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Brian Gibbens

Teaching Associate Professor

Degrees earned

  • PhD Molecular, Cellular, Developmental Biology & Genetics- University of Minnesota, 2011: Unexpected Repeat Associated Proteins; Laura Ranum, adviser
  • BS Genetics, Cell Biology & Development, University of Minnesota, 2005

BioSketch | Curriculum Vitae | Minnesota Mississippi Metagenome Project

Research interests

Student Motivation; Critical and Creative Thinking; Curricular Systems; Digital Biology; Metagenomics; Scientific Teaching; Classroom-based Authentic Research Experiences; Team-based, Collaborative Learning; Active Learning Classrooms

Awards and honors

  • CBS Super Fan, The Fifth Annual Golden Pipette Awards, 2017-2018
  • Funniest Professor (runner-up), The Fourth Annual Golden Pipette Awards, 2016-2017
  • Most Passionate Professor (Lower Division), The Third Annual Golden Pipette Awards, 2015-2016
  • Most Creative Teaching Style Award, The Second Annual Golden Pipette Awards, 2014-2015
  • National Academies Education Mentor in the Life Sciences, 2012
  • National Academies Education Fellow in the Life Sciences, 2011
  • University of Minnesota Muscle Center Training Grant 2008-2009

Research statement

My primary research interest is the development and application of evidence-based teaching practices that increase student engagement and performance. To that end, I strive to improve student motivation and self-efficacy through gamification, metacognition, critical and creative thinking, and scientific writing. Every semester presents a new opportunity to learn something about my students, so I strive to collect survey and/or performance data whenever I can. My current research projects focus on the connections between student motivation, self-efficacy, and career relevance. Learning which topics are most relevant to students can help instructors highlight connections between class topics and careers. In the future, I also intend to further BTL’s mission by exploring the effect motivation has on student performance, procrastination, and retention as well as ways to increase the quality and quantity of critical and creative thinking in the classroom.

Teaching statement

With thousands of peer-reviewed biology articles being published every year, how does one best decide what to teach? My solution is to teach students the skills they will need to succeed rather than focusing exclusively on the memorization and fact regurgitation. These transferrable/generalizable skills include problem solving, brainstorming, writing, presenting, time management and teamwork. I teach my students how to find, read, and evaluate peer-reviewed papers, and also teach them to think critically and creatively when formulating hypotheses and designing experiments. Much of class time is used for active learning activities which force students to tackle real world issues by thinking like biologists. I ignite student enthusiasm by sharing my own, and by showing how class topics relate to world events and students’ future careers. Finally, I am a firm believer in using backward design and Bloom’s taxonomy to identify learning goals and plan assessments before creating teachable units.

Favorite teaching innovation or approach

With a myriad of cell parts to cover it is easy for educators to become locked into marathon presentations that become taxing for both the instructor and the students. How can we cover this topic with the depth and breadth it deserves while simultaneously engaging the students? I have designed the “Cells: A World A Part” activity to do exactly that. In this activity, student groups are each assigned a different cell part. Students write down everything they know about their cell part and then compete to see who can ask the most questions about it. Students search the primary literature for answers and propose experiments to address their question when no answer exists. Students also learn the practical value of this knowledge when they uncover how these cell parts relate to human disease. Each group shares their findings with a mini-PowerPoint presentation.

Courses taught

  • Biol 1805 – Nature of Life, “Critical and Creative Thinking in Biology” (student success program required for all first and second year CBS students)
  • Biol 1905 – Freshman seminars (How to Win a Nobel Prize, 2013)
  • Biol 1905 – Freshman seminars (Biology at the Movies)
  • Biol 1951 – Foundations of Biology 1: Evolution and Genetics
  • Biol 2003 – Foundations of Biology 2: Ecology and Biochemistry

Representative publications

Gibbens B. B. Measuring Motivation in an Introductory Biology Course. ABT. 81 (1) 20-26, (2019).

Gibbens, B. B., Scott, C. L., Hoff, C. D. & Schottel, J. L. Exploring Metagenomics in the Laboratory of an Introductory Biology Course. J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. 16, 34–40 (2015).

Gibbens, B. B., Williams, M. A., Strain, A. K., & Hoff, C. D. M. Comparison of Biology Student Performance in Quarter and Semester Systems. Coll. Univ. 90, 12–26 (2015).

Gibbens, B. B., Gettle, N., Thompson, S. & Muller, K. Using Gamification to Teach Undergraduate Students about Scientific Writing. CourseSource 2, 1–9 (2015).

Gibbens, B. B., Bad Cell Reception? Using a cell part activity to help students appreciate cell biology, with an improved data plan and no loss in coverage. CourseSource 1, 1–10 (2014).

Zu, T., Gibbens, B. al. Non-ATG-initiated translation directed by microsatellite expansions. PNAS 108, 260–265 (2011).

