final thoughts

So as you take your next steps, try not to feel overwhelmed. And instead, appreciate the vast realm of possibilities that biology research topics offer. Because the array of biology topics to research is as diverse as the ecosystems it seeks to understand. And no matter if you’re only looking for easy biology research topics, or you’re itching to unravel the mysteries of plant-microbe interactions, your exploration will continue to deepen what we know of the world around us.

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Mariya holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the Pratt Institute and is currently pursuing an MFA in writing at the University of California Davis. Mariya serves as a teaching assistant in the English department at UC Davis. She previously served as an associate editor at Carve Magazine for two years, where she managed 60 fiction writers. She is the winner of the 2015 Stony Brook Fiction Prize, and her short stories have been published in Mid-American Review , Cutbank , Sonora Review , New Orleans Review , and The Collagist , among other magazines.

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  • Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology
  • Synthetic Biology
  • Research Topics

Education in Synthetic Biology

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About this Research Topic

It is about twenty years since Synthetic Biology suddenly emerged in the biotechnology panorama with its strongly innovative features, tools, and goals, and, to date, it already counts a large number of practitioners, several diversified and complementary approaches, dedicated departments, and research centers, specific grants distributed at national and international levels, scholarly journals, and especially a recognition – in society – as one of the most exciting scientific and technological developments of the new century. Synthetic Biology research represents a frontier whose promises refer to basic and applied science, biotechnology and industrial bioproduction, and biomedical research, attracting interests from bioeconomy to sustainability, or from personalized nanomedicine to biomaterials/bioprocesses engineering. A large number of scientists identify themselves as “synthetic biologists”, but it has happened that their role in the field stems from personal formation routes, whose starting points are very diverse backgrounds: biology, biotechnology, bioengineering, chemistry, and material sciences. Such a spectrum of different backgrounds and disciplines is typically found in young research areas, those that tackle interesting problems but still lack a kind of more structured pathways in education. Surely, the multifaceted subject of Education in Synthetic Biology, which we would like to treat in this Research Topic, suggests several talking points and perspectives, aiming at training the current and the next generations of students and early-stage researchers. There is indeed a need to foster education in Synthetic Biology in order to further promote the field, and this can be done by combining various knowledge and cultural attitudes. Only in this way, it will be possible to leverage the full potential of Synthetic Biology. In this Research Topic, we would like to discuss topics related to Synthetic Biology Education referred to people of all ages and backgrounds, from graduate students to Ph.D. students, from young to senior researchers interested in this field. This topic will act as a resource for all actors that find themselves at ease in the wide Synthetic Biology arena. In this Research Topic, we welcome manuscripts that help to address important and general questions in Synthetic Biology. For example:  What is the theory behind Synthetic Biology? In which respect Synthetic Biology can be defined as a research field? Are there examples of peculiar traits that specifically refer to Synthetic Biology?  What are effective didactic methods for teaching students how to study, model, understand, and manipulate biological systems?  What are the core scientific concepts and how can they be taught and learned to serve in the context of Synthetic Biology?  What is the role and relevance of inter- trans- cross-disciplinary thinking and approaches for Synthetic Biology? We welcome contributions on the above-mentioned topics and related ones in the form of original research, review, mini review, case report, hypothesis and theory, perspective, and experimental studies that cover but are not limited to, the above-mentioned themes and questions. We encourage authors, whenever possible, to make available data and tools that can be used for educational purposes.

Keywords : Education, Synthetic Biology, Early-Stage Researchers

Important Note : All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Home » 350+ Biology Research Topics

350+ Biology Research Topics

Biology Research Topics

Biology is a vast field of study that explores the diverse aspects of life, from the smallest organisms to the complex ecosystems they inhabit. With new discoveries being made every day, the field of biology is constantly evolving and expanding. As a result, there are numerous research topics within biology that can capture the imagination of students, researchers , and professionals alike. Whether you’re interested in genetics, ecology, microbiology, or any other subfield of biology, there is no shortage of fascinating topics to explore. In this post, we will discuss some of the most compelling biology research topics that you can delve into.

Biology Research Topics

Biology Research Topics are as follows:

  • The role of gut microbiota in human health and disease.
  • The effects of climate change on animal behavior and physiology.
  • The molecular mechanisms of cancer development and progression.
  • The evolutionary origins of human language.
  • The impact of pesticides on insect populations and ecosystems.
  • The genetic basis of aging and longevity.
  • The ecological importance of microbial communities in soil.
  • The physiology and behavior of marine mammals.
  • The molecular mechanisms of viral infections.
  • The evolutionary history of flowering plants.
  • The ecological impacts of invasive species.
  • The role of epigenetics in gene regulation and disease.
  • The evolution of social behavior in animals.
  • The physiology and ecology of birdsong.
  • The impact of antibiotics on gut microbiota and human health.
  • The role of the microbiome in psychiatric disorders.
  • The evolutionary history of human migrations.
  • The ecological and physiological effects of light pollution on animals.
  • The mechanisms of cell division and differentiation.
  • The ecological impacts of deforestation.
  • The molecular mechanisms of drug addiction.
  • The genetic basis of plant resistance to pests and diseases.
  • The evolutionary history of human diet and nutrition.
  • The molecular mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases.
  • The ecology and evolution of sexual selection.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of air pollution on animals.
  • The role of epigenetics in plant development and stress response.
  • The evolutionary history of animal domestication.
  • The molecular mechanisms of genetic diseases.
  • The ecological impacts of climate change on plants.
  • The evolutionary history of human mating systems.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of noise pollution on animals.
  • The genetic basis of intelligence and cognitive abilities.
  • The ecological and physiological effects of ocean acidification on marine organisms.
  • The molecular mechanisms of immune system function and dysfunction.
  • The evolutionary history of human social structures.
  • The ecological impacts of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems.
  • The genetic basis of animal migration.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of light and dark cycles on animals.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of symbiosis.
  • The molecular mechanisms of gene regulation and expression.
  • The evolutionary history of human disease resistance.
  • The ecological impacts of overfishing on marine ecosystems.
  • The genetic basis of animal communication.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of temperature changes on animals.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of parasitism.
  • The molecular mechanisms of circadian rhythms.
  • The evolutionary history of human social cognition.
  • The ecological impacts of urbanization on wildlife.
  • The genetic basis of antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
  • The impact of climate change on insect population dynamics.
  • The role of the microbiome in the development of autoimmune diseases.
  • The genetic basis of complex human diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
  • The evolution of plant secondary metabolites and their ecological functions.
  • The effects of anthropogenic noise on animal communication and behavior.
  • The molecular mechanisms of protein synthesis and folding.
  • The role of RNA in gene expression and regulation.
  • The ecology and evolution of microbial symbioses in plants.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of air temperature changes on animals.
  • The genetic basis of crop domestication and improvement.
  • The evolution of reproductive strategies in animals.
  • The impacts of plastic pollution on terrestrial ecosystems.
  • The molecular mechanisms of stem cell differentiation and regeneration.
  • The ecological dynamics of predator-prey interactions.
  • The role of gut microbiota in the regulation of host metabolism.
  • The genetic basis of host-pathogen coevolution.
  • The evolution of social cognition and cooperation in animals.
  • The ecological and physiological effects of wildfires on ecosystems.
  • The molecular mechanisms of transcriptional regulation in eukaryotic cells.
  • The role of microorganisms in soil nutrient cycling and ecosystem functioning.
  • The genetic basis of plant-pathogen interactions.
  • The ecology and evolution of microbial communities in the ocean.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of water pollution on aquatic organisms.
  • The molecular mechanisms of protein degradation and turnover.
  • The impact of urbanization on pollinator populations and plant-pollinator interactions.
  • The genetic basis of insecticide resistance in pests.
  • The evolution of animal cognition and perception.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of host-parasite interactions.
  • The role of epigenetic modifications in plant adaptation to environmental stress.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of endocrine disruptors on animals.
  • The molecular mechanisms of DNA replication and repair.
  • The impact of ocean warming on coral reef ecosystems.
  • The genetic basis of animal personality traits.
  • The ecology and evolution of microbial symbioses in animals.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of light quality on plants.
  • The molecular mechanisms of RNA editing and splicing.
  • The role of microbial communities in plant-pathogen interactions.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of seed dispersal.
  • The genetic basis of animal coloration and pattern.
  • The impact of climate change on plant phenology and productivity.
  • The molecular mechanisms of signal transduction in cells.
  • The role of microbial communities in the human gut-brain axis.
  • The ecology and evolution of animal migrations.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of chemical pollution on animals.
  • The genetic basis of animal development and morphogenesis.
  • The evolution of animal social behavior and communication.
  • The ecological dynamics of plant-pollinator networks.
  • The molecular mechanisms of intracellular trafficking and transport.
  • The role of microbial communities in the degradation of pollutants.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of species interactions in ecological communities.
  • The role of epigenetics in cancer development and progression.
  • The molecular basis of antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
  • The impact of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.
  • The genetic basis of aging and age-related diseases.
  • The evolution of social organization in primates.
  • The ecological dynamics of plant-fungal interactions.
  • The role of microbiota in immune system development and function.
  • The molecular mechanisms of DNA damage and repair.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of climate change on marine organisms.
  • The genetic basis of human variation and diversity.
  • The evolution of sexual selection and mate choice in animals.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of species invasions.
  • The role of microbiota in brain function and behavior.
  • The molecular mechanisms of immune system activation and regulation.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of pollution on wildlife.
  • The genetic basis of behavioral disorders and mental illness.
  • The evolution of plant-pollinator mutualisms.
  • The ecological dynamics of predator-prey coevolution.
  • The role of microbiota in metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
  • The molecular mechanisms of protein-protein interactions and signaling.
  • The genetic basis of complex traits such as intelligence and personality.
  • The evolution of animal communication and language.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of mutualistic interactions in ecological communities.
  • The role of microbiota in the development and maintenance of gut homeostasis.
  • The molecular mechanisms of neurotransmitter synthesis and release.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of artificial light at night on wildlife.
  • The genetic basis of developmental disorders such as autism and ADHD.
  • The evolution of host-parasite coevolution and adaptation.
  • The ecological dynamics of plant-herbivore interactions.
  • The role of microbiota in the regulation of metabolism and energy balance.
  • The molecular mechanisms of membrane transport and signaling.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of habitat fragmentation on wildlife.
  • The genetic basis of circadian rhythms and sleep disorders.
  • The evolution of animal cognition and decision-making.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of trophic cascades.
  • The role of microbiota in the development and function of the respiratory system.
  • The molecular mechanisms of epigenetic inheritance.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of endocrine disruptors on wildlife.
  • The genetic basis of developmental plasticity and adaptation.
  • The evolution of animal social learning and culture.
  • The ecological dynamics of predator-prey interactions in aquatic systems.
  • The role of microbiota in the regulation of host immunity and inflammation.
  • The molecular mechanisms of RNA interference and gene silencing.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of climate change on migratory animals.
  • The genetic basis of drug addiction and substance abuse disorders.
  • The evolution of animal cooperation and conflict resolution.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of niche construction.
  • The role of microbiota in the regulation of host-microbe interactions.
  • The molecular mechanisms of gene regulation by non-coding RNAs.
  • The role of epigenetics in gene expression and regulation.
  • The molecular mechanisms of DNA damage response and repair.
  • The impact of environmental toxins on human health.
  • The evolutionary origins of viruses and their impact on hosts.
  • The genetics of aging and age-related diseases.
  • The impact of ocean acidification on marine organisms.
  • The molecular basis of cancer development and progression.
  • The genetic basis of behavior in animals.
  • The impact of environmental stressors on plant growth and productivity.
  • The evolution of sex determination and sexual selection.
  • The role of the immune system in host-microbe interactions.
  • The molecular mechanisms of circadian rhythms and sleep.
  • The impact of air pollution on respiratory health.
  • The genetic basis of speciation and hybridization.
  • The role of neurotransmitters in brain function and behavior.
  • The ecological dynamics of microbial communities in soil.
  • The impact of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  • The molecular mechanisms of viral entry, replication, and release.
  • The genetics of plant domestication and diversification.
  • The role of mitochondrial DNA in aging and disease.
  • The impact of deforestation on ecosystem functioning.
  • The molecular basis of drug addiction and treatment.
  • The genetic basis of adaptation and evolution in response to environmental change.
  • The role of gut-brain signaling in behavior and disease.
  • The impact of noise pollution on wildlife populations.
  • The genetic basis of plant morphology and development.
  • The role of the microbiome in disease susceptibility and resistance.
  • The ecological dynamics of plant-insect interactions.
  • The impact of agricultural practices on soil health and biodiversity.
  • The molecular mechanisms of gene regulation in development and disease.
  • The genetic basis of complex traits in humans and animals.
  • The role of cytokines in immune response and inflammation.
  • The ecological dynamics of microbial communities in aquatic ecosystems.
  • The impact of plastic waste on marine ecosystems.
  • The molecular mechanisms of genome stability and repair.
  • The genetics of rare and common genetic diseases.
  • The role of the endocannabinoid system in health and disease.
  • The ecological dynamics of competition and cooperation in populations.
  • The impact of light pollution on wildlife behavior and ecology.
  • The genetic basis of animal migration and navigation.
  • The role of the microbiome in host metabolism and energy balance.
  • The impact of climate change on agricultural productivity and food security.
  • The molecular mechanisms of epigenetic inheritance and transmission.
  • The genetics of human brain development and disorders.
  • The role of pheromones in animal communication and behavior.
  • The ecological dynamics of host-microbe-pathogen interactions.
  • The effect of diet and nutrition on gut microbiome diversity and composition.
  • The ecology and evolution of microbial interactions in the soil.
  • The role of epigenetic modifications in cancer development and progression.
  • The impact of climate change on marine biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.
  • The molecular mechanisms of mitochondrial respiration and ATP synthesis.
  • The role of non-coding RNAs in gene regulation and disease.
  • The evolution and diversification of flowering plants.
  • The effects of artificial light at night on animal behavior and physiology.
  • The genetic basis of adaptation to extreme environments.
  • The ecology and evolution of plant-microbe interactions.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of noise pollution on wildlife.
  • The molecular mechanisms of DNA methylation and histone modification.
  • The role of microbial communities in the cycling of nutrients in aquatic ecosystems.
  • The evolution of animal color vision and perception.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of mutualistic interactions.
  • The impact of deforestation on soil fertility and carbon storage.
  • The molecular mechanisms of viral replication and pathogenesis.
  • The role of microorganisms in the biodegradation of plastics.
  • The ecology and evolution of microbial communities in the human gut.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of climate change on birds.
  • The impact of invasive species on native ecosystems.
  • The genetic basis of developmental disorders and intellectual disabilities.
  • The evolution of animal behavior and communication in response to anthropogenic change.
  • The ecological dynamics of soil carbon sequestration and storage.
  • The role of microbial communities in the decomposition of organic matter.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of air pollution on plants.
  • The molecular mechanisms of cellular differentiation and tissue development.
  • The ecology and evolution of plant-animal interactions.
  • The genetic basis of resistance to herbicides and pesticides in crops.
  • The impact of urbanization on bird diversity and distribution.
  • The role of microorganisms in the cycling of carbon and nitrogen in soil.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of invasive species interactions.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of climate change on reptiles and amphibians.
  • The role of microbial communities in the degradation of petroleum hydrocarbons.
  • The genetic basis of plant development and growth.
  • The evolution of animal migration and dispersal.
  • The impact of land use change on freshwater biodiversity.
  • The molecular mechanisms of membrane transport and ion channels.
  • The role of microorganisms in the cycling of sulfur and phosphorus in soil.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of ocean acidification on marine organisms.
  • The genetic basis of behavior and personality traits in humans.
  • The evolution of plant reproductive strategies and pollination systems.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of predator-prey coevolution.
  • The impact of environmental stressors on gene expression and epigenetics.
  • The evolution of sexual reproduction and mating systems in plants.
  • The role of microorganisms in bioremediation of contaminated sites.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of climate change on fish.
  • The molecular mechanisms of chromatin remodeling and gene regulation.
  • The genetic basis of adaptation to high altitude environments.
  • The ecology and evolution of plant-insect interactions.
  • The impact of pesticide use on insect biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.
  • The role of microorganisms in nitrogen fixation and cycling.
  • The genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline.
  • The evolution of social behavior and cooperation in animals.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of plant invasions.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of noise pollution on humans.
  • The molecular mechanisms of RNA splicing and alternative splicing.
  • The role of microorganisms in biogeochemical cycling of trace elements.
  • The genetic basis of adaptation to extreme temperatures.
  • The ecology and evolution of microbial communities in soil and water.
  • The impact of climate change on insect phenology and distribution.
  • The molecular mechanisms of protein folding and misfolding.
  • The role of microorganisms in biodegradation of environmental pollutants.
  • The evolution of animal cognition and intelligence.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of predator-prey interactions.
  • The impact of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals.
  • The role of microorganisms in biofilm formation and quorum sensing.
  • The genetic basis of speciation and hybridization in plants.
  • The evolution of parental care and offspring development in animals.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of food web interactions.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of air pollution on human health.
  • The molecular mechanisms of transcriptional regulation and gene expression.
  • The role of microorganisms in plant growth promotion and disease suppression.
  • The genetic basis of adaptation to drought stress in crops.
  • The ecology and evolution of microbial interactions in the ocean.
  • The impact of land use change on soil erosion and nutrient cycling.
  • The molecular mechanisms of autophagy and programmed cell death.
  • The role of microorganisms in biodegradation of pharmaceuticals.
  • The genetic basis of immune system variation and disease susceptibility.
  • The evolution of animal social networks and communication systems.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of biodiversity loss.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of light pollution on nocturnal animals.
  • The molecular mechanisms of DNA repair and genome stability.
  • The role of microorganisms in the production of biofuels and bioplastics.
  • The genetic basis of adaptation to salinity stress in plants.
  • The ecology and evolution of microbial symbioses with plants and animals.
  • The impact of climate change on plant-pollinator interactions.
  • The molecular mechanisms of cellular senescence and aging.
  • The role of microorganisms in biodegradation of synthetic organic compounds.
  • The genetic basis of variation in complex traits in humans.
  • The evolution of animal social behavior and cultural transmission
  • The genetic basis of cancer development and progression.
  • The role of microorganisms in the gut microbiome and human health.
  • The genetic basis of phenotypic plasticity and adaptation in plants.
  • The evolution of animal migration and navigation.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of community assembly.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of light and dark cycles on circadian rhythms.
  • The molecular mechanisms of protein synthesis and degradation.
  • The role of microorganisms in nitrogen and carbon cycling in aquatic ecosystems.
  • The genetic basis of sex determination and differentiation in animals.
  • The ecology and evolution of predator-prey coevolution.
  • The impact of anthropogenic activities on marine biodiversity and ecosystems.
  • The role of microorganisms in bioleaching and biomining of metals.
  • The genetic basis of inherited disorders and genetic diseases.
  • The evolution of animal social behavior and communication systems.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of competition and coexistence.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of endocrine disruptors on human health.
  • The molecular mechanisms of cell division and mitosis.
  • The role of microorganisms in biodegradation of plastics and synthetic materials.
  • The genetic basis of epigenetic inheritance and regulation.
  • The ecology and evolution of mutualistic symbioses in plants and animals.
  • The impact of habitat fragmentation on species diversity and ecosystem functioning.
  • The role of microorganisms in bioremediation of oil spills.
  • The genetic basis of drug resistance in pathogens and cancer cells.
  • The evolution of animal personality and individual variation.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of biotic interactions in freshwater ecosystems.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of artificial sweeteners on human health.
  • The molecular mechanisms of intracellular trafficking and secretion.
  • The role of microorganisms in biocontrol of plant pathogens and pests.
  • The genetic basis of hybridization and introgression in animals and plants.
  • The ecology and evolution of plant-pollinator mutualisms.
  • The impact of climate change on marine ecosystems and fisheries.
  • The molecular mechanisms of genome editing and gene therapy.
  • The role of microorganisms in biogas production and carbon capture.
  • The genetic basis of developmental disorders and birth defects.
  • The evolution of animal coloration and camouflage.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of invasive species.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of air pollution on wildlife.
  • The molecular mechanisms of signal transduction and cell signaling.
  • The role of microorganisms in biodegradation of pharmaceuticals and personal care products.
  • The genetic basis of reproductive isolation and speciation.
  • The ecology and evolution of microbial interactions with plants and insects.
  • The impact of climate change on bird migration and breeding patterns.
  • The molecular mechanisms of protein-protein interactions and protein complexes.
  • The role of microorganisms in bioremediation of heavy metals.
  • The evolution of animal cognition and learning.
  • The ecological and evolutionary dynamics of biodiversity hotspots.
  • The impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems.
  • The genetics of complex diseases and personalized medicine.
  • The evolution of plant defense mechanisms against herbivores.
  • The role of microorganisms in soil carbon sequestration.
  • The physiological and behavioral effects of light on plant growth and development.
  • The molecular mechanisms of cancer metastasis and invasion.
  • The ecology and evolution of microbial communities in the human body.
  • The impact of climate change on migratory bird populations.

