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Robin Wright



Degrees earned

  • PhD Biological Sciences, Carnegie-Mellon University, 1985: Mutational Analysis of Flagellar Number Control in Algae; Jonathan Jarvik, adviser
  • BS Biology (magna cum laude), University of Georgia, 1979


Research interests

Scientific Teaching; Faculty Development; Classroom-based Authentic Research Experiences; Dissemination of Teaching Innovation; Team-based, Collaborative Learning; Active Learning Classrooms

Awards and honors

  • Elizabeth W. Jones Award for Excellence in Education from the Genetics Society of America, 2014
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, 2012
  • National Academies of Science Education Mentor in the Life Sciences, 2004 - 2014
  • University of Washington Distinguished Teaching Award, 2000
  • Senior Fellow, University of Washington Faculty Fellows program, 1997 - 2002
  • Jahn Award from Society of Protozoologists, 1984
  • Magna cum Laude, 1979
  • Phi Beta Kappa, 1979

Research statement

My research interests fall into the general theme of scientific teaching.  I have explored the effectiveness of team-based collaborative learning for more than 10 years.  I am also very interested in how active learning classrooms support student learning and development of professional identities.  Through my work with the Nature of Life program, I have begun to explore when and how students develop identities as a biologist and how that identity impacts retention and graduation.  This question is currently a central component of our HHMI Undergraduate Science Education grant.  Finally, through my work with the National Academies Alliance for Scientific Teaching and the new CourseSource journal, I am interested in faculty development and dissemination/adoption of specific teaching strategies.

Teaching statement

I am dedicated to implementing evidence-based, scholarly strategies in my teaching and curriculum development work.  As a result, my role as teacher is to design problems, assignments, projects, activities, field-trips, demonstrations, questions, workshops, labs, etc., through which students will be able to use the concepts they learn to analyze data and create solutions to real world problems.  Although this approach is noticeable in all of the classes I teach, it is most apparent in Biology 2002, the first semester of the required course for all biological science majors in CBS.  The lecture portion of this class has changed so profoundly that we call it “Concept Lab,” because it is where students analyze and apply what they learn, and where they synthesize that knowledge in creative ways.  A wealth of research supports the value of such student-centered, active-learning approached for concept mastery and retention. 

Favorite teaching innovation or approach

Take home exams: In the sections of Foundations of Biology that I co-teach, we assign take-home exams, affectionately called “celebrations of learning” by my colleague, Mark Decker.  On Saturday, the exam is posted on the course website and the entire following week of class time is devoted to work on the exam.  The exam questions require students to do the work of biologists (read research literature, analyze data, use gene databases, etc.).  Exam week gives students time to revise and update their work over an extended period of time, allowing students to complete intervals of sleep and reengagement with a problem, which we know is a very effective learning strategy.  I relish creating challenging, interesting exams that students will enjoy working on. Although they may not initially relish the time and effort they need to devote to take-home exams, most students eventually admit that they learn a lot through that effort.

Courses taught

  • Biol 1805 – Nature of Life (student success program required for all first and second year CBS students)
  • Biol 1905 – Freshman seminars (Death by Hamburger (Prion Diseases); Gene(sis): Exploring the interface between Science and Art; Alien Biology: exploring the biology in science fiction; Marine Microcosms; 2012 - present
  • Biol 3700 – Gateway to Research; Marine Biology
  • Biol 3960H – Senior Honors Colloquium (Thesis Writing)
  • Biol4321 – Deconstructing Biology Research for Non-scientists (writing intensive)
  • Biol 2002 – Foundations of Biology 1: Evolution and Genetics

Representative publications

Wright, R. 2014.  Why Meiosis Matters: The case of the fatherless snake.  CourseSource (in press)

Wright, R. 2014.  The Science Behind Parthenogenesis: Interesting things happen when meiosis goes “wrong”.  CourseSource (in press)

Wright, R., A. Connover, and R. Schnell. 2014.  The Magic of Doctopus: A quick and easy way to deliver pre-named, pre-shared Google documents directly to your students’ Google drive.  CourseSource (in press)

Pfund,C., S. Miller, K. Brenner, P. Bruns, A. Chang, D. Ebert-May, A.Fagen, J. Gentile, S. Gossens, I. Khan, J. Labov, C. M. Pribbenow, M. Susman, L. Tong, R. Wright, W. Wood, R.Yuan, J. Handelsman. 2009.  Summer Institute to Improve Undergraduate Science Teaching.  Science 324:470-471.