Recent presentations, invited seminars and workshops

Brian Gibbens and Cheryl Scott, Exploring Metagenomics in the Laboratory of an Introductory Biology Course, Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER) National Meeting, 2015, University of Minnesota Twin-Cities, MN

Brian Gibbens, Play-on-Words: The Biology Writing Game, Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER) National Meeting, 2015, University of Minnesota Twin-Cities, MN

American Society of Microbiology Conference for Undergraduate Educators (ASMCUE), “A Simple, Engaging, and Effective Activity for Teaching Students About Cell Parts”, Danvers (MA), 2014

American Society of Microbiology General Meeting, Boston (MA), 2014

Biology Leadership Conference, Amelia Island Plantation Resort (FL), 2014

Crash Course in Scientific Teaching Workshop, “Examples of Active Learning Activities”, University of Minnesota, (2014)

Early Career Faculty Program, University of Minnesota, 2013-2014

Biology Program Faculty Meetings: “How to give an astonishingly good presentation”, University of Minnesota, 2013

POGIL SC Regional Workshop: Foundations of Biology: “Thinking like a Scientist”, Washington University - Danforth campus, 2013

National Academies Northstar Summer Institute (NANSI), “The NANSI Lexicon”, University of Minnesota, 2013

Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER) National Meeting 2013, University of Minnesota, 2013

Diversity in the Curriculum Workshop, University of Minnesota, 2013

AAC&U Next Generation STEM Learning: Investigate, Innovate, Inspire Conference, “Bringing Authentic Research into the Classroom: The Metagenomics Model”, Kansas City (MO), 2012

Metagenomics Teaching Workshop, several talks including: “Basic Microbiology”, “Introduction to Metagenomics”, “Teaching with Bioinformatics”, “Bringing Metagenomics into the Classroom”, “Using DNA to Classify Bacteria”, and “Antibiotic Resistance: A Growing Threat”, University of Minnesota, 2012 & 2013

STEM Colloquium, “Teaching with Metagenomics”, McNamara Alumni Center, University of Minnesota, July 2012

Math and Science Teacher Partnership Celebration, “Teaching with Metagenomics”, District 287, Plymouth (MN), 2012

Conversations of Teaching and Learning, “Bringing Bioinformatics into the Classroom”, University of Minnesota, 2012

Scientific Teaching for Postdocs, “Morphogens”, University of Minnesota, 2012

Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER) National Meeting 2012, University of Minnesota, 2012

National Academies Northstar Summer Institute (NANSI) for Undergraduate Science Education 2012, University of Minnesota, 2012

InSciED Out: Bringing Authentic Zebrafish Research to High Schools, Mayo Clinic, 2012

College of Veterinary Medicine Education Day, University of Minnesota, 2012

National Academies Northstar Summer Institute (NANSI) for Undergraduate Science Education 2011, University of Minnesota, 2011

Poster presentations

Brian Gibbens, Mary Williams, and Anna Strain, Biology Student Performance in Quarter and Semester Systems, Biology Teaching and Learning Open House, 2015, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, MN

Brian Gibbens, Mary Williams, and Anna Strain, Biology Student Performance in Quarter and Semester Systems, Biology Leadership Conference, 2014, Amelia Island Plantation Resort, FL

Brian Gibbens, Mary Williams, and Anna Strain, Biology Student Performance in Quarter and Semester Systems, SABER, 2013, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, MN

Professional experience

University of Minnesota, College of Biological Sciences

  • Assistant Professor, Department of Biology Teaching and Learning (2012 – present)
  • HHMI Teaching Fellow/Post-doc, Biology Program, (Michael Sadowsky, Advisor; 2011-2012)
  • Graduate Research Assistant, MCDB&G Program, (Laura Ranum, Advisor; 2006-2011)

Inver Hills Community College, Inver Grove Heights

  • Adjunct Faculty, Department of Biology (2011)

St. Olaf College, Northfield

  • Adjunct Faculty, Natural Sciences and Mathematics Department (2011)

North Hennepin Community College, Brooklyn Park

  • Adjunct Faculty, Department of Biology (2009)

Service and public outreach

Service to the Biology Teaching and Learning Department

  • Observation of Peer Teaching to Improve Instruction (OPT-IN) Committee (Chair) (2016-Present)     
  • Foundations of Biology Course Director (2016-Present)
  • Analyzing CBS Engagement Survey Action Items (2018)
  • Crash Course in Scientific Teaching Workshop Facilitator (2014)
  • BTL Professional Development Funds Committee (2013-2014)

Service to the College of Biological Sciences

  • CBS Sneak Preview Events and American Indian Visits (2013-Present)
  • CBS Honors Thesis Reviewer (2017-Present)
  • CBS Freshman Seminars
    • Biology at the Movies (2017-Present)
    • How to Win a Nobel Prize (2013)
  • CBS Student Services Presentation: “The Nuts and Bolts of the Foundations of Biology Course” (2017)
  • Coffee and Conversations with CBS Students Program (2016)
  • CBS Learning Technology Governance Committee (2014-2015)
  • Nature of Life-“Critical and Creative Thinking in Biology” Learning Module (2014)
  • CBS TA Award Committee (2010-2014)
  • CBS BIOL1009 Laboratory Manual Contributing Author (2013)

Service to the University of Minnesota and Outreach

  • CIS Writ 1201 Field Day “Writing in the Sciences” for High School students (2016-Present)
  • STEMWrite Institute Facilitator (2018)
  • March for Science Participant and Organizer (2017-2018)
  • Metagenomics Teaching Workshop (2013-2014)

Journal Reviewer Experience

  • PLOS ONE Reviewer (2016-Present)
  • CourseSource Reviewer (2013-Present)

Jurors for artistic/creative works

  • Minnesota Academy of Science Regional Science Bowl (2017)
  • Science Fair Judge at Friends School of Minnesota (2014)

Current grants

  • CBS Digital Biology Initiative; $25,000 (focuses on using web-based technologies in courses and labs to promote increased learning for biology majors and non-majors), College of Biological Sciences, University of Minnesota; 2013-2014

5-220 Moos
515 Delaware Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455