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  • v.15(4); Winter 2016

A Guide for Graduate Students Interested in Postdoctoral Positions in Biology Education Research

Melissa l. aikens.

§ Department of Biological Sciences, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824

Lisa A. Corwin

‖ Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309

Tessa C. Andrews

¶ Department of Genetics, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602

Brian A. Couch

# School of Biological Sciences, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68588

Sarah L. Eddy

@ Department of Biology, Florida International University, Miami, FL 33199

Lisa McDonnell

**Division of Biological Sciences, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093

Gloriana Trujillo

†† Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305

Intended as a resource for life sciences graduate students, this essay discusses the diversity of postdoctoral positions in biology education and the careers to which they lead. The authors also provide advice to help graduate students develop the skills necessary to obtain a biology education research postdoctoral position.

Postdoctoral positions in biology education research (BER) are becoming increasingly common as the field grows. However, many life science graduate students are unaware of these positions or do not understand what these positions entail or the careers with which they align. In this essay, we use a backward-design approach to inform life science graduate students of postdoctoral opportunities in BER. Beginning with the end in mind, we first discuss the types of careers to which BER postdoctoral positions lead. We then discuss the different types of BER postdoctoral positions, drawing on our own experiences and those of faculty mentors. Finally, we discuss activities in which life science graduate students can engage that will help them gauge whether BER aligns with their research interests and develop skills to be competitive for BER postdoctoral positions.

INTRODUCTION

Postdoctoral positions are often a necessary training experience for those who graduate with a doctorate in the life sciences and are interested in pursuing an academic career. Among postdoctoral job announcements, there are an increasing number and diversity of positions related to biology education. The titles of these postdoctoral positions vary, but include “postdoctoral researcher in biology education,” “postdoctoral teaching and learning scholar,” “postdoctoral fellow in biology education research and teaching,” “education fellow,” and “teaching postdoctoral associate.” Graduate students interested in teaching and student learning often find these opportunities appealing. Yet the diversity of positions available can be confusing to people new to the field. In addition, applicants may not realize how different positions provide training for different career paths. In this paper, we outline the different types of postdoctoral positions involving biology education and describe how each type of postdoctoral position can provide preparation for different careers. We begin by distinguishing two distinct branches of education-related postdoctoral positions in biology, “biology teaching postdoctoral positions” and “biology education research (BER) postdoctoral positions,” and go on to explore BER positions in greater depth.

TEACHING VERSUS EDUCATION RESEARCH POSTDOCTORAL POSITIONS

In a biology teaching postdoctoral position , postdocs spend a significant amount of time (25–100%) developing and teaching undergraduate biology courses. The remainder of their time is devoted to conducting biology research under the mentorship of a faculty advisor ( Kreeger, 2002 ; Price, 2012 ). For example, postdocs in the National Institutes of Health–National Institute of General Medical Sciences’ Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Awards (NIH-NIGMS IRACDA) program spend ∼25% of their time participating in teaching workshops, observing classes, and preparing for and teaching their own courses. The remaining 75% of their time entails developing a research program in biology. Teaching postdocs may be hired into positions as tenure-track biology professors at 4-year institutions where they are expected to teach and maintain a biology research program (see Guinnee, 2006 , for a view on the merits of the teaching postdoctoral position for a tenure-track faculty career). In some cases, faculty in these positions are also expected to assist with curriculum development or promote pedagogical change. Broadly speaking, teaching postdoctoral positions seek to prepare postdocs for a career in which the central focus is undergraduate teaching ( Lemons, 2001 ; Guinnee, 2006 ), but they often do not provide specific training to perform education research.

Alternatively, in a BER postdoctoral position , postdocs spend a significant portion of their time conducting research in biology education. Moreover, teaching courses is not necessarily an expectation in these positions. BER postdoctoral positions are part of the emerging field of discipline-based education research (DBER). DBER is geared toward understanding teaching and learning within a scientific discipline and requires a high level of expertise in that discipline ( Singer et al. , 2012 ). Many biology DBER scholars hold a doctorate in a biological discipline and have acquired some formal training in education research. BER postdoctoral positions represent one such way that individuals can obtain training in this field. BER graduate programs represent an additional means of acquiring the biological and educational training needed to pursue DBER careers, but these programs will not be discussed in this essay. BER postdoctoral positions are relatively new opportunities, and many life science graduate students may not be aware of or understand these positions. As such, this essay aims to characterize these positions and discuss careers to which they can lead in order to inform life science graduate students’ next steps in their academic careers.

We draw on our own postdoc experiences in BER, as well as on interviews of faculty mentors who regularly hire and employ BER postdocs, to inform this essay. Using backward-design principles, which begin with the end in mind ( Wiggins and McTighe, 2005 ), we first describe 1) the types of careers for which these positions provide training and 2) the array of opportunities and responsibilities encompassed by different BER postdoctoral positions that can lead to these careers. We go on to provide advice to help graduate students 3) determine whether a BER postdoctoral position is the right career choice for them and 4) gain skills and experience to be competitive for such a position. Our postdoc experiences are varied, reflecting the diversity of postdoctoral opportunities available within the biology education community. Therefore, this work is intended to provide a broad overview of the postdoctoral opportunities available in the field of BER for recent life science graduates with doctoral degrees.

What Careers Does BER Postdoctoral Work Lead To?

Ultimately, deciding whether to pursue a postdoctoral position in BER depends on career goals. In general, BER postdocs are positioned for jobs that entail either education research or program evaluation and involve either teaching or supporting others’ teaching endeavors. In Figure 1 we present our own personal perspectives on the different positions we took after completing BER postdoctoral positions. However, our jobs are a limited sample of the positions that BER postdocs might pursue. For example, BER postdocs may want to pursue positions as biology lecturers. While some biology lecturers teach exclusively, others may have additional responsibilities, including performing course assessment, training other faculty in pedagogy, or designing curricula. Indeed, some biology lecturers may even be expected to perform DBER, much like the teaching professor position described in Figure 1 . Because lecturer positions have such a diverse range of responsibilities, it is a good idea to research these positions extensively before applying. Additionally, some BER postdocs would be qualified for jobs in program evaluation. These positions are growing in number due to the requirement by many funding agencies that programs gather evidence of their efficacy and merit. Program evaluation is distinct from research in that it focuses on whether a program is working (evaluation) instead of characterizing how and why it works (research). Postdocs interested in aiding the translation of research to practice and improving existing educational programs may find evaluation positions rewarding.

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Five vignettes to illustrate the different positions that the authors have pursued and what these jobs involve. Authors’ titles refer specifically to the job and the level at which they were hired, as this best reflects the positions BER postdocs might pursue.

We have also reviewed and summarized multiple job descriptions for the positions most commonly sought by BER postdocs ( Table 1 ). While this list is not comprehensive, it provides an overview of the central responsibilities and essential skills associated with each position. Although a few BER postdocs have obtained positions as faculty members at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs), we did not include details about these positions. While the philosophy of BER postdoctoral positions aligns well with the culture of teaching and learning at PUIs, most of these colleges seek candidates who will conduct research in biology, not biology education. Thus, training in biology research and experience teaching (e.g., via a biology teaching postdoctoral position) may be more suited for these types of positions.

Description of positions commonly pursued by BER postdocs

Descriptions are based on 10–13 job ads per position posted within the last year on the websites listed in Table 2 . Common themes are based on their presence in 70% or more of job ads. Types of institutions hiring is based on institutions hiring within this sample of job ads.

Up-to-date knowledge of current career options and the training needed to obtain them will prove essential for the next generation of biology education researchers in pursuing appropriate postdoctoral positions. We have included a table listing websites that commonly post education-related positions in higher education to provide a continuously updated resource for these jobs ( Table 2 ). In addition, websites of scientific societies (e.g., Ecological Society of America) and discipline-based listservs (e.g., ECOLOG) often post positions related to specific subdisciplines of biology (e.g., ecology lecturer). These resources can be used to outline long-term career goals and align these goals with the BER postdoctoral position that will provide appropriate training.

Websites of organizations that post education-related positions

For websites requiring a search, we recommend the following terms: “biology education research,” “center for teaching and learning,” “education evaluation,” “biology lecturer,” “science education specialist,” “science education research analyst,” “faculty development,” or “program coordinator STEM.”

What Do BER Postdoctoral Positions Entail?

All BER postdoctoral positions involve conducting research on the teaching and learning of biology. Broadly speaking, biology education researchers study how students gain understanding of biological concepts and the culture (i.e., practices and ways of knowing) of biology, how students develop expertise in biological disciplines, what teaching practices promote learning, what factors influence instructors’ teaching decisions, and how instructors can be inclusive and address the learning needs of all students ( Singer et al. , 2012 ). Research questions can be broad, overarching questions that aim to inform the field of BER as a whole, or narrow questions that address the effectiveness of specific educational innovations in a single classroom or for specific topic areas. Some examples of BER include identification of the types of mentoring support that lead to positive outcomes for undergraduate researchers, including women and groups traditionally underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM; Thiry and Laursen, 2011 ), whether a flipped classroom results in greater student learning and more positive attitudes than an active-learning classroom ( Jensen et al. , 2015 ), the effects of jargon on student learning ( McDonnell et al. , 2016 ), and whether students experience gains in critical thinking after using the CREATE method to analyze journal articles from the primary literature ( Hoskins et al. , 2007 ). Research can also include the development of measurement tools, such as rubrics (e.g., Dasgupta et al. , 2014 ), surveys (e.g., Glynn et al. , 2011 ; Hanauer and Dolan, 2014 ), concept inventories (e.g., Anderson et al. , 2002 ; Price et al. , 2014 ; Couch et al. , 2015 ), or observation protocols (e.g., Smith et al. , 2013 ; Eddy et al. , 2015 ), for use by the biology education community. For more information on what DBER entails, including broad research topics encompassed by DBER, see the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report by Singer and colleagues (2012) . Table 3 lists other resources that provide an orientation to science education research. These resources address topics such as education research methods, study design, educational assessment, and how to get started in DBER.

Resources on the principles and practices of science education research

The research questions that BER postdocs address depend on the specific postdoctoral position. Many BER postdocs are funded through an advisor's research grant and, therefore, spend most research time working on projects related to the grant. These projects, funded by agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), or NIH, generally aim to develop a tool or answer a broad question that is relevant to the larger biology education community. For example, one author of this paper (L.A.C.), as part of an NSF grant, characterized several pedagogical elements of course-based undergraduate research experiences in biology and developed a tool to measure the presence of these elements in laboratory courses ( Corwin et al. , 2015 ). Other BER postdocs are hired through education initiatives, whereby their research aims to examine the effectiveness of within-course or within-department pedagogical changes. Another author (L.M.) helped instructors transform their courses to use evidence-based teaching practices and conducted research on the effects of the changes in each course. While this type of research aims to inform a specific instructor or institution about the effectiveness of a particular learning environment, the results are often of interest to the larger BER community. Regardless of the projects for which postdocs are hired, most have the opportunity to explore their own interests and develop their own BER research agenda, which is instrumental for those applying to faculty positions.

The percentage of work time that postdocs are expected to dedicate to research varies among BER postdoctoral positions. Some positions are heavily research based, focused primarily on grant writing, conducting research, and publishing manuscripts, much like a traditional biology postdoctoral position. Others include teaching as a component. In some cases, this involves partnering with a faculty member to transform a course into one that uses evidence-based methods. This type of position requires developing a curriculum rooted in evidence-based practices, implementing it in the classroom, collecting data to demonstrate effectiveness, discussing the data with other instructional personnel, and using these data to inform future pedagogical decisions. In other postdoctoral positions, the postdoc teaches a course under the mentorship of an experienced faculty member or coteaches a course with a faculty member or another postdoctoral researcher. Of the seven authors, four were expected to teach or coteach at least one course during their postdoctoral experiences, while the other three were expected to engage almost exclusively in research.

BER postdoctoral positions may also involve the management of programs designed to support the professional development of specific groups of biology instructors. These groups may include future high school teachers, graduate teaching assistants, other postdoctoral scholars, or faculty at various institutions. For example, one author (G.T.) worked to develop and manage a program funded by HHMI that engaged biology faculty in pedagogical workshops and continued to provide them with support and resources as they improved their teaching ( www.sfsusepal.org/programs/hhmi-biology-fest ). She also contributed to the management of a community science education resource center where instructors from local schools could borrow materials for teaching. Another author (L.M.) worked with a science education initiative that aimed to support instructors working on large, service biology courses. In this role, she implemented evidence-based teaching practices, updated curricula, and collected data on student outcomes ( www.cwsei.ubc.ca/departments/lifesciences.htm ). Other BER postdocs have been involved in the management of programs aimed at enhancing scholarly teaching at community colleges ( www.sfsusepal.org/programs/ccb-fest ) or providing professional development to faculty interested in implementing quantitative activities in their biology courses ( https://qubeshub.org ). Much like positions that require curriculum development, these postdoc jobs often include responsibility for evaluation of the program, which is then used to inform future directions.

