You are here

You are here

Mark Decker

Teaching Associate Professor

Degrees earned

  • Ph.D. Conservation Biology, University of Minnesota, 2000: Gene flow and genetic structure in a spatially-structured beetle population, Kendall Corbin, adviser

  • M.S. Biological Sciences, Purdue University, 1990.

  • B.S. Natural Resources, University of Michigan, 1983

Curriculum Vitae

Research interests

Use of data-centric inquiry activities on development of critical thinking skills; role of human social interactions in functioning of team-based learning; role of case studies in attitudes toward and acceptance of scientific findings by non-science majors.

  • National Academies of Science Education Mentor in the Life Sciences, 2011-2014
  • Science Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction, American Association for the Advancement of Science (with S. Wick, D. Matthes, and R. Wright), 2013
  • National Academies Education Fellow in the Life Sciences, National Academies of Science, 2004-2005

Research statement

Teaching large numbers of undergraduates has encouraged an interest in identifying effective methods for engaging students. I and colleagues published a 2008 study which reported significant improvement in content knowledge due to the use of active learning approaches (an article still among that journal’s most cited). My background in evolutionary biology has also promoted an interest in exploring how the functioning of collaborative teams is influenced by basic human social behavior. The dynamics of human groups — i.e., in-group vs. out-group membership — likely affects how teams operate: anecdotal evidence suggests students evaluate more positively the work of team mates as compared to work by other teams. I am launching a project to examine this response which will also study how empathy toward peers is influenced by team membership. I hope this work will augment understanding of human behavior and will help identify best practices for creating/managing learning teams.

Teaching statement

My goal in the classroom is straightforward: the student should be an active participant in their education. Guided by economist Herbert Simon’s observation that “learning results from what the student does and thinks, and only from what the student does and thinks,” I aim to create learning environments that require the student to be actively engaged while providing them with the tools to integrate and even create new knowledge. My principal method is to mine the primary literature for the bases of engaging student-centered inquiry activities. Science is evidence-based and students (including non-majors) should constantly be tasked with thinking like a scientist and with building understanding of scientific principles by reference to evidence (“how do we know what we know?”). The primary literature is also replete with amazing stories, so engagement of the student is promoted by the sometimes unbelievable -- but real -- observations reported in the literature.

  • BIOL 1001: Evolutionary and Ecological Perspectives
  • BIOL 1003: Evolution and Biology of Sex
  • BIOL 1009: General Biology
  • BIOL 1805: Nature of Life
  • BIOL 1905: Freshman Seminar (Darwin's Dangerous Idea; The Evolutionary Biology of You)
  • BIOL 2002: Foundations of Biology I
  • BIOL 2003: Foundations of Biology II
  • BIOL 3960H: Honors Seminar - Communication in Science

Wick, S., M. Decker, D. Matthes, R. Wright. 2013. Students propose genetic solutions to societal problems. Science 341:1467-1468

Moore, R., M. Decker, and S. Cotner. 2009. Chronology of the Evolution-Creationism Controversy. Greenwood Press, Westport CT (Book)

Walker, J.D., S.H, Cotner, P.M. Baepler, and M.D. Decker. 2008. A delicate balance: Integrating active learning into a large lecture course. CBE-Life Sciences Education 7:361–367

Moore, R. and M.D. Decker. 2008. More than Darwin: An Encyclopedia of the People and Places of the Evolution-Creationism Controversy. Greenwood Press, Westport CT (Book)

Decker, M.D. 2005. Why intelligent design isn’t intelligent: Review of Unintelligent Design. Cell Biology Education 4:121-122

Incorporating Active Learning into University Teaching, Symposium on the Future of Teaching Spaces, Uppsala University (Sweden), 2014

Evolution and the K-12 teacher, EngrTEAMS: Engineering to Transform the Education of Analysis, Measurement, 2014

What is evolution and how should you teach it?, Region 11 Math & Science Teacher Academy Partnership, 2011 and 2012

Active learning classrooms - enhanced education with integrated technology, Annual Conference of the Society for College and University Planning (with J. Todd, and R. Trit), 2012

Active learning classrooms: enhancing education with integrated technology, Society for College and University Planning (webinar; with J. Todd and M. Hites), 2012

If we build it: active learning classrooms at the research university, National Forum on Active Learning Classrooms, 2013

Active learning in undergraduate education. Viterbo University, 2013

SCALE-UP classrooms and active learning. University of North Dakota, 2013

Active learning, Florida A & M University, 2013

Scientific teaching and active learning, Michigan Technological University, 2014

University of Minnesota

  • Associate Head, Department of Biology Teaching and Learning (2014 - present)
  • Co-Director: Biology Program, University of Minnesota (2008 - 2014)
  • Associate Director, Biology Program, University of Minnesota (2006 - 2008)
  • Teaching Associate Professor, Biology Program, University of Minnesota (2005 - present)
  • Education Specialist: General Biology Program, University of Minnesota (1998 - 2005)

Kansas State University

  • Assistant professor (tenure-track): Division of Biology, Kansas State University (1996-1998)

  • State of Minnesota K-12 Science Standards Committee
  • Advisory Committee, Biology Society, and Environment major, University of Minnesota
  • Biology Program Advisory Committee, University of Minnesota

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