Wright, R., S. Cotner, and A. Winkel. 2009. Minimal impact of organic chemistry prerequisite on student performance in Introductory Biochemistry. Life Sci Educ. 8:44-54.

Wright, R. (2005) Points of View: Content versus Process: Is This a Fair Choice? Undergraduate Biology Courses for Nonscientists: Toward a Lived Curriculum; Cell Biology Education 4:189 -196.

Wright, R. and J. Boggs. 2002.  Learning Cell Biology as a Team: A Project-based Approach to Upper-division Cell Biology.  Cell Biology Education 1: 145-153.

Recent presentations, invited seminars, and workshops

Start where you are: formative assessment strategies for improving learning, 2012, Scientific Teaching Forum, Pune, India

Teaching more by talking less: leveraging the potential of active learning classrooms to help students learn, University of North Dakota, 2012

Start where you are: incorporating scientific teaching principles into your existing lectures, University of North Dakota, 2012

Active Learning: Putting “how people learn” to work, Active Learning Symposium, Champlain University, Montreal, 2012

Active Learning Classrooms help us use what really works to teach what really matters, Minnesota Regents and Legislators, 2013

Teach what really matters; use what really works, Johns Hopkins University, 2013

Start where you are: incorporating scientific teaching principles into your existing lectures, Johns Hopkins University, 2013

Teach what really matters; use what really works; The Ohio University, 2013

The Biology of Teaching and the Future of Higher Education; The Ohio University, 2013

Teach what really matters; use what really works; Florida A&M University, 2013

The Biology of Teaching Biology; Florida A&M University, 2013

Teach what really matters; use what really works; Keynote, University of Maryland, 2013

Leveraging Active Learning Spaces to Maximize Student Learning; Keynote, Case Western Reserve University, 2013

Beyond the MOOC: Leveraging the Biology of Learning in Higher Education; Stanford Research Institute, 2013

The Active Learning Classroom: A 6-year Retrospective of “flipping” an intro biology course; Workshop, American Society for Microbiology Conference on Undergraduate Education, 2013

Student-centered Strategies: Workshop, University of California, Los Angeles, 2013

Peer Observation and Evidence of Learning; Cotrell Scholars, American Association of Universities, 2014

Space Matters: Maximizing Student Learning and Engagement; University of New Mexico, 2014

Start where you are: Active learning one step at a time; Arizona State University, 2014

How Active Learning Spaces Affect Learning & Teaching; University of Georgia, 2014

Adapting Your Lecture to a SCALE-up Environment; University of Georgia, 2014

CourseSource: a journal for publishing evidence-based teaching resources, Bioinformatics Research Coordination Network, 2014

Professional experience

University of Minnesota, College of Biological Sciences

  • Head, Department of Biology Teaching and Learning (2014 – present)
  • Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Initiatives; College of Biological Sciences (2014 – present)
  • Director, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Program for Undergraduate Education(2010– present)
  • Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs(2003– 2014)
  • Professor, Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development (2003 – present)

University of Washington

  • Associate Professor, Department of Zoology (1997 – 2002)
  • Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Genetics/Genome Sciences (1997 – 2002)
  • Director, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Program for Undergraduate Education (1997 – 2002)
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Zoology (1990 – 1997)
  • Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Genetics (1990-1997)

University of California, Berkeley

  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Biochemistry (Jasper Rine, Adviser)

Professional service

  • Editor-in-Chief, CourseSource
  • Advisory Board, National Academies Scientific Teaching Alliance
  • Advisory Committee, AAAS & NSF Vision & Change Initiative
  • Founding Member, Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research
  • National Academies/HHMI Summer Institute for Biology Education, Education Mentor
  • Director of the NorthStar (Midwest Regional) Summer Institute
  • Genetics Society of America Education Committee

Current grants

  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Undergraduate Biology Education; 2014-2019; $1,200,000 (focus on integrated strategies for supporting retention and graduation of at-risk students through technology, academic advising, peer advising, and faculty mentoring)
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Support for Launching CourseSource, a new journal for undergraduate biology education curriculum and classroom resources; $400,000, 2012 - 2014
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Regional Summer Institute for Undergraduate Biology Education; $200,000, 2011 – 2015 (sub-award of grant awarded to the Yale Center for Scientific Teaching)
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Undergraduate Biology Education; 2010 – 2015; $1,500,000 (focus on delivering authentic research experiences to non-science majors and transfer students)
  • NSF Grant, Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (Co-PI); goal is to double number of underrepresented minority students who earn STEM degrees at the University of Minnesota