Deciding Whether a BER Postdoctoral Position Is the Right Career Move

Many people are initially interested in BER postdoctoral positions because they have a strong interest in teaching. However, it is important to recognize that all BER postdoctoral positions involve a research component, and in many cases, the majority of time will be spent doing research. Many of us found that our initial interest in teaching sparked deep curiosity about how learning in biology happens, how to best instruct or mentor young biologists, or how people become experts in biology. Thus, after completing our doctoral degrees, we found that education research, rather than biology research, more closely aligned with our passions and career goals. Because education research is not a traditional part of a life science doctoral program, graduate students will need to seek out opportunities to help decide whether education research is of interest. We recommend the following for interested graduate students.

  • Conduct a small education research project or collect assessment data for a class. Firsthand participation in education research is the most reliable way to gauge interest in it. Small projects could be conducted in collaboration with discipline-based education researchers at a student's university (in biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, etc.) or with faculty from a college of education. If these options are not available, graduate students can collect assessment data for a course that they teach or assist with. The goal of classroom assessment is to provide an evidence-based approach to improve one's own teaching ( Angelo and Cross, 1993 ; Tanner and Allen, 2004 ). These projects start by defining what the instructor would like to understand about students’ learning. Once articulated, these questions help instructors determine the kind of evidence and data needed to answer each question. In some cases, published rubrics or concept inventories may be appropriate for collecting evidence ( D’Avanzo, 2008 , and Knight, 2010 , provide reviews of biology concept inventories; lists of assessments and other instruments are available at https://go.sdsu.edu/dus/ctl/cabs.aspx ; and www.asbmb.org/education/teachingstrategies/conceptinventory ). In other cases, development of new assessments is required to gather the appropriate data ( Adams and Wieman, 2011 ). For example, if an instructor is interested in whether a curriculum component increases students’ knowledge about natural selection, the Conceptual Inventory of Natural Selection ( Anderson et al. , 2002 ) may be appropriate to use as a pre- and posttest (e.g., Kalinowski et al. , 2013 ). However, if s/he is interested in determining what students find most confusing when learning about evolution, asking students to write down the “muddiest point” ( Angelo and Cross, 1993 ) on an index card after each class on evolution may be a good way to collect data. Although classroom assessment does not often provide publishable data, it provides an introduction to thinking about education questions and collecting education data. For a more thorough discussion of how to collect course assessment data, see Tanner and Allen's (2004) paper on collecting evidence in science teaching.
  • Attend lab meetings of a BER group or attend a biology education conference. Lab meetings and conferences provide opportunities to engage in discourse about education research questions and methodologies with other members of the discipline-based education community and provide an introduction to DBER culture. They also provide opportunities to make connections to people in the DBER community, which can be advantageous for finding and obtaining jobs. Lab meetings can provide a good sense of the day-to-day activities of BER postdocs. They are an inexpensive way to connect to the DBER community, as they can often be attended remotely via conferencing software. Alternatively, conferences provide opportunities to view and explore the diversity of BER while also building a professional network. The Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER) holds an annual conference in July ( https://saber-biologyeducationresearch.wikispaces.com ). The participants are diverse, ranging from distinguished scholars in BER to newcomers who have become interested in BER through their own teaching. The National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) also holds an annual conference ( http://narst.org/index.cfm ). This large conference, held every April, is a venue for education research aimed at understanding learning and teaching in the various science disciplines at all levels (K–16). A number of science education conferences focus on teaching practices but also contain education research talks. These include the Transforming Undergraduate STEM Education conference sponsored by the American Association of Colleges and Universities ( www.aacu.org ), the American Society for Microbiology Conference for Undergraduate Educators ( www.asmcue.org ), the Annual American Biology Laboratory Educators conference ( www.ableweb.org ); the annual meeting of the Association of College and University Biology Educators ( www.acube.org ), and the National Association for Biology Teachers Professional Development conference ( www.nabt.org ), which regularly includes a BER symposium. If it is not possible to attend an education research conference, the annual meetings of many professional societies, such as the Ecological Society of America and the American Society for Cell Biology, organize oral and poster sessions that contain education research.
  • Read biology education journal articles. Reading broadly within the field allows exploration of the breadth of questions, methodologies, and objectives in BER. Descriptive essays provide a synopsis of the different views, priorities, and directions of investigation within areas of general interest. “Practice” articles discuss biology-teaching contexts and aim to inform readers about teaching strategies and innovations in biology education ( Dolan, 2007 ). The American Biology Teacher , Advances in Physiology Education , and the Journal of College Science Teaching publish both essays and practice articles. Applied and theoretical research articles aim to develop or test theories about how students learn biology, explore how social and cultural norms influence biology teaching and learning, and describe processes by which students develop into biologists ( Dolan, 2007 ). CBE—Life Sciences Education , the Journal of Research in Science Teaching , and Science Education often publish this kind of applied and theoretical research. For a more comprehensive list of journals that publish BER and to become familiar with how to locate and decipher DBER work, see Dolan's (2007) essay, “Grappling with the Literature of Education Research and Practice.”
  • Start a brown-bag lunch series or organize a student group for peers interested in DBER. Informal meetings among peers can serve as venues to discuss interesting articles, hear from DBER speakers, disseminate or gather information on opportunities within the field, and form professional networks. Furthermore, creating such a venue for students from diverse fields, including chemistry, education, geosciences, physics, and psychology, can enrich discussions and allow graduate students in biology and peers in other departments to consider a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Additionally, these groups often serve as valuable support systems—occasionally the people involved in these endeavors become future collaborators and colleagues.
  • Conduct informational interviews. Talking to faculty and postdocs who conduct BER can orient interested graduate students to the field of BER and address more specific questions. Graduate students can ask postdocs about their academic trajectories and goals for their careers as postdocs and beyond and faculty about goals for their research groups. Interested graduate students should not hesitate to reach out to other institutions to find resources and make connections that will help provide information about the field. For example, students could read abstracts of papers by individuals who presented at an education conference and contact these people. We encourage broad exploration of BER in order to evaluate whether this path is a good fit.

These activities are intended to help graduate students clarify their interests and career goals. They can help address questions like, Is this work exciting or inspiring? Is there an alignment between my interests and a career involving BER or the improvement of biology teaching and learning? Students should carefully consider whether a BER postdoctoral position will provide the skills needed to obtain and be successful in a desired job. If a BER postdoctoral position is the right path, we offer some advice for becoming a strong candidate for these positions below.

Becoming a Strong Candidate for a BER Postdoctoral Position

In some ways, the qualifications for a BER postdoctoral position are similar to those for a biology postdoctoral position. Both require strong organizational skills, such as the ability to manage data collection across multiple study sites and analyze large-scale data sets. Written and verbal communication skills enable investigators to share their ideas and acquire future funding. While the ability to work independently can help drive research productivity, many research projects involve large interdisciplinary teams, so investigators must also be able to work collaboratively. One of the most important factors in hiring any research postdoc, including a BER position, is prior research experience and the quality of resulting publications. When we have been in the position of hiring BER postdoctoral researchers, we strongly preferred candidates with at least one publication. This demonstrates that the candidate has experience with the writing and revision process and a commitment to completing a project. However, we placed equal value on publications in biology research and BER.

Strong endorsements by advisors and mentors are another common consideration in the hiring of any postdoctoral candidate. Letters of reference tailored to address desired DBER qualities are particularly valuable. Thus, talking frequently and openly with advisors and mentors about education-related career goals can help in the pursuit of a BER postdoctoral position. These discussions can serve to increase the awareness of both advisors and students about the qualities a successful DBER postdoc might possess. Additionally, these conversations may help inform advisors about how best to mentor BER-interested graduate students. For example, through conversations, advisors may begin to recognize important DBER-related opportunities for their graduate students, such as helping to design and assess a new course. This can increase students’ access to the activities that will make them successful BER postdoctoral candidates.

Our experience as candidates for BER postdoctoral positions and advisors of BER postdocs indicates that a consistent and strong commitment to education is a distinct and highly important consideration in the hiring of BER postdocs. A commitment to education demonstrates that the applicant's long-term interests align with the nature of the position. While this can take many forms, it goes beyond simply serving as a teaching assistant in graduate school. One way to become more involved in education as a graduate student is to engage with a center for teaching and learning (CTL) on campus. CTLs provide many teaching-related professional development opportunities for graduate students, such as teaching workshops or teaching certificate programs. There are also opportunities to work or volunteer at CTLs as a graduate student. For example, some CTLs have peer-mentoring programs in which graduate teaching assistants provide professional development and mentoring for peers. Experience working within a CTL may be particularly valuable training for BER postdoctoral positions that involve introducing faculty to novel teaching strategies or helping faculty with course design. Other valuable education-related activities include regular participation in educational outreach activities or designing and teaching a course, either at the home institution or as an adjunct at another local institution. Designing and teaching a course may be particularly helpful if there is a teaching expectation in the postdoctoral position, because it provides firsthand experience with the challenges of teaching.

In addition to a commitment to education, possessing methodological skills within the discipline is desirable. The diversity of research that biology education researchers conduct necessitates the use of a variety of experimental methods. Studies may rely on quantitative (e.g., statistical analyses of achievement data or Likert-type scale survey responses; for examples, see Haak et al. , 2011 ; Aikens et al. , 2016 ) or qualitative (e.g., open coding of verbal responses to interview questions or written responses to open-ended questions; for examples, see Shortlidge et al. , 2016 ; Zagallo et al. , 2016 ) methods, or they may use both in a mixed-methods approach. Taking courses outside of life science departments can help build skills in quantitative or qualitative research methods. Education, psychology, and social science departments often offer introductory courses on the research methods commonly used in DBER. These departments also offer higher-level courses on qualitative research, experimental design, and statistical analysis. Within life science disciplines, statistical courses in ecology, bioinformatics, or quantitative genetics are likely to offer quantitative training that can be applied to educational data. Training in structural equation modeling (e.g., Estrada et al. , 2011 ) and generalized linear models, including mixed-effects models (e.g., Eddy et al. , 2014 ), is particularly useful to address the quasi-experimental designs common in education studies. If engaging in education research or a course assessment project, take advantage of on-campus statistical and experimental design consulting services that can provide guidance and instruction in new research methods. While it is not necessary to master all the skills needed to conduct DBER before applying for a postdoctoral position, the strongest candidates will have a methodological background that demonstrates their motivation and ability to learn these skills independently.

Because a BER postdoctoral position revolves around research, it is critical to be familiar with current studies and topics of interest in BER. Fortunately, many of the activities we suggested in the preceding section, Deciding Whether a BER Postdoctoral Position Is the Right Career Move , would allow graduate students to assess their fit with the field while also becoming familiar with BER. Candidates should be familiar with some of the major questions in BER and be able to discuss a biology education problem of interest. Thus, it is critical for BER postdoctoral applicants to actively engage with the BER community through reading the literature, interacting with BER scholars, and thinking deeply about their own interests.

Conducting a small education research project is an ideal way to demonstrate the ability to transfer methodological training and knowledge of the BER literature to education research. For example, one author (S.L.E.) developed a new lab for an introductory biology series as a graduate student and conducted a pre/post assessment to demonstrate what students learned. She described this experience in her postdoctoral application, including what she learned about designing educational experiments and the experiment's shortcomings. This demonstrated her ability to critically think through an education experiment. Another author (G.T.) participated in the FIRST IV program ( Ebert-May et al. , 2015 ; Derting et al. , 2016 ) during her first postdoctoral experience, which was a biology postdoctoral position. Working with colleagues in this program, she helped design an active-learning introductory biology course for a tribal college that included a final project in which students researched a scientific issue relevant to their community ( Raines et al. , 2013 , 2014 ). When applying for BER postdoctoral positions, this project provided evidence of her familiarity with the education research process.

When we have been in the position of hiring BER postdocs, we considered the strongest candidates to be those with some experience conducting education research. Indeed, education research experience will become more critical in the coming years, as increasing numbers of BER graduate students, who will be trained in both biology and education research, enter the job market. While BER faculty are generally interested in providing mentorship and improving mentees’ skills, they are also interested in making progress on research, and they may assume that a candidate with education research experience will be more productive. Thus, we strongly encourage candidates to take opportunities to work with faculty or other graduate students and to design and assess their own course components. However, for some candidates, this experience may be hard to obtain. For these students, we recommend thinking creatively about how to demonstrate BER potential through successful biology research, methodological skill development, and strong continuous involvement in biology education activities and the BER community.

Building a diverse network of supportive and knowledgeable people is valuable for the postdoctoral job search and beyond. Most of us found that a personal connection provided a valuable teaching or professional development opportunity, an introduction to BER researchers, or resources used to develop our interests. Making others aware of interests and intentions can be instrumental in gaining access to the support and skills needed to transition from biology to BER. Networking specifically with people in the education community, such as BER faculty or directors of CTLs, can also serve as an important source of job information. We recommend reaching out directly to editorial board members of journals that publish BER and authors of abstracts or articles of interest. The BER community is open, friendly, and eager to help the next generation of BER researchers. Do not hesitate to use this community as a resource.

In addition to networking, candidates can also find job announcements on the SABER website and the SABER and NARST listservs. Because teaching postdoctoral positions and BER postdoctoral positions may have similar titles, it is important to carefully read through a job announcement to understand the expectations for the position. This is also critical to ensure that the position aligns with long-term career goals. Do not hesitate to contact the faculty advisor to ask questions about the position. This may be particularly useful if there is interest in developing a specific skill (e.g., qualitative research experience or experience in faculty development) during the postdoctoral experience. Many BER faculty advisors recognize the diverse types of positions that BER postdocs pursue and accommodate opportunities that provide the postdoc with experience for a particular career. For example, if teaching experience is desired but is not an explicit part of a BER postdoctoral position, the faculty advisor may support and encourage the postdoc to find additional teaching opportunities. Contacting the faculty advisor can help to clarify the extent to which there is flexibility in the postdoc's activities.

Other Paths to BER Postdoctoral Positions

This article aims to provide advice primarily for graduate students conducting biology research; yet there are several other paths that may lead to postdoctoral positions in BER. For example, education graduate students studying STEM education for their dissertations may wish to pursue BER postdoctoral positions. Additionally, as more discipline-based education researchers are hired into life science departments, BER graduate programs will increase in number. These programs train students in both biology and education, though the structure of these programs varies from institution to institution. Thus, those seeking to employ BER postdocs have several applicant pools from which to draw. This is exciting, as BER labs will increasingly have members with highly diverse training and skill sets. Indeed, each of these paths has unique advantages and challenges and an essay such as this could be written for each. While it is beyond the scope of this paper, we hope that future essays might better address the various paths to careers in BER, highlight their advantages, and provide guidance on how to leverage the experiences from these different pathways into success. We also hope that readers of this paper, especially those early on in their education, will carefully consider the various paths forward and tailor their education to their goals. After all, it is best to move forward with the end in mind ( Wiggins and McTighe, 2005 ).

CONCLUSIONS

It is an exciting time for the field of discipline-based BER. Although relatively new, the field is growing rapidly, and as such, the number of biology education-focused postdoctoral positions has increased over the years. For example, in 2014 through 2015, there were ∼46 such postdoctoral positions advertised on the “jobs” portion of the SABER website, more than double the postings listed in 2011 through 2012. Of the 26 job postings made between June 2015 and June 2016, 14 were postdoctoral positions, and the majority of the remaining postings listed biology education postdoctoral training as a necessary or desired qualification. Many research and comprehensive universities have recently hired, or will be hiring, tenure-track faculty in biology education, thus increasing research opportunities in biology education for both graduate students and postdocs. For graduate students early in their careers, this could translate into opportunities to collaborate with biology education faculty on a side project or even on a chapter for their dissertations. For those on the brink of taking the next step in their academic careers, this opens the door to more varied postdoctoral options and a greater variety of ways in which new biology graduates can contribute to their discipline.

We end by reiterating the importance of aligning a postdoctoral position with long-term career goals. It is important to decide, first, whether a postdoctoral position in general is an appropriate career move, and second, whether a move to studying biology education fits with career goals. As with any postdoctoral position, a sincere interest in the research questions being addressed and a clear connection between the position and a future career goal will help to make it a rewarding experience.

Acknowledgments

We thank the faculty who discussed their experiences and provided advice for this paper. We also thank Erin Dolan for thoughtful comments on a draft of the article and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

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Integration of topic-specific pedagogical content knowledge components in secondary school science teachers’ reflections on biology lessons

  • Open access
  • Published: 15 February 2024
  • Volume 3 , article number  17 , ( 2024 )

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  • Thumah Mapulanga   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-5609-3539 1 ,
  • Yaw Ameyaw   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-4856-1080 2 ,
  • Gilbert Nshogoza   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-2800-2334 3 &
  • Anthony Bwalya   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-3056-2955 4  

Teachers’ reflections on their practice are a powerful tool for measuring and supporting their professional knowledge. Pedagogical content knowledge is one of the most influential domains of teacher professional knowledge. This multiple-case study investigated the topic-specific pedagogical content knowledge (TSPCK) components that Zambian secondary school science teachers integrate when reflecting on biology lessons. Three teachers from the same school were observed teaching a biology lesson and attended post-observation interviews. Data were mainly collected through lesson plans, lesson observation field notes and post-observation interviews. The data were analysed using in-depth analysis of explicit TSPCK, enumerative and constant comparative approaches. TSPCK maps were constructed to illustrate each teachers’ integration of TSPCK components. The results revealed four features about the integration of TSPCK components: (a) None of the teachers depended solely on a single TSPCK component as they integrated other components (b) The components curricular saliency, students’ prior knowledge and misconceptions, and conceptual teaching strategies were central in the TSPCK maps of all the teachers, while representations and analogies, and what make the topic easy/difficult to teach/learn were least integrated (c) All teachers had different pairs of reciprocal connections among TSPCK components, and (d) All teachers had different pairs of most integrated components. The implications of these findings for science and teacher education research were presented and discussed. It was concluded that teachers’ reflections revealed the integration between TSPCK components and showed them differently. The study recommends investigating teachers’ reflections over several lessons and tracking any changes in their TSPCK integration.

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1 Introduction

Recent research on teacher knowledge has focused on Shulman’s [ 1 ] seminal work on pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Shulman [ 1 ] described PCK as a knowledge domain that is specific to teachers/educators—an amalgam of content and pedagogy that is uniquely the province of teachers, their own special form of professional understanding. Gess-Newsome [ 2 ] asserts that (personal) PCK is the knowledge of, reasoning behind, and planning for teaching a particular topic in a particular way for a particular purpose to particular students for enhanced student outcomes. This definition of PCK emphasises the person- and topic-specificity of PCK which has implications for this study. PCK is crucial because it determines how teachers teach, and therefore, students’ achievement of learning outcomes. As such, understanding teachers’ PCK is very critical to improving students’ learning.

Because PCK is a blend of content and pedagogy, it is likely to be influenced by whether one is teaching in-field or out-of-field. Singh et al. [ 3 ] describe out-of-field (OOF) teaching as the mismatch between a teacher’s area of expertise and teaching assignment. In this framing, an OOF teacher teaches a subject they were not trained to teach. On the other hand, an in-field teacher teaches a subject they trained to teach. In Zambia, many secondary school students are taught by teachers who are outside of their expertise in science—OOF teaching. Researchers have raised several issues about the effect of OOF teaching. For example, Du Plessis [ 4 ] asserts that OOF teaching may lead to dysfunctional learning environments as OOF teachers may lack the confidence to adequately engage students in challenging content. Furthermore, OOF teachers may avoid in-depth discussions due to a lack of adequate content knowledge. Research has also shown that in-field teachers tend to create productive learning environments. Given the prevalence of OOF teaching in Zambian secondary schools, it may be important to explore the PCK of in-field and OOF teachers of biology. As will be seen later, these types of teaching have implications for the present study.

In the revised consensus model (RCM) of PCK, reflection is considered one of the foundations for the development of teachers' pedagogical content knowledge [ 5 ]. Therefore, many PCK studies rely on teachers’ reflections as a data source for examining teachers’ PCK [ 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 ]. For example, Zeichner and Liston [ 7 ] assert that teachers’ reflection-on-action makes them expert, capable and better teachers. Schön [ 10 ] explains reflection-on-action as the act of reflecting on the action and the knowledge informing the action. So, reflection-on-action occurs when teachers reflect on a pedagogical action after it occurs, e.g. after teaching. Through reflection, teachers demonstrate their pedagogical reasoning—the thinking underpinning their teaching [ 11 ]. Therefore, teachers articulate and explain the reasons underpinning their actions, making their PCK explicit. This way, teachers consider how their practice may be altered. According to Park and Oliver [ 12 ], teachers draw upon and expand their professional knowledge by reflecting on action. For Aydin et al. [ 13 ] reflection-on-action makes teachers aware of the need to augment or adjust their knowledge for teaching particular topics, leading to improvement of their professional knowledge. Therefore, information from teachers’ reflections may inform teachers’ future classroom actions and decisions on the needed professional learning to improve their knowledge and teaching. Reflections facilitate teachers’ pedagogical reasoning, which allows access to the knowledge influencing the ‘what-how-and-why’ of teaching [ 11 ]. Conclusively, teachers’ reflections may be considered a foundation for developing teachers’ PCK and hence need to be considered when examining PCK.

Reflection-on-action is closely related to noticing, whereby teachers are prompted to reflect on teaching events that are either noticed by the teacher (teacher-noticing) or the researcher (researcher-noticing). Through noticing, effective teachers can identify and reflect on salient classroom interactions or activities within the visually complex classroom environment [ 14 ]. According to Koning et al. [ 15 ], noticing enables teachers to identify important and noteworthy classroom incidents, make connections between these incidents and broader principles of teaching and learning, and reasoning about classroom interactions. Noticing can be seen as a prerequisite to reflection on action. Because reflections are considered foundations for the development of PCK, many science education studies have used teachers’ reflections as a source of data for assessing teachers’ PCK, its development or component integration [ 8 , 12 , 16 , 17 ]. These studies report that teachers’ reflections assist in understanding the nature, development and/or interactions among PCK components. Furthermore, reflections help to readjust and strengthen the integration of components of PCK by exposing any weak connections among PCK components that may need improvement.

Researchers have expanded Shulman’s [ 1 ] original conceptualisation of PCK by identifying and describing the components that constitute PCK. This has resulted in various models conceptualising PCK [ 12 , 18 , 19 , 20 ]. The variations among these PCK models lie in the components' labels, descriptions, or arrangement. For example, the most cited PCK model proposed by Magnusson, Krajcik and Borko [ 18 ] conceptualises PCK in terms of five PCK components namely orientation towards science teaching, knowledge of student understanding, knowledge of instructional strategies, knowledge of assessment and knowledge of curriculum. Additionally, Mavhunga and Rollnick [ 19 ] describe a model for topic-specific PCK (TSPCK) comprising five components—students’ prior knowledge including misconceptions, curricular saliency, what makes a topic easy or difficult to understand, representations including analogies, and conceptual teaching strategies. Recently, the revised consensus model (RCM) was proposed which describes PCK in terms of five components namely content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, knowledge of students, curricular knowledge and assessment knowledge. Although PCK has been conceptualised as a set of various components, researchers have focused their studies on establishing teachers’ knowledge of the PCK components and their integration [ 9 , 17 , 20 , 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 ]. Researchers have attempted to understand how teachers link/connect/integrate the different knowledge domains during planning, teaching or reflecting. A literature review by Chan [ 28 ] found 22 studies that used the PCK map approach to investigate the integration of PCK components. Aydin et al. [ 13 ] note that researchers use terms like interaction, coherence, intersection, interrelationship, interrelatedness, and integration to refer to connections/links between the PCK components. In the present study, the terms integration, connection and interaction will be used interchangeably to refer to links between two or more PCK components.

Often, teachers do not use the PCK domains in isolation but integrate the different domains in a variety of ways. Expert teachers tend to connect the PCK domains in various complex ways while novice teachers tend to connect a few components. Researchers assert that the integrations among PCK components measure the coherence in teachers’ pedagogical reasoning and indicate the quality of teachers’ PCK [ 18 , 20 , 29 , 30 ]. For instance, Park and Chen [ 20 ] argue that a developed PCK has all its components strongly integrated to each other such that the whole PCK structure can function to support student learning. Furthermore, Bayram-Jacobs et al. [ 30 ] aver that a teacher demonstrates developed PCK when s/he plans to use different teaching strategies by considering students' understanding of science or their difficulties, and plans to use appropriate methods/tools to assess learning. Furthermore, several researchers agree that high integration of PCK components indicates high or developed PCK, while low integration indicates limited PCK [ 12 , 13 , 20 , 25 , 31 ]. Therefore, revealing a more holistic picture of PCK by examining component integration may provide a deeper insight into PCK, and this may provide enriched knowledge of teachers’ PCK.

Recently, integrating PCK components has been explored in various science topics. For example, Park and Chen [ 20 ] explored the nature of the integration of PCK components in the topics of photosynthesis and heredity. Results revealed that the integration was idiosyncratic and topic-specific. They also found that knowledge of student understanding and knowledge of instructional strategies and representations were central to the integration. They concluded that the quality of PCK depends on the coherence among the components and the strength of individual components. Akin et al. [ 27 ] examined the interactions among PCK components of novice and experienced chemistry teachers in teaching reaction rate and chemical equilibrium topics. They concluded that the teachers integrated the PCK components differently. Meanwhile, Gao et al. [ 9 ] examined how a middle school teacher integrated and reflected on PCK components during the teaching of natural selection. The study found that knowledge of instructional strategies and representation and knowledge of science content were most frequently connected with other PCK components. Sæleset and Friedrichsen [ 24 ] evaluated pre-service teachers’ integration between knowledge of students’ understanding and instructional strategies. The pre-service teachers taught various science topics such as nutrition, the eye, energy content in food, puberty, and sexual health. The authors found that participants frequently demonstrated the integration of knowledge of students and knowledge of instructional strategies in a topic-specific way. Focusing on cell division, Sen et al. [ 32 ] investigated how various PCK components informed each other in the PCK maps of a curriculum-led, content-expert, and content-novice teacher. They found that teachers integrated the PCK components differently. More recently, Mapulanga et al. [ 22 ] investigated the integration of planned TSPCK components among secondary school biology teachers. They concluded that the integration of TSPCK components was idiosyncratic and the more central components were conceptual teaching strategies, curricular salience and students’ prior knowledge and misconceptions. To sum up, results on PCK component integration consistently show that PCK components are integrated in topic-specific, person-specific and context-specific ways. However, the apparent gap in many of these studies (except a few, e.g. [ 23 , 24 , 32 ]) is the lack of consideration of the direction of the interactions among PCK components [ 31 ]. Therefore, Sen [ 31 ] has called for more research that considers the direction of the integration. It seems that researchers’ interest in the integration of PCK components has grown because researchers have reached a consensus that the frequency of integration among the PCK components is an indicator of the quality of teachers’ PCK, and a well-developed PCK and an effective teaching should comprise all PCK components integrated.

The rationale of studies on PCK component integration is that the quality of teachers’ PCK can be seen in their integration of the components and that complex integration of all components of teacher knowledge constitutes developed PCK. The findings of these studies give valuable insight into component interactions. For example, most studies report that integrating PCK is person- and topic-specific [ 9 , 20 , 22 , 27 , 32 ]. Furthermore, the integration of PCK components has been reported to be context-specific [ 20 , 25 ]. The topic- and context-specificity of PCK makes it problematic to apply the results of PCK studies to all topics in a subject (e.g. biology). Hence, a need exists to evaluate the integration of topic-specific PCK (TSPCK) components in other challenging biology topics to widen and extend our understanding of component interactions. This understanding would help to improve the teaching of difficult biology topics. However, many of the previous studies on PCK component integration ignore the direction of integration. Therefore, a focus on the direction of the integration of the PCK components would expand our knowledge about the most influential components.

The dearth of literature on secondary school biology teachers’ integration of PCK components in their reflections on taught biology lessons suggests that how secondary school biology teachers integrate their PCK components during reflection on teaching incidences remains unknown. In addition, there is much to be learned about how PCK is constructed for teaching different topics and how the integration of the components may differ for in-field and out-of-field science teachers. Although some studies on TSPCK component interaction have been conducted in sub-Saharan Africa [ 22 , 23 , 33 , 36 ], none of these studies have explored the research question asked in the current study. Therefore, the current study investigates the integration of TSPCK components in science teachers’ reflection-on-action on biology lessons. The findings would give insight into the nature of the integration of TSPCK components, which may be used to promote biology teaching in Zambia and other similar contexts. Furthermore, findings would extend knowledge in PCK research by showing how our sample (consisting of one in-field and two out-of-field teachers) integrates the topic-specific PCK components, considering the direction of integration. Therefore, this study sought to answer the following research question: What is the nature of TSPCK component integration in science teachers’ reflections on taught biology lessons?

The study’s novelty lies in determining the TSPCK components integrated into science teachers’ reflections on taught lessons, with an emphasis on the direction of component interactions. This is consistent with the call to consider the direction of the interactions in component interactions [ 31 ]. Furthermore, there is a lack of research into PCK for excretion, holozoic nutrition and the nervous system although these topics are difficult to teach and learn [ 38 ]. Therefore, the study’s findings highlight the TSPCK components integrated in teachers’ reflections-on-action and the nature of the integration. The findings also highlight the participants’ professional development requirements for improving their TSPCK in teaching excretion, holozoic nutrition and the nervous system. The study's outcomes may make teachers aware of pertinent issues in TSPCK component integration when reflecting on biology lessons, making them better teachers. Furthermore, the study contributes to the few biology education studies [ 8 , 9 ] that report on teachers’ integration of PCK components through reflections-on-action.

2 Theoretical background—pedagogical content knowledge (PCK)

Pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) is the teachers’ knowledge and ability to arrange, represent and adapt content to the different learning needs of students [ 1 , 5 ]. According to Park and Oliver [ 12 ], PCK comprises teachers’ knowledge and its enactment. Chan et al. [ 34 ], assert that teachers draw upon PCK to plan and reflect on teaching. Thus, PCK underlies teachers’ knowledge of, reasoning behind and planning for teaching particular topics in a particular way for a particular purpose to particular students. Therefore, it can be inferred that teachers draw from their PCK to plan particular lessons on specific topics and enact and reflect upon them afterwards. The present study is located within the revised consensus model (RCM) of PCK [ 35 ]. A simplified version of the RCM was adapted from Makchechane and Mavhunga [ 36 ] as illustrated in Fig.  1 . The RCM emphasises the realms of PCK—(i) collective PCK (cPCK), which is the specialised knowledge shared by the community (ii) personal PCK (pPCK), which is the individual’s personalised PCK. Personal PCK can be demonstrated through planning for teaching as planned PCK (plPCK) and classroom enactment as enacted PCK (ePCK). Furthermore, the RCM describes PCK in terms of three grain sizes, i.e. discipline-specific PCK, topic-specific PCK, and concept-specific PCK [ 35 ]. Discipline-specific PCK refers to the PCK needed to teach specific domains or subjects. For example, the PCK needed to teach biology would represent the discipline PCK in biology. As already mentioned, topic-specific PCK is the PCK needed to teach specific topics in a discipline [ 22 , 23 ]. An example of topic-specific PCK is the PCK needed to teach respiration [ 22 ]. On the other hand, concept-specific PCK can be seen as the PCK needed to teach specific concepts in a topic such as cells [ 31 ].

figure 1

(Adapted from Makchechane and Mavhunga [ 36 ])

Simplified positioning of topic-specific pedagogical content knowledge (TSPCK) in the refined consensus model of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK)

The simplified version of the RCM connects well with the topic-specific pedagogical content knowledge (TSPCK) model of Mavhunga and Rollnick [ 19 ], shown on the right side of Fig.  1 . The TSPCK model was selected for the current study because of the topic-specific nature of the study’s focus. The model consists of five content-specific components described by Buma et al. [ 37 ] as follows: (a) c urricular saliency (CS) refers to the capacity to choose and organise key concepts for teaching. (b) students’ prior knowledge and misconceptions (SPK) refers to understanding what information students already possess, incorrect and alternate conceptions, from own experiences, previous learning or both. (c) representations and analogies (RP) is the knowledge of methods/ways (e.g., charts, demonstrations, metaphors, and models) for representing concepts in ways that support the conceptual development of ideas. (d) what makes the topic easy or difficult to teach or learn (WD) refers to the comprehension of topics which demand extra care and time while teaching concepts that students usually find challenging, and (e) conceptual teaching strategies (CTS) refer to the understanding of the topic-specific teaching techniques that enable teachers to combine the other four components when explaining specific concepts.

The present study was located at the topic-specific grain size of PCK (TSPCK) as it aimed at exploring the teaching of several concepts from three biology topics—excretion, holozoic nutrition and the nervous system. In this framing, each topic has its own way of being taught, students’ difficulties and misconceptions, objectives, effective teaching and assessment methods. Furthermore, these selected topics are considered difficult to teach and learn [ 38 ]. The study focuses on teachers’ enacted TSPCK (eTSPCK) in the classroom i.e. during teaching (eTSPCKt) and reflection (eTSPCKr). The TSPCK model served as a conceptual and analytical framework to examine teachers’ reflections and unpack the integration of the TSPCK components in teachers’ reflections on taught lessons. The TSPCK components are complementary and facilitate insight into teachers’ integration of TSPCK components in their post-lesson reflections. Therefore, the TSPCK model was used to map out the TSPCK component integration in teachers’ reflections-on-action for the respective topics they taught.

3 Methodology

3.1 research design.

This study adopted the exploratory multiple-case study design, which is one of the qualitative research approaches [ 39 ]. The multiple-case study design allows the description of more than one case (situation and phenomenon) and comparison among the cases. Therefore, this design was used to describe and compare three science teachers’ integration of TSPCK components in their reflection-on-action about biology lessons. In this study, the case referred to each of the three participants because the study sought to explore and give an in-depth description of their integration of TSPCK components for the taught topics.

3.2 Study context

The Zambian secondary school curriculum emphasises the need for teachers to have the right professional knowledge to teach at the secondary school level [ 40 ]. Therefore, teacher training universities and colleges have been charged with the responsibility of adequately training the teachers before their deployment. Studying for a bachelor’s degree in science education takes four years, while a secondary teacher’s diploma takes three years. Science teachers are mainly trained to teach one major subject and one or two other minor subjects. For example, teachers may be trained to teach biology (major subject) and chemistry (minor subject) and vice versa. However, owing to the shortage of science teachers in the country, it is very common to find teachers teaching subjects they were not trained to teach (i.e. out-of-field teaching). For example, two of the participants in the current study taught biology even though they were not specialised in teaching biology, one specialised in agricultural science, and the other in mathematics and physics education. The Zambian secondary school biology curriculum covers various topics that teachers must teach [ 41 ]. Among these topics are holozoic nutrition (nutrition in animals), excretion, and the nervous system. These topics have been reported to be challenging for some teachers and or students. The continued secondary school students’ poor academic performance in biology in the Zambian national examinations suggests that biology teaching may be problematic [ 42 ]. Although it is believed to influence how teachers conduct their lessons and hence students’ learning, the issue of the TSPCK that teachers use to teach biology topics remains under-exploited in Zambia [ 22 , 42 ]. Hence, it is valuable to explore the teaching and learning of challenging biology topics in terms of the TSPCK components that teachers demonstrate or integrate when reflecting on taught lessons.

3.3 Sampling and sample characteristics

A purposive sample was selected from one school based on criterion sampling. Firstly, since PCK is context-specific, the participants were selected from the same public school. Therefore, they had similar teaching materials and were all teaching biology. Secondly, teachers had different levels of qualifications and teaching experience. At the time of the study, the selected school only had one qualified biology teacher (in-field teacher), and other biology teachers were not qualified biology teachers (out-of-field teachers) and had only taught biology for less than 5 years, as shown in Table  2 . The teachers’ experience in teaching biology ranged from less than one to three years, so they were considered novices [ 43 ]. Thirdly, the participants were easily accessible to obtain deep information on PCK in the specific topics taught. Finally, the lack of overlap in the teachers’ schedules helped choose these teachers from the same context. Because integrating TSPCK is topic-, person-, and context-specific, examining the individual novice teachers’ integration and reflection on TSPCK enabled the understanding of the complexity of their TSPCK [ 25 ]. Participants’ characteristics, such as gender, qualification and teaching experience, are shown in Table  1 . The participants volunteered to participate in the study and audio-recording their lesson and interview sessions. They were told about the aim of the study and that involvement in the study was voluntary. Furthermore, pseudonyms were given to participants, and the school's name was not reported to maintain confidentiality.

3.4 Instruments

The study mainly used the post-observation interview guide, which was adapted from Friedrichsen et al. [ 44 ] and Park et al. [ 45 ]. The interview guide comprised questions for the general information of respondents, open questions about teachers’ observations/noticing, and five TSPCK components namely curricular saliency, what makes the subject easy or difficult to teach or learn, students’ prior knowledge and misconceptions, representations and analogies, and conceptual teaching strategies. The open questions aimed at tapping into the teachers’ noticing while the rest of the questions were mainly led by the researcher’s noticing and aimed at probing participants’ integration of the TSPCK components. Four university biology education lecturers and three secondary school biology teachers participated in validating the interview guide. Their observations and remarks were used to make the questions clear, concise and aligned with the TSPCK components (see sample questions in Table  2 ).

3.5 Data collection procedures

Firstly, teachers were observed teaching one biology lesson each. The lessons were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. The teachers taught different biology topics, two taught grade eleven classes, and one taught a grade ten class (see Table  3 ). Secondly, each teacher was interviewed to probe the reasons for observed actions or decisions about selected incidents noticed in the lesson plans or observed lessons. The interviews enabled an understanding of the teachers’ reflections on the taught lessons (reflection-on-action) and the integration of TSPCK components in the reflections. Interviews were conducted soon after the lesson observations so the teachers could easily remember the classroom/teaching events. Before recording the interviews on audio, the researcher (first author) explained the interview questions to the participants. Teachers revisited their lesson plans and justified their actions or choices during the interviews. It is worth noting that since the interviews were conducted concerning specific lesson plans and observed lessons, some questions were specific to each teacher. However, the first general questions were asked to all three teachers. The interviews were conducted to probe why teachers used certain activities in their lessons. The interviews lasted about 40 min. For easy analysis, the interviews were transcribed verbatim.

The primary data sources used in this study included lesson plans, field notes from lesson observations (including audio-recorded lessons, photographs of board work/teaching aids used), and transcripts of post-observation interviews. Table 4 shows the data sources and what the data were used for.

3.6 Data analysis

The researcher and an independent science education researcher separately coded and analysed the data by reading and rereading the lesson plans, lesson delivery transcripts/ and field notes (taken during lesson observation) [ 46 ]. The Krippendorff’s alpha agreement level between the coders was found to be 0.78, which indicates a satisfactory level of agreement. Any disagreements that arose in the selection, coding and interpretations of TSPCK incidents were discussed until agreed on. The other authors verified the whole analysis process. The involvement of different parties in the analysis helped identify TSPCK/teaching incidents that indicated the enactment of TSPCK to probe teachers’ reflections-on-action during interviews. TSPCK incidents included an integration of two or more PCK components in the TSPCK model i.e. a teaching incident represented the existence of two or more PCK components. For example, if a teacher decided to use a chart [in the lesson plan], this was followed up to see how it was used during the lesson (lesson observation), the researcher noted how the teacher used the chart (field notes). During interviews, the researcher asked why the teacher used the chart in the manner s/he did. The rest of the analysis sought evidence of integration among TSPCK components in the interview transcripts.

The analysis involved reading the interview transcripts several times and summarising the data into appropriate codes (TSPCK components) and categories (integrated/connected TSPCK components) [ 46 ]. There were 20 categories reflecting all possible reciprocal connections of PCK components used to analyse the data. The codes and categories were assigned to the appropriate sections/evidence in the reflection interview transcripts as described below. Table 5 shows some categories and their explanations.

The PCK mapping approach [ 20 ] was used to analyse the nature of interactions among the TSPCK components. The results were presented on TSPCK maps showing the components and frequency of component integration by each teacher in their reflections. The three main steps of the PCK mapping approach were followed to construct the TSPCK maps [ 28 ]: (1) In-depth analysis of explicit TSPCK, (2a) Enumerating and Mapping the TSPCK integration (2b) Visualisation in the form of a TSPCK map, and (3) Constant comparison. The three steps are briefly described below, and a summary of the steps is provided in Fig.  3 .

3.6.1 Step 1. In-depth analysis of explicit TSPCK

This step involved the explicit identification of specific TSPCK incidents and TSPCK components for each teacher by analysing observation data (field notes) and interview transcripts. Lesson plans were used to probe the teachers if they deviated from the plan. We searched the data for component integration and evidence for the identified components. Table 6 illustrates the in-depth analysis process, evidence for the TSPCK components and the coding process of the integrated TSPCK components. During this step, we identified 18 incidents for Marie, 13 for Jemsa and 21 for Jeff, which were used in the enumerative process.

3.6.2 Step 2. (a) Enumerating and mapping the PCK integration (b) Visualisation in the form of TSPCK maps

During step 2, we constructed a TSPCK map for each incident based on the integrated TSPCK components [ 25 ]. A headed arrow line (pointing to the integrated component) was used when a teacher connected one component when reflecting on the other. There were twenty possible integration types among the five TSPCK components (see Table  5 for an example of integration types). It was assumed that there was at least one connection between any identified pair of components and that the connections had equal strength [ 20 ]. Therefore, one frequency count was recorded for a connection between any two components. When three components were integrated in the same incident, each pair was coded separately. Next, we added all specific interactions and all the interactions that occurred in the analysis for each teacher to show how often components are interconnected to each other [ 25 ]. The frequency for specific pairs was indicated on the lines, while that of components was indicated in the circles along with the components. The number of other components connected to each component was indicated besides each component. For example, the TSPCK map in Fig.  2 shows that CTS was integrated to CS 3 times, 4 other components integrated CS, and CS was integrated 9 times i.e. (3 + 1 + 2 + 3). The total number of interactions in this map was 12, i.e. (3 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2).

figure 2

Sample TSPCK Map. SPK: students’ prior knowledge including misconceptions. CS curricular saliency, WD what makes a topic easy or difficult to teach or learn, RP representations and analogies, CTS conceptual teaching strategies

3.6.3 Step 3. Constant comparison

The constant comparative method was used to compare the findings within and between participants. This was done inductively by looking for similarities and differences in the specific and total component integrations in the teachers’ TSPCK maps. The whole data analysis process is summarised in Fig.  3 .

figure 3

Steps of the data analysis process (adapted from Chan [ 28 ])

3.7 Trustworthiness of the study

The study’s trustworthiness was established by meeting the criteria for credibility, confirmability, dependability, and transferability. Credibility was ascertained by the authors being immersed in the data analysis for a long period. Further, the first analyses by the first author and an independent researcher were regularly verified by the other authors. In addition, the Krippendorff’s alpha agreement level between the coders was found to be 0.78. In-depth descriptions of the data collection and analysis procedures were given to meet the criteria for dependability and confirmability. The criteria for confirmability were met by using the TSPCK model as a framework for the study’s framing, analysis and reporting. In addition, the verbatim reporting of teachers’ integration of TSPCK components ensured the confirmability of the findings. Furthermore, triangulation was done by checking interview data with lesson plans and field notes of observed lessons. For transferability, the context of the study was described in detail for easy relation to other contexts.

This study explored the integration of TSPCK components in in-field and out-of-field science teachers’ reflections of taught biology lessons. The in-depth analysis and enumerative approach enabled the construction of the TSPCK maps for each teacher participant (see Fig.  4 ). The number of connections in the TSPCK maps indicates the quality of teachers’ TSPCK for teaching their respective topics [ 25 , 31 ]. It follows that teachers with more connections in their TSPCK maps demonstrate more developed TSPCK in their respective topics. The study found that various TSPCK components were integrated in different ways when teachers reflected on each component (see Table  7 ). This is consistent with the context- and topic-specific nature of PCK given that teachers taught different topics and grades. The results (on teachers’ TSPCK integration) are presented based on the salient features emerging from the analysis of the TSPCK maps. Four salient features emerged from the TSPCK maps (Fig.  4 and Table  7 ). First, the salient features are presented and then we present sample excerpts with examples. To help the readers follow the presentation of the results, examples from lesson plans/field notes and interviews are provided with codes for the integrated TSPCK components in square brackets.

figure 4

TSPCK maps of the three teachers. SPK students’ prior knowledge including misconceptions, CS curricular saliency, WD what makes a topic easy or difficult to teach or learn, RP representations and analogies, CTS conceptual teaching strategies

4.1 First feature

None of the teachers depended solely on a single TSPCK component as they integrated other components. However, the results revealed that the teachers had different numbers of integrated components. For example, Jemsa and Jeff integrated all five components, while Marie only integrated three (CS, SPK, and CTS). Marie had 23 connections in total, Jeff had 20 connections, and Jemsa had 15 connections. The teachers also differed in the types of connections they made. Marie had eight different connections out of the 20 possible connections. Jemsa had nine types of connections, while Jeff had 11 types of connections. In terms of reciprocal connections, Marie had one (CS-SPK), while Jemsa had two (CTS-SPK, CS-RP) and Jeff had three (RP-CTS, CTS-CS, and SPK-WD). None of these connections were common among the participants. The results suggest that Jeff (an out-of-field teacher) had the most integrated TSPCK map, followed by Marie (an in-field-teacher) and lastly Jemsa (an out-of-field teacher) (see Fig.  4 ).

4.2 Second feature

The components CS, SPK and CTS were central in the TSPCK maps of all the teachers. However, the components RP and WD were least integrated in all the maps. The teachers’ reflections were based on their knowledge of CS, SPK and CTS. However, the teachers differed in terms of the frequency with which they integrated these components. CS, SPK and CTS were most frequently integrated by Marie followed by Jeff and then Jemsa (see Fig.  4 ). To illustrate why RP was least enacted, it should be noted that all three participants only used charts or diagrams in their lessons. This may indicate that they had limited options of representations to use in their lessons. For instance, this was picked up in Jeff’s interview, where he could not clearly state other representations he could have used in place of the charts.

4.3 Third feature

All teachers had different pairs of reciprocal connections. Jeff’s reciprocal connections were RP-CTS, CTS-CS and SPK-WD. Jemsa’s reciprocal connections were between CTS-SPK, and CS-RP, while Marie’s reciprocal connection was CS-SPK.

The following example from Jemsa’s interview illustrates teachers’ reciprocal connections. First, when Jemsa was asked the important concepts she wanted the students to learn [CS], she said: “I wanted them to know the definition of holozoic nutrition, the five stages which are ingestion, digestion, absorption, assimilation and egestion [CS]. On the chart [RP], I wanted the learners to know the parts of the alimentary canal, there is the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and the anus”. Later in the interview, she was asked why she used the chart [RP] to represent the concepts, she said: “On the chart, I wanted the students to know the parts of the alimentary canal such as mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus.” In the first instance, Jemsa connected CS to RP, while in the second instance, she connected RP-CS.

4.4 Fourth feature

All teachers had different pairs of most integrated components. For example, Marie’s most integrated pair was CS-RP (4 times), Jemsa’s most integrated pair was CS-SPK (4 times) and Jeff’s most integrated pair was CS-CTS (5 times).

The following section illustrates the findings (on teachers’ TSPCK integration) in detail through examples from lesson plans/observation field notes and interviews. To help the readers follow the presentation of results, codes for the integrated TSPCK components were added in square brackets.

Marie was asked about the difficulties she identified in the lesson and how she addressed them [WD], in her response, Marie said: “A few students were not coming out to contribute effectively [SPK]. I noticed three or four students who were not participating in the lesson [SPK] , I would engage them in the lesson [CTS] and ask more questions about why they were not participating [WD], and engage them in a group activity or to present in the next lesson [CTS]”.

In this excerpt, Marie used her knowledge of students’ learning difficulties [WD] to reveal her knowledge of SPK, and CTS. So, she linked WD to SPK, CTS. Specifically, Marie demonstrates that she can identify students who do not participate and those who provide inadequate answers [SPK]. She also shows that she makes efforts to find out why students do not participate in the lesson, allowing her to tap into their learning difficulties [WD], and she engages the students through general science teaching strategies e.g. group activities and presentations [CTS].

When she was asked why it is important for students to know the concepts she chose to teach [CS], she said: “Yes, that is now about skills and values, they should have awareness of how the brain works, how to take care of their bodies [CS], understand that different individuals have got different abilities and disabilities. They should be able to coexist with different individuals that have different challenges, maybe in vision, and mental abilities and to do different activities. They may be able to relate why some people they have met are more or less able to do certain activities [SPK]”. Here, Marie linked CS to SPK by explaining that students would relate what they learn to their previous experiences [SPK].

Jemsa also revealed her knowledge of CS and CTS when reflecting on RP. For instance, during the lesson, Jemsa displayed a chart of the human alimentary canal [RP]. She then asked the students to go to the board and identify the different parts of the alimentary canal [CTS]. During the interview, she was asked why she chose to use the chart as a teaching aid [RP]. The excerpt below shows her response to the researcher:

Researcher: I noticed that in your class, you used a chart of the human alimentary canal, could you explain why? Jemsa: On the chart [RP], I wanted the learners to know the parts of the alimentary canal such as mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus [CS]. I used the chart for the learners to see and know the parts of the alimentary canal. A chart is better because learners will be able to see, it is different whereby I just go and explain that the alimentary canal runs from the mouth to the anus. Learners may not be able to connect. I will just be talking more like I’m just preaching to them. With a chart [RP], I will be pointing [CTS] at the parts of the alimentary canal [CS], and learners will be able to know the different parts that make up the alimentary canal and if a diagram comes in the exam, learners will remember that they identify the parts in class. So it will be easy for learners to remember, to recall. Researcher: What other teaching aids/representations could be used in this lesson? Jemsa: Without a chart, it would be difficult to teach, for the mouth it can be easy but some parts are not even seen. Maybe using text books or maybe drawing the diagram on the board.

The above incidence and excerpt show that Jemsa linked her knowledge of RP to CS and CTS. She indicates that the chart [RP] would help students to know the different parts of the alimentary canal [CS] and that she would point on the chart [CTS] to show the different parts of the alimentary canal. The excerpt also shows that she paid attention to central ideas such as mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus that she intended the students to learn. In addition, Jemsa was able to justify why she used the chart and mentioned other teaching aids she could have used.

Jemsa’s lesson predominantly used the question-and-answer approach. When asked why she used the question-and-answer approach in her lesson [CTS], she said: “The question and answer is a good method [CTS] since it involves learners participating in the lesson [SPK]. It helps learners to be active in class and even to think, when I ask questions [CTS], they should think….. Because when learners give answers, I have to explain [CTS] the main points to them for them to understand clearly [WD].” In this excerpt, she connected CTS to SPK and WD. She justified the use of the question-and-answer approach concerning how it would help students to learn [SPK]. She also indicated that she would use specific teaching strategies (explaining and asking questions) [CTS] to promote learning. However, this time she did not mention the main points (central ideas) she was referring to in the excerpt.

Jeff’s reflection on CS showed that he integrated CTS. During the lesson, Jeff used several activities in which he asked learners [CTS] to describe excretion and to mention the excretory organs and products. Furthermore, this was evidenced in the interview as can be seen in the following interview excerpt:

Researcher: What important concepts did you intend your learners to learn [CS]? Jeff: I asked learners [CTS] to describe the process of excretion [CS], and I also asked questions [CTS] based on examples of excretory products [CS]. In addition, I also asked learners [CTS] to state the organs that play a vital role in excretion [CS]”. Researcher: Could you be specific about the concepts you planned to teach? Jeff: Oh yes, I wanted the students to describe excretion as the removal of metabolic waste products. As for examples of excretory products, there is carbon dioxide, urea, excess salts and water. The excretory organs include the kidney, lungs, liver, and skin specific [CS]. The interview except shows an example of how Jeff integrated CS and CTS. It can be seen that in the first response, he only mentioned peripheral ideas he expected his students to learn. However, in the response to the follow-up question, he was able mentioned the central ideas that students were expected to learn.

Furthermore, reflecting on SPK, when asked about learners' misconceptions in the lesson, Jeff said: “….learners were confused between the definition of excretion and egestion [WD]. When we talk of egestion, it simply means the removal of undigested food substances from the body through the anus, but when we talk of excretion, it is the removal of toxic waste products of metabolism from the body [CS]” He connected SPK to WD and CS. It should be noted that he was able to refer to specific learning difficult students were having [WD], and the specific central ideas (distinction between excretion and egestion) [CS] that he intended the learners to comprehend.

In sum, the above results revealed some common and different features in the TSPCK maps. The following noteworthy revelations: (a) None of the teachers depended solely on a single TSPCK component as they integrated other components (b) The components CS, SPK and CTS were central in the TSPCK maps of all the teachers (c) All teachers had different pairs of reciprocal connections (d) All teachers had different pairs of most integrated components. The implications of these findings are discussed in the next section.

5 Discussion

The study’s findings show evidence that participants integrated the TSPCK components in their reflections-on-action. The findings show that participants integrated some TSPCK components as they reflected on their lessons on specific biology topics. Further, results give insight into participants’ pedagogical reasoning as a reflection of their professional knowledge (TSPCK) level for the taught topics [ 11 ]. Marie taught a lesson on the nervous system, Jeff on excretion, and Jemsa taught a lesson on the topic of holozoic nutrition. The findings revealed four salient features of teachers’ integration of TSPCK components in their reflections. This section discusses each of these features.

The analysis of the data revealed that none of the teachers relied solely on one TSPCK component. This means that the teachers integrated the TSPCK components among others. However, in light of the nature of PCK, the teachers integrated the components differently, with Jeff (an out-of-filed teacher) showing the most integrated map compared to Marie (an in-field teacher). The fact that Marie is an in-field teacher could have influenced her integration of the components as she may have more content knowledge in the area compared to the other out-of-field teachers. This finding is in line with previous studies that show that teachers with high content knowledge usually focus on communicating that content and tend to have few integration among PCK components [ 32 , 47 ]. However, differences were observed in the number and nature of TSPCK components integrated by the teachers. For instance, while Jemsa and Jeff integrated all five components, Marie only integrated three. There were also differences in the number and nature of pairs of integrated components. These results may be explained by the topic/context/person-specificity of TSPCK as the teachers taught different topics to different groups of students [ 25 , 27 ]. However, it should be noted that it may not be possible for every teacher to integrate all the TSPCK components in a single lesson as some components may not be necessary. For example, more components were integrated in Jeff’s and Jemsa’s reflections than in Marie’s.

The findings that different components were integrated in participants’ reflections have implications for effective teaching. The integration of TSPCK components may facilitate the development of participants’ topic-specific PCK [ 23 ], which may improve their teaching. Suh and Park [ 25 ] add that coherence in the component integration leads to high-quality PCK, which may translate into quality learning. Although Poti et al. [ 43 ] allude that novice teachers may not always integrate the TSPCK components in their classroom practices, the current study shows that the participants integrated some TSPCK components, although they were novice biology teachers. Furthermore, the teachers integrated TSPCK components regardless of being in-field or out-of-field.

The study’s results concerning the central TSPCK components: curricular saliency (CS), students’ prior knowledge (SPK), and conceptual teaching strategies (CTS) and the least integrated components: representations (RP) and what makes a topic easy or difficult to teach or learn (WD) supports previous studies (e.g. [ 9 , 20 , 22 ]). In line with Park and Chen [ 20 ], it may be concluded that participants were more confident in these components (SPK, CTS and CS) than RP and WD. It may imply that the participants presented the biology content (CS) according to their knowledge of students (SPK), hence students’ needs. According to Alonzo et al. [ 48 ], knowledge and integration of SPK enable teachers to link content to students’ experiences, making learning meaningful. Mapulanga et al. [ 22 ] also found that SPK, CTS and CS strongly influenced how teachers integrated the planned TSPCK components and that RP and WD were least integrated in planning respiration lessons. Similarly, Park and Chen [ 20 ] concluded that knowledge of student understanding (SPK) and knowledge of instructional strategies (CTS) were central to the integration of PCK components. However, the result that RP was least integrated contradicts the results of Park and Chen [ 20 ]. Furthermore, Mavhunga [ 23 ] found that CTS was least integrated in planning by the pre-service teachers. These variations in the findings on component integration may be explained by the topic- and context-specificity of PCK.

Although not adequately integrated by the participants in the current study, knowledge of representations (RP) and students’ learning difficulties (WD) are critical for effective teaching. For example, RP would allow them (teachers) to connect science concepts with students’ prior knowledge and misconceptions [ 49 ], thereby improving learning. Interestingly, all three participants only chose to use charts or diagrams in their lessons. This may indicate that they had limited knowledge or options of representations to use in their lessons. Also, despite being least integrated by the participants, knowing what makes topics easy or difficult to teach or learn (WD) is important. It lets teachers know which topics need dedicated time and attention during lessons. Aydin et al. [ 13 ] argue that teachers must know the difficulties their students present in learning various topics to deliver meaningful lessons.

In terms of the types of TSPCK component pairs integrated, the results reveal that the teachers differed in how they integrated the components. The participants often integrated different components when reflecting on the same components. For example, when reflecting on CS, Marie integrated SPK, Jemsa integrated RP, and Jeff integrated CTS and SPK. Furthermore, the results show differences in the number and nature of the overall integrations of TSPCK components across the lessons/topics taught. For instance, Marie only integrated CS, SPK, and CTS components. Jeff integrated all the components except RP. Both Marie and Jeff did not integrate RP in their reflections. However, Jemsa integrated all five components into her reflections. The results may imply that not all components may be necessary for every lesson. These results may also be explained by factors such as topics taught, teachers’ beliefs and attitudes towards teaching, and the person and or context specificity of PCK. Furthermore, the results confirm the conclusion of earlier studies [ 13 , 20 , 22 , 23 ] that integration of PCK is person-, topic- and context-specific. However, integration of the specific component pairs is critical for effective teaching. For instance, Mapulanga et al. [ 22 ] assert that by linking the TSPCK components (e.g. CTS to CS and CS to SPK), teachers can successfully impart knowledge to learners.

6 Limitations of the study

This study was limited by the small sample (three teachers), which hinders the generalisation of the findings of typical qualitative research [ 39 ]. However, a detailed description of the study’s context was provided, allowing the findings to be applied to similar contexts. Although the findings were based on evidence from observed lessons, most of the data were generated through post-observation interviews. Thus, participants may have influenced the results by giving out expected responses. The other limitation was that only one lesson was observed per participant/topic so the findings on teachers’ TSPCK were limited to the considered lessons as teachers may have different PCK in different contexts and topics. Another limitation relates to the lack of video recordings of lessons which might have caused us (researchers) to miss some TSPCK enactment. Also, the constructed TSPCK maps were not products of teachers’ noticing, but the researchers’. Future studies may observe and video-record several lessons so that the teachers’ TSPCK may be more accurately described in each topic over various lessons. Furthermore, teachers’ TSPCK could be understood better if they teach the same topics. Another limitation was that the participants taught different topics, so the results were based on the description of their enactment of TSPCK in different topics.

7 Conclusions and recommendations

This study examined the TSPCK components science teachers integrated in their reflections on biology lessons. The study established the components participants drew from as they reflected on their enactment of TSPCK. More specifically, the study showed that reflections on action revealed participants’ integration of the components: curricular saliency (CS), what makes a topic easy or difficult (WD), students’ prior knowledge (SPK), representations and analogies (RP), and conceptual teaching strategies (CTS). However, the participants integrated these components in a person- and context-specific manner. The components SPK, CTS and CS were the most integrated regardless of the topic taught, while RP and WD were the least integrated. As discussed, these results follow a trend similar to previous studies. Given the significance of the interactions among TSPCK components in developing the overall PCK structure, it is advantageous to explore the TSPCK components teachers tend to integrate when reflecting on each component. The study highlights the need for more research on diagnosing PCK components that teachers mostly lack or have and the difficulty of integrating them with other components for specific topics. The study’s findings suggest a need to focus on developing the teachers’ TSPCK and interactions among the components in teaching specific topics. Based on the findings, the study made the following recommendations:

To investigate the TSPCK components teachers integrate as they reflect on several lessons in topics that students find challenging.

To support teachers in integrating the least enacted TSPCK components through PCK-based professional development programmes

To track any changes in teachers’ TSPCK integration due to their reflection-on-action.

Data availability

All data supporting the findings has been reported within the article.

Code availability

Not applicable.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the participants for agreeing to participate in the study.

The study was funded by the African Centre of Excellence for Innovative Teaching and Learning Mathematics and Science (ACEITLMS).

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Mapulanga, T., Ameyaw, Y., Nshogoza, G. et al. Integration of topic-specific pedagogical content knowledge components in secondary school science teachers’ reflections on biology lessons. Discov Educ 3 , 17 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s44217-024-00104-y

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TheHighSchooler

200 Biology Research Topics For High School

Research papers are an integral part of high school. A detailed research paper is required in most of the subjects, and one just cannot back out, as this is a part of their curriculum. However, what is even more laborious than writing the whole research paper? Finding a good topic!

The same goes for biology. Although there are plenty of topics out there that a student can write about, choosing a relevant topic is often a taxing job since they may need to brainstorm various factors. However, it can be disentangled with clarity and appropriate counsel. 

While this subject deals with various areas like cells, animals, plants, and human anatomy; in this post, we would appraise you with 200 biology research topics handpicked for aspiring high schoolers, to make their task easier.

Biology Research Topics- Finding the Right one 

Choosing the right topic can be a long expedition. However, it can be effortless when students are clear about their requirements personally and academically. To discern the same, it can be a fair idea to look into some crucial attributes that can lead a high schooler towards a desired biology research topic.

  • Know your niche

Learners often have one or more notions that they feel enticing to learn and travel with. For instance, a student may like to learn and work in cell biology, while another may love studying more about genetics. Knowing the niche in which they can excel can make their topic selection facile.

  • Stick to one Narrow topic

After comprehending the choice of the niche, the scholar may need to narrow down to one topic which is intriguing and manageable at the same time. Evidently, “Study of Mitochondria and its benefits ” is a better choice than “Cell biology”. Choosing a righteous narrow topic may mitigate the constraints like taxing research and report length later. 

  • Consult mentors and Peers

Instructors are always available to answer the queries of pupils. Students can take their inputs to add strength to their research topics. Mentors not only assist to choose the right topic but also can advise a few changes in the choice to make it finer. Say, a student has chosen “Study of DNA”, the mentor can suggest modifying it to ”Role of DNA in Curing Diseases”. Brainstorming sessions with peers may also ameliorate the topic decision 

  • Ensure the School Regulations 

High school research is often guided by some crucial regulations to stipulate students work efficiently. Students may need to choose a topic somehow related to the academic syllabus. Further, they may be stimulated to address burning issues to create awareness. Adhering to the guidelines can mitigate the need for rectifications later. 

200 Biology Research Topics- To Start With Right Away

High School biology has several sections to choose from, which may make it taxing for students to resolute on one choice. Here is a sizable list of 201 biology research topics for high schoolers which they can start instantly: 

Cell Biology

  • Animal cell and its structure
  • Functions of Cells
  • Mitochondria- the PowerHouse of cell
  • Functions of an RBC- How does it transfer Oxygen?
  • Functions of a WBC- How does it retain immunity?
  • Components of Plant Cell
  • Plant Cell Vs. Animal Cell
  • Cell Division
  • Mitosis Vs. Meiosis
  • Bacteria- How is it different from cells?
  • Cell structure and antibiotic Resistance
  •  What are cancer cells? Are they Dangerous?
  • Mushrooms and Molds- A brief Study of Fungi
  • Curing Cancer Cells
  •  Stem Cells- A brief Study
  • Embryonic vs Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells
  • Adults vs Induced Pluripotent stem Cells 
  • The Build of Human DNA
  • Components of DNA
  • Chromosomes- A brief Study
  • Double Helix Structure of DNA
  • Singled celled Organisms and their DNA
  • Bacteria and its DNA
  • X and Y chromosomes
  • Genetic INformation in DNA
  • DNA modification- Its application in medicine
  • Cancer and DNA modification
  • DNA of dinosaurs
  • Do plants have DNA?

Molecular Biology

  •  Gene- A Brief History
  • Components of Gene
  • Drugs for Humans
  • Vaccine vs Drugs
  • A brief study of Gregor Mendel
  • Dominant vs recessive genes
  • Widow’s peak illustration of Genes
  • What is mutation?
  • Hormones and their functions
  • Artificial hormones for animals
  • PCR tests for analyzing DNA
  • Structure of a Molecule
  • Structure of prion
  • DNA transcription-Its applications
  • Central Dogma
  • Heredity and traits 

NeuroBiology

  • Human Nervous System- A brief description
  • Structure and components of neurons.
  • Neurons vs Animal cell
  • A brief study of electric pulses in the human brain
  • Altering reaction speed in the brain
  • Alzheimer’s disease- its study in genetics
  • Neurobiological Degeneration- does it have a cure?
  • Brain injuries and cures
  • Spinal Cord Injuries and cures
  • Narcolepsy 
  • A brief study of mental health with neurobiology
  • Various emotions and their neural pulses
  • A brief study of the human neurological system

Genetics 

  • A brief study of ancient cloning techniques
  • Reasons behind Abortion. Is it ethical
  • Procedure of abortion
  • What is human cloning? 
  • Side effects of Human Cloning
  • Goals of Human Cloning
  • Transplantation vs Human Cloning
  •  Perfect child theory. Is it ethical?
  • Gene cloning- Removal of undesirable traits.
  • Genes and ethics
  •  Gene therapy
  • Gene therapy vs Cloning
  • Curing Cancer with Gene therapy
  • Cons of Cloning

Environment and Ecology

  • A Brief Study of Charles Darwin 
  • The Evolution Theory
  • Natural Selection- the complete study
  • Mutation- A brief study with examples
  • Adaptations in animals- Study with 5 examples
  • Divergent evolution
  • Convergent evolution
  • Parallel Evolution
  • Components of a sustainable environment
  •  Environmental Friendly Practices
  • Role of Plastics in pollution
  • Alternatives for Plastic
  • Deforestation
  • Solutions for Deforestations
  • Ecological concerns
  • History of the Ozone layer
  • Change in ecology- A study of extinct animals
  • Effects of Fast Food factories
  • Reversing ecological changes
  • Climate changes and their effects
  • Global Warming
  • GreenHouse effect

Plants And Animals

  • A study of Endangered animals
  • Melatonin therapy
  • Benefits of growing plants in the home
  • A brief study of popular plant diseases
  • Effects of pesticides and herbicides
  • Immunity in plants
  • The Banana Pandemic
  • Weedy and Invasive Plants
  • Genetic analysis of plants
  • Medicinal plants- A brief study
  • Evolution in plants
  • Plants in Food production
  • Components of Photosynthesis
  • A brief study of Phytohormones
  • Antibiotics and phytocides
  • A detailed study of Stomata structure
  • Grafting techniques
  • Roots and stem modification
  • Real-life examples of taxonomy
  • Study of sweet potato Virus
  • Classifications of animals
  • Evolution of marine life
  • Prehistoric aquatic life- study of enormous creatures
  • Evolution of land-based life
  • Zoos and petting- are they ethical?
  • Drug testing on animals
  • A brief study of cows and their benefits on Humans
  • Food chain and classification
  • Vegans vs carnivores
  • Resistance in animals
  • Behavioral changes  in animals due to evolution
  • A brief study of intelligence in animals
  • Migration of birds- a brief study.
  • Study of extinct species and bringing back them
  • Types of dinosaurs
  • Male pregnancy in animals 

Marine Biology

  • Oil spilling in the ocean- strategies to mitigate
  • Ocean Acidification and its effects
  • Evolution in aquatic animals
  • Camouflage mechanism
  • Petting marine species
  • Study on Ultrasonic communication in whales
  • Role of marine shows and debate on its ethics
  • Are mermaids real?
  • A study of immortal marine species
  • Plankton and its medicinal uses
  • Underwater ecologies
  • Freshwater And Seawater
  • A brief study of coral reefs
  • Medicinal values of coral reef plants
  • Tectonic plates and underwater earthquakes

Cardiovascular 

  • Heart Rhythm and Arrhythmias
  • Preventive Cardiology
  • Hypertension
  • InterventionalCardiology
  • Heart Failure (Myocardial Biology)
  • Heart Disease in various age groups
  • Signs, symptoms and first aid for Heart Disease.
  • A study of ECG and other apparatus

Hormone Biology

  • Pregnancy and hormonal changes
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Endocrine and related diseases
  • MEntal health in different genders. 
  • Stress and immunity

Reproductive System

  • Cervical Cancer and its cure
  • A brief study of puberty
  • Contraception
  • Infertility
  • Test tube babies
  • The concept of surrogacy
  • Tubectomy and vasectomy
  • Male Reproductive complications and their cures
  • Female reproductive complications and their cure

Digestive System

  • Gastrointestinal tract- a brief study
  • Components of Digestive systems
  • A brief study of stomach and liver
  • Functions of intestines

Skeletal System

  • The function of the skeletal system
  • Type of bones
  • Functions of Sesamoid bones
  • Foods for healthy bones 
  • A brief study of Spinal Cord

Excretory System

  • The detailed study on Kidney and its Function
  • Gross Anatomy of the Urinary System
  • Reasons for Renal Calculi (Kidney Stones) and cures

Miscellaneous 

  • Coordination between muscular system and skeletal system 
  • Benefits of ecotourism
  • Extinction of bees- A brief study
  • The green revolution
  • US Grain economy
  • Agricultural practices for more yield
  • World trade of food
  • A brief study of Covid 19
  • Renewable energies and their effect on plants 
  • Bacteria and depression
  • Genes and neuron functions
  • Robotic surgeries- the study of the future. 
  • Benefits of organic farming
  • Study of various components of flower and a fruit
  • Diet and obesity
  • Various components of Brain
  • Diabetes and its cure
  • CRISPR and Genetic Engineering
  • A brief on Cell tissue engineering

Having a large number of alternatives often creates incertitude. The topics we put forward are all worth considering. Determining your area of interest can make your choice facile. For instance, if you feel genetics enticing, prefer choosing relevant topics. You may consider consulting researchers, faculty and pertinent professionals to add muscle to your research. Review our picks to see if any of those can fit your choice in making a credible research paper. 

research topics on biology education

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Biology Education

Research papers/topics in biology education, effect of inquiry approach on academic performance and text anxiety levels of biology students in cellular respiration at senior high schools in ghana.

The study investigated the effect of inquiry approach on academic performance and test anxiety levels of Biology students in cellular respiration at Senior High School. Five null hypotheses guided the study. The study adopted the constructivists’ theory. Positivists’ paradigm underpinned the study. The study employed the experimental design. The population of the study comprised all the SHS 2 students at Wesley Grammar School. The accessible and target population comprised of all SHS 2 Bi...

An Assessment of Quality of Antenatal Care Services in Primary Health Centres in Awka South Lga of Anambra State

ABSTRACT Background: Antenatal care is a basic component of any reproductive health care programme and reproductive health is one of women’s fundamental human rights. It aims to achieve optimal health outcomes for the mother and the baby through early detection of complications and prompt treatment and it is one of the recommended interventions to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality. High quality antenatal care is desirable as only adequate utilisation is not enough to reduce the poor ma...

The Efficacy of CTCA in Breaking Barriers to Students’ Learning of Difficult Concepts in Biology

Studies have shown that science in Africa stemmed from external influence and this has led to the inability of science students in Nigeria and Africa to relate with what is being taught in the classrooms. Most concepts in science are abstract, counter intuitive and not consistent with the students existing knowledge translating into the negative attitude and lack of interest students demonstrate towards science subjects which reflects in poor performance of students in these subjects. The stu...

Exploring the Efficacy of CTCA in Breaking Barriers to Students’ Learning of Difficult Concepts in Biology

Abstract Studies have shown that science in Africa stemmed from external influence and this has led to the inability of science students in Nigeria and Africa to relate with what is being taught in the classrooms. Most concepts in science are abstract, counter intuitive and not consistent with the students existing knowledge translating into the negative attitude and lack of interest students demonstrate towards science subjects which reflects in poor performance of students in these subjects...

IMPACT OF FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION/CUTTING ON GIRL CHILD EDUCATION CASE STUDY IN MUKURA KUMI DISTRICT, EASTERN UGANDA

TABLE OF CONTENTSDECLARATION IAPPROVALDEDICATIONACKNOWLEDGEMENTLIST OF ABREVIATIONS AND SYNONIMS viABSTRACTTABLE OF CONTENTSLIST OF TABLES xiBACKGROUND OF THE STUDY I1.0 Introduction 11.1 Background of the Study 11.2 Statement of the problem .41.3 Purpose of the study 41.4 Objectives of the study 41.4.1 Major objective1.4.2 Specific objective 51.6 Scope of the study 51.7 Significance of the study 61.8 Conceptual frame work 7CHAPTER TWO 8LITERATURE REVIEW ~82.1 introduction 62.1 Related litera...

Effect of Company Treatment On Bio toxicity of Tannery Waste Water in Northern Nigeria

ABSTRACT This study was carried out to evaluate the effect of company treatment on Biotoxicity of Tannery Waste Water in Northern Nigeria. Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) was used to screen for effects on growth characteristics while onion (Allium cepa) was used to test for chromosomal aberrations after exposure to company treated and untreated Tannery Waste Water. Viable seeds of S bicolor were planted in different concentrations (0, 10, 25, 40, 55, 70, 85 and 100) of treated and untreated tanner...

Effects of Aqueous Extract of Punica Granatum Seed on Triton-X100 Induced Hypercholesterolemia in Rats

TABLE OF CONTENTS Title page                                                                                                        i                        Approval page                                                                                                ii Dedicati...

Bacterial and Fungi Involved in Yogurt Production

                                                TABLE OF CONTENTS TITLE PAGE                                                                                                  i CERTIFICATION                                                                                  ...

An Insight Into The Drug Resistance Profile And Mechanism Of Drug Resistance In Neisseria Gonorrhoeae

ABSTRACT Among the aetiological agents of treatable sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), Neisseria Gonorrhea is considered to be most important, because of emerging antibiotic resistance strains that compromise the effectiveness of treatment of the disease. Gonococci infections are usually treated with single – dose therapy with an agent found to cure above 95 percent of each case, but unfortunately Neisseria gonorrhea has developed resistance to most of the antibiotic used against it, whi...

The Impact of Education on Curbing the Spread of Corona Virus (Covid-19) Among Secondary School Students in Kaduna North Local Government Area, Kaduna State

ABSTRACT   This study identified the Impact of education on curbing the spread of Corona Virus (Covid-19) among secondary school students in Kaduna North Local Government Area, Kaduna State. The Nobel Corona virus caused a lot of havoc all over the world, affecting every sectors and industries especially the education sector as the lockdown measure of government becomes often an unavoidable measure towards curbing eth spread. However, it is discovered that despite the lockdown, the deadly vi...

ASSESSMENT OF THE AVAILABILITY AND ADEQUACY OF AUDIO VISUAL RESOURCES IN TEACHING BIOLOGY EDUCATION IN UNIVERSITY OF ABUJA

ABSTRACT This study assessed the availability and adequacy of audio-visual resources in teaching biology education in University of Abuja. Three research questions were formulated to guide the study. The research design adopted for the study was a descriptive survey design. The sample of the study constituted of 80 respondents. Questionnaire was used to gather data while table, mean, percentage were used to analyse the data. The study revealed that, students find a particular topic interesti...

An Investigation into the Effects of Varying Concentrations of Natural Pesticide on the Growth of Mustard Seeds, Granum Sinapis L

This investigation was made to examine the growth of mustard seeds in a controlled environment for a length of fourteen days. Shortly after starting a biology course an article was read, discussing 'the ways in which some insecticides are counterproductive in agriculture on a mass scale. This idea was intriguing. It was initially believed pesticides could be beneficial for plant growth and agriculture, by repelling plant eating pests and other rodents.

Learning resources and biology performance of learners in selected secondary schools in chua county, kitgum district, uganda.

ABSTRACT The research study was carried out in Chua Sub County in Kitgum district. The research was basically based on a topic: “Learning resources and biology performance of learners in selected secondary schools in Chua Sub County in Kitgum district. The research was guided by a number of objectives which included the following; to find out effective ways of improving students’ biology ability, to establish the impact of learning resources on students’ performance in Chua Sub County ...

Teaching Aids And The Students' Academic Performance In Biology At Alliance Secondary School, Ibanda District, Uganda

ABSTRACT This research report established the influence the teaching aids on students' academic performance in Biology at Alliance Secondary School-Ibanda. It is composed of five chapters, the introduction, literature review, Methodology, Presentation of findings, analysis and interpretations and recommendations. The introduction shows thee background, the statement of the problem, purpose, research questions, significance and others. The major objective of the study was to establish the inf...

The Causes Of Poor Academic Performance Of Biology Subject In Kenyan Secondary Schools: A Case Study Of Kenyenya Division, Kenyenya Pronvice-Kenya

ABSTRACT The study was carried out in Kenyenya Division, Kenyenya Province of Kenya. The ainJ was to ascertain why the performance in Biology subject in Kenyenya division secondary schools was very poor. This was done by collecting data from deferent respondents using different methodologies. Data was collected from 8 head teachers, 8 biology teachers and 24 students from the selected schools in Kenyenya division. Data was analyzed both qualitatively and qualitatively and presented according ...

Projects, thesis, seminars, research papers, termpapers topics in Biology Education. Biology Education projects, thesis, seminars and termpapers topic and materials

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Home — Blog — Topic Ideas — Amazing Biology Research Topics for Students in 2023

Amazing Biology Research Topics for Students in 2023

Biology Research Topics

In essence, this type of work is intended to improve students ' ability to think critically and express their ideas in writing. When writing essays, students have to use credible sources and real-world examples to support their claims in a critical and well-structured text.

How to Write a Biology Study?

Writing a biology essay might be difficult, so you can look for free biology assignment help online if you need expert assistance. Here is a short guide on essay writing for you:

  • Build a correct essay structure.
  • Create an attention-grabbing opening.
  • Build the body as appropriate.
  • Finalize your writing.
  • Check the terms you choose to define concepts.
  • To make your essay stand out, use scientific resources.
  • Put your references and citations in order.

How to Choose a Biology Topic for Your Study?

There is a wide variety of topics that may be explored in the field of biology. Starting with the intriguing field of neuroscience, there are many other equally interesting topics to explore. However, picking the best option for your biology research paper requires some serious thought. Thus, before settling on a particular subject, you should learn a few things.

Below you can read some useful tips from professionals on picking an excellent topic of biology for your research paper.

Get specific with your topic

Biology has a broad scope, as we've seen. Therefore, the first step in choosing biology research topics for a research paper is to decide which area of biology interests you the most to learn more.

Read the most recent studies in the field

After settling on a specific research topic, reading the most recent academic literature is essential. This will give you an idea of whether your current thinking is in line with your chosen topic.

Consider just one specific topic

Biology covers a lot of topics, and even if you study ecology or animal biology, you still need to focus on something more specific. So it's time to think and narrow down the list of potential topics. 

Get the ball rolling with some rough analysis

In biology, you should always undertake background reading before deciding on a specific issue to explore. That’s why you have to verify if there is a sufficient amount of information out there. You may c your topic if you need help discovering enough relevant sources.

Draft a list of potential search terms

Creating a list of keywords that accurately describes your topic of study in biology is the first step to effective web search. Use these search terms to find research done in your area of interest.

A List of Researchable Topics for Biology

Here are some interesting topics in biology :

  • Biological Shifts of Marsupial Animals as Result of Catastrophic Wildfire.
  • Archaic Genomic Information for Better Understanding of the Evolution of Marsupial Animals.
  • Genomic Sequences of Marsupial Animals.
  • A Detailed Investigation of the Remains of Marsupials and Their Progeny.
  • Bacteria in the Stomach Which Create Human Anxiety.
  • Dependence Between Neuronal Circuits on the Genes and Proteins.
  • Biological Mechanisms That Are Responsible for the Camouflage.
  • Shifting Marine Ecosystem.
  • Significance of Chemical Ecology in Oceania.
  • Preserving Biodiversity of Coastal Areas.
  • Comprehensive Investigation into the Biology and Ecology of Coral Reefs.
  • Acquiring Knowledge of the Ecology of Plankton and the Interactions of the Food Web.
  • What Is Bioremediation?
  • Development of Contemporary Domestic Animals as a Result of Shifting Nutritional Requirements of Their Diets.
  • Comprehensive Analysis of Published Research on the Development of Microbial Ecology.

These are just some of the biology topics available to you.

Biology Research Topics for High School Students

Are you a high school student who needs some ideas for biology research projects? When compared to courses taken in a university, these are easy. Some biology topics for high school that kids may enjoy are listed below.

  • Recognizing Three Extinct Subgroups in Evolution.
  • Why Do We Sleep?
  • Exercise Effect on Metabolism.
  • An Analysis of Bird Behaviour.
  • Listening to Music and Mental State.
  • Adapting to a Changing Climate While Maintaining Biological Diversity.
  • Could the Collapse of the Bee Population Be Happening?
  • Destruction of the World's Rainforests.
  • Organic Farming and Its Many Rewards.
  • Self-Repair in Brain .
  • How Bacteria Contribute to Mood Disorders.
  • How Do Animals in the Sea Hide?
  • Symptoms of Brain Damage.
  • Producers of the Biological Factors of Chronic Fatigue.
  • Human Memory.
  • Anatomical Dissection of the Visual Cortex.
  • Depression and Oxidative Stress.
  • Effect of Hormone Replacement Therapy.
  • Mood Hormones and Their Role in Depression.
  • Instinctive Release of Oxytocin in Response to Danger. 

Even more interesting topics of biology are available on our website.

Developmental Biology Topics For Research

Learning about the mechanisms that drive cell division and differentiation is fascinating with biology topics to research . There are millions of molecular cells in the human body, and investigating how they react to various stimuli is fascinating. Below you can discover a list of intriguing biology themes to write about.

  • Specific Mechanism by Which Stem Cells Differentiate into Particular Tissue Types
  • Origination of Tumors.
  • Cellular Effects of Bacteria and Viruses.
  • Causes of Leukemia
  • Heart and Blood Vessel Growth in Youngsters.
  • Causes and Consequences do Autoimmune Illnesses.
  • Combinations of Cancer Medicines.
  • Causes of Congenital Disorders.
  • Egg Development in Drosophila.
  • Potentially Fatal Viruses.

DNA Research Topics

Looking for topics related to DNA research? Read our list below.

  • The Organizational Structure of Human DNA.
  • The Fundamental Building Blocks of a DNA Strand
  • Why Does DNA Have a Spiral Structure Like a Double Helix?
  • The Function of Chromosomes in the Cell.
  • The Relationship Between mRNA and DNA.
  • Do Single-Celled Creatures Have DNA?
  • Do Viruses Have DNA?
  • Repercussions of Having an Abnormally High or Low Number of Chromosomes.
  • Using Computers to Research the Structure of DNA.
  • Issues of DNA of Ancient Creatures Such as Mammoths or Dinosaurs.
  • The Storing of Information That Is Not Genetic in DNA.
  • Is It Possible to Encode a Computer Program into a Person's DNA?
  • What Kind of Effects Does Radiation Have on DNA?
  • Changing DNA as a Treatment for Aids.
  • Is It Possible to Treat Cancer via Modifications to DNA? 

Neurobiology Research Topics

And what about neurobiology? If you still haven't decided on a topic, check out our list below.

  • The Structure and Functionality of the Nervous System.
  • Neurons as Individual Cells Performing a Crucial Part of the Nervous System.
  • Reaction of the Nervous System to External Stimuli.
  • Treatment of Post Traumatic Syndrome.
  • Investigations into Organic Agriculture.
  • What Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease.
  • Why Do We Feel Happy or Sad: How Our Emotions Appear.
  • Neurobiology and Headaches
  • Factors That Contribute to Neurological Deterioration
  • Amnesia Treatment.
  • Root Cause of Alzheimer's Disease.
  • Therapy for Spinal Cord Injuries.
  • Reasons for Narcolepsy and Insomnia.
  • Linking Neuroscience and Mental Health.
  • Connection of Emotions with the Brain.

Environmental and Ecology Topics for Your Research

If your topic should be related to environmental protection and ecology, please check out our list below – maybe it will inspire you.

  • Damage to the Environment: What Can Be Done to Stop It?
  • What Kind of Ecological Effects Might GMO Foods Have?
  • Animal Cloning.
  • Connection Between Global Warming and Ecosystem Disruption.
  • Evolutionary Theory.
  • Mechanism of Natural Selection.
  • Adaptation of Wild Creatures to Their Surroundings.
  • Divergent and Convergent Evolution.
  • Foundation for Environmental Sustainability.
  • Modern Sustainable Communities.
  • Ways to Slow Down the Population.
  • Use of Recycling Materials.
  • Destructive Impact of Plastic on Nature.
  • Repercussions of Deforestation.
  • Consequences of Declining Biodiversity. 

Animals Biology Research Topics

Let’s move on to topics related to animal biology.

  • Concerns of Keeping Animals as Pets.
  • Moral Side of Testing Medicines and Consumer Goods on Animals.
  • Wild Animal Habitats.
  • The History of Land-Based Life and Its Evolutionary Development.
  • Intelligence of Wolves and Dogs.
  • Animals under Human Control.
  • Practice of Animal Hibernation.
  • Animals Migration.
  • Attempts to Save Endangered Species.
  • Nature Reserves vs Zoos.
  • Reasons for the Giant Size of Ancient Sea Creatures.
  • Animals Which Do Not Consume Animal Products.
  • The Social Behavior of Animals.
  • Life of Primates.
  • Kinds of Intelligence of Primates.

Marine Biology Research Topics

Interested in marine biology? Then we have 15 great topics for your essay.

  • Effects of Oil Spills on Aquatic Life.
  • Restoring Coral Reefs and Ways to Protect Them from Extinction.
  • Deep Dwellers' Life.
  • Ancient Marine Life.
  • Language of Whales.
  • Deep Sea Fauna.
  • Ethic Side of Public Aquariums.
  • Effects of Acidification on Aquatic Ecosystems.
  • The Origins of the Modern Deep Sea.
  • Camouflage in Marine Organisms.
  • Seabirds' Complex Biology and Life Cycle.
  • The Secret of Jellyfish's Eternal Life.
  • Biology of Plankton.
  • Marine Life in Saltwater and Freshwater.
  • The Significance of Coral Reefs. 

Zoology Research Topics

Would you like to highlight the problems in the field of zoology? Our 15 topics will help you with this.

  • Viruses and Other Infectious Diseases Caused by Parasites.
  • Directions for Killer Bee Migration.
  • Analysis of Melville's Moby Dick's Portrayal of Animal Species.
  • Human Language and Asian Elephants.
  • Genome Variations and Evolution of Oysters.
  • The Galápagos Islands and Darwin's Theory of Evolution.
  • Evaluation of Invasive Species: Asian Carp.
  • Role of Animal Communication.
  • Communication of African Gray Parrots.
  • Truth about Giant Squids.
  • Wolf-Coyote Hybrids in the United States.
  • Plankton Variety.
  • The Significance of Camels to the Economic Growth of Africa and the Middle East.
  • Small-Water Adaptations in Muskellunge and Creeks.
  • Ants and Interspecies Cooperation.

Genetics Research Topics

If you decide to focus on genetics, you should definitely check out the list of essay topics below.

  • Structure of Genes.
  • Advantages and Disadvantages of Genetic Engineering.
  • Bioethics and Changes in the Modern World.
  • Mutations in Genes for HIV Treatment.
  • Mutations in Genes.
  • Influence of Genetics on Cancer.
  • Confidentiality of the Genetic Code.
  • Determination of a Person's Sex before Conception.
  • Treatment of Children with Intellectual Disabilities at the Level of Genetics.
  • Determinants of Human Behavior in the Genome.
  • Genetic Modification.
  • Effects of Addiction on DNA.
  • Genetic Testing.
  • Long-Term Benefits and Drawbacks of Humankind Cloning. 
  • Genetic Predisposition to Fat.

Biotechnology Research Topics

Do you plan to cover the subject of biotechnology? Check out our 15 topics, you might find them useful.

  • Nanotechnology and DNA.
  • Up-to-Date Nanotechnology for HIV Therapy.
  • Food-sSafety-Focused Biotech Applications.
  • Most Recent Advancements in Biotechnology.
  • Impact of Digital Technology on the Future of Biomedical Research.
  • Vaccination.
  • The Application of Biotechnology to Plant Science.
  • Biotechnology and Food Supply.
  • What Is Pharmacogenetics?
  • Long-Term Results of Anti-Cancer Medications.
  • Tolerance to Heavy Metals.
  • Technological Advancements in Cancer Diagnosis.
  • Forensic DNA Technology.
  • Alterations in Cellular Metabolism.
  • Treatments for Respiratory Viruses, Enhanced by Nanotechnology.

Evolutionary Biology Research Topics

Do you have anything to say about evolutionary biology? In that case, feel free to consider our 15 topics.

  • Infectious Diseases Affected by Ecological and Evolutionary Factors.
  • Variations in a Gene Pool Constitute Evolution.
  • Moral Perspective on Individualism as an Outcome of Forcible Evolution.
  • The Predictive Power of Artificial Intelligence-Based Models and the Learning Processes of Humans.
  • An Overview of Morphometrics' Past.
  • The Population Genome and the Theory of Development.
  • Changes in Bacterial Ecology.
  • Effects and Consequences of Biological Evolution.
  • Professions Related to Infectious Illnesses.
  • Contrasting Natural Selection with Other Forms of Evolutionary Pressure.
  • People Education on Variety of Earth's Life Forms.
  • Processes of Evolutionary Biology as Seen by Invertebrates.
  • The Concept of Genetic Mobility and the Philosophical Value of Individual Liberation.
  • Supporting Evidence for Evolutionary Processes: Common Ancestors.
  • What Charles Darwin Left Behind and Why His Ideas Haven't Changed Much.

Human Biology Research Topics

And finally, our 15 topics in human biology.

  • Blood Compatibility Testing.
  • Support of Body's Natural Defenses against Infection.
  • Obesity Issues.
  • Dieting in Modern Life.
  • Long-Term Effects of Diabetes.
  • Human Brain Anatomy.
  • Distinctions Between Male and Female Skeletons.
  • Causes of Dwarfism.
  • Albinism in Modern People’s Life.
  • Race and Height Dependency.
  • Issues of Life Support Equipment.
  • Microcosm of People’s Life Cycle.
  • Mild Activities as Help to the Heart.
  • Factors and Properties of Human Red Blood Cells. 
  • HIV/AIDS as Humanity's Worst Disease. 

The fields of science and biology are broad, which makes studying more laborious. Use our list of intriguing study topics in biology to select the subject matter that will most effectively serve as the basis for your essay.

Even if the topic of the biology research paper is fascinating, it is still challenging to complete the work to a good standard. Do you feel like you need some help with a biology research paper ?

Welcome to Gradesfixer!

You may rely on our experts to select the most interesting topics for your biology research. At the same time, our sources are available to you completely free of charge right now and can give you some additional inspiration.

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research topics on biology education

Voices Of Impact Speaker Series Brings Research In Education And Human Development To Stage

research topics on biology education

Texas A&M University’s School of Education and Human Development will host its eighth annual Voices of Impact speaker series on Feb. 27. Researchers will share their expertise and perspectives on issues impacting society in ways that make the research understandable and accessible to all.

This year, 12 faculty members will each deliver five-minute speeches showcasing the breadth of research at the School of Education and Human Development. This year’s topics include the journey of developing a drug from the laboratory to a patient’s bedside, identifying language and learning disabilities in children, and the role money plays in college athletics.

Voices of Impact 2024 will take place in the Memorial Student Center’s Bethancourt Ballroom at Texas A&M University on Tuesday, Feb. 27. Doors will open at 5 p.m. with food and beverages served before presentations begin at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to all; a reception with the speakers will follow the event.

For more information, including parking and accessibility information, visit tx.ag/voicesofimpact .

Media contact: Ruben Hidalgo, [email protected] , 979-458-0506

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Project / Seminar Research Topics and Materials on Biology Education

Biology Education Project Topics

Biology Education Project / Seminar Research Topics and Materials

Welcome to Samphina Academy, this is the Official Project / Seminar Material Library for all students of the department of Biology Education. The topics listed here can be used as guide to carryout academic research work for either Undergraduate / Postgraduate Project, Seminar or Thesis. We pride ourselves in rendering quality services.

The aim of providing these materials is to reduce the stress of moving from one school library to another all in the name of searching for research materials on Biology Education.

HOW IT WORKS

  • Save our contact on your phone – 08143831497 (Samphina Academy)
  • Select about 3 topics from this page and submit to your supervisor for approval
  • Send the approved topic to us on WhatsApp to get the complete material

That’s all, and you are good to go. T & C Apply

Contact Us

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List of Biology Education Project / Seminar Topics for Nigerian Students

Click Here to Check Research Topics for Other Departments

  • Students’ Perception Of Biology Classroom Environment On Their Academic Achievement In Senior Secondary Schools
  • Effect Of Class Size On Students Achievement In O’Level Biology Examination
  • The Strategies For Effective Teaching Of Biology In The Secondary Schools
  • Biology Teachers’ Awareness And Utilization Of Innovative Teaching Strategies
  • Attitude Of Science School Student Towards Practical Biology In Kontagora Niger State
  • Effect Of Biology Practical On The Secondary School Students Academic Performance In Biology In Enugu State (A Case Study Of Enugu North Local Government Area Of Enugu State) 
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Simon Fraser University Engaging the World

Student services, summer calendar.

  • A-Z directory

Please note:

To view the Spring 2024 Academic Calendar, go to www.sfu.ca/students/calendar/2024/spring.html .

Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

This program provides advanced education and research training for a career in academia, industry or the public sector and emphasizes development of research skills in combination with relevant course work. The program is of interest to those wishing to use cutting edge laboratory and/or computational approaches to address research problems in biology, biochemistry or biomedical disciplines.

Admission Requirements

Applicants must satisfy the university admission requirements as stated in Graduate General Regulations 1.3 in the SFU Calendar. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree in a relevant discipline and should preferably have research experience. In addition, applicants must have found a supervisor who is willing to support their application. Applicants should contact faculty members directly to discuss their research interests and confirm the availability of funding and space in their research group. Only students having a proposed supervisor can be considered for admission to the program.

Program Requirements

This program consists of required courses, elective courses, and a thesis for a minimum of 30 units.

Students must complete

An introductory course for graduate students in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (MBB). Lecture presentations include general information for students starting graduate studies; effective research writing and presentation skills; fundamentals for proper data and statistical analysis; research ethics and policies for professional equality, diversity, and inclusiveness; professional skills for scientific careers.

In accompaniment with the weekly MBB departmental seminar series, students will read relevant literature from the speaker’s laboratory to participate in the scientific discussion that follows each seminar. Approaches for providing effective seminar presentations will also be discussed. Students must take MBB 803 twice, in two consecutive offerings, at the first opportunity in the MBB graduate program (fall and spring or spring and fall).

and one unit of MBB colloquia by completing one of

Recent research articles on the molecular mechanisms underlying cellular activities will be presented and discussed by students and faculty, with an emphasis on critically analyzing concepts, experimental design, and methodology. A student may not take more than 3 units of colloquia for credit. Prerequisite: BISC 331/ MBB 331 or equivalent.

Recent research articles on modern genomic techniques will be presented and discussed by students and faculty, with an emphasis on critical analysis of the concepts, experimental design, technologies and the practical application of bioinformatics algorithms. A student may not take more than 3 units of colloquia. Prerequisite: It is recommended that students have previously taken one introductory computer-programming course (e.g. CMPT 102 , 110 , 120 , 130 or equivalent) and one introductory statistics course (e.g. STAT 201 , 270 or equivalent); or permission of the instructor.

Recent research articles on the structure, function, and interactions of macromolecules including proteins, nucleic acids, and lipids, as well as their complexes, will be presented and discussed by students and faculty, with an emphasis on critical analysis of the concepts and experimental design and methods. Prerequisite: BISC 331/ MBB 331 or equivalent.

and an additional six elective graduate units

(These courses are chosen in consultation with the supervisory committee and can include appropriate courses from MBB and/or other departments.)

and a thesis

Graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis.

A major part of the program is original research. A thesis describing the research is submitted and defended in accordance with Graduate General Regulations.

* Must be taken twice. This course must be taken at the first opportunity in the graduate program for two consecutive offerings (spring and fall or fall and spring).

Research Seminar Series

Students are expected to attend the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry research seminar series, even after completing MBB 803 twice.

Program Length

Students are expected to complete the program requirements in six terms.

Other Information

Interdisciplinary oncology graduate specialization (iogs).

This specialization is for students who are interested in gaining exposure to diverse facets of cancer-related research. Application to the program is through the interdisciplinary oncology graduate specialization steering committee. The program consists of required courses, elective courses, and a thesis for a minimum of 30 units.

The MSc program requirements for this specialization are as follows:

Students must complete the following

This course covers the biology and epidemiology of cancer and theories behind prevention, diagnosis and treatment of different types of cancer. A major goal of the course is to integrate knowledge and research on the biology of cancer with all disciplines in oncology. This course can only be taken once, either during an MSc or during a PhD. Prerequisite: Enrollment in a participating graduate program. No specific courses are prerequisites.

Features cancer-related research by trainees and faculty located at the BC Cancer Research Centre and other sites. Topics include recent developments in the molecular basis of oncogenesis, cancer bioinformatics, cancer epidemiology, cancer treatment and other clinical studies, and ethical issues. Students are required to present seminars on their research. Students undertaking the interdisciplinary oncology graduate specialization must enroll in this course throughout their entire time as a graduate student. This course can be taken twice, if a student does the interdisciplinary oncology graduate specialization (IOGS) as an MSc student, and also does it as a PhD student. Students who transfer from MSc to PhD would only take it once. Graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis. Prerequisite: Enrollment in a participating graduate program. No specific courses are prerequisites.

A major part of the MSc specialization program will be devoted to original research. A thesis describing the work must be submitted and defended in accordance with SFU Graduate General Regulations.

Optional Specialization in Translational and Integrative Neuroscience (TRAIN)

Application to TRAIN is through the TRAIN steering committee. Students must fulfill all Departmental requirements for the MSc.

To receive TRAIN specialization, students must complete both NEUR courses with a grade of B+ or higher. These courses can be taken as part of graduate elective course requirements for this program.

Students must complete all of

Covers fundamental concepts related to the basic cellular neurobiology of neurons and other nervous system cells, neuronal pathfinding, electrophysiology, dendritic organization, axonal transport, plasticity, and signal transduction, as well as the integration of neurons into neural circuits and diseases of the nervous system. This course can only be taken once, either during a Masters or Doctoral program.

Fundamental concepts related to information processing (sensing, encoding, planning, decision-making, execution) by neural circuits are discussed. Topics include: neural communication, sensorimotor control of movement, neuroplasticity, and diseases of the brain. Issues of experimental design and application of modern neuroscience methods will be integrated across these topics. Additional topics will vary depending on the year. This course can only be taken once, either during a Masters or Doctoral program.

and participate in at least two TRAIN workshops over the course of their degree

Workshops focus on providing students with skills to facilitate the translation of neuroscience, broadly defined, for the benefit of society. Faculty members at SFU as well as relevant clinicians and company representatives will run these workshops. Topics may include: how to translate fundamental questions into clinical-oriented questions; how to perform clinical research; how to start a spin-off company; how to pitch ideas for commercialization; how to work with industry; how drug-discovery works; and how to communicate to different audiences. All topics will relate specifically to neuroscience. Graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis. Prerequisite: Enrollment in translational and integrative neuroscience graduate specialization or permission from lead workshop organizer.

*Workshops will normally be offered approximately once per term and will be approximately three hours in duration.

For more information on TRAIN, please see Translational and Integrative Neuroscience .

Academic Requirements within the Graduate General Regulations

All graduate students must satisfy the academic requirements that are specified in the Graduate General Regulations , as well as the specific requirements for the program in which they are enrolled.

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