Emily Driessen headshot
Office Address

3-149B Molecular and Cellular Biology
420 Washington Ave SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

Lab Address

United States



Postdoctoral Associate
Biology Teaching and Learning

My research as a graduate student can be broadly divided into three avenues: Active Learning, Study Habits, and Ideological Awareness Curriculum. My work as a Post-Doctoral Associate in Kelly Lane's lab at the University of Minnesota focuses on two social constructs and their relationship to post-secondary biology education: (1) sex and gender; (2) race and genetics.

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Research statement

To provide quality biology education to all students and to better prepare science-literate citizens, the United States needs to improve post-secondary (i.e., undergraduate and graduate) science education. Discipline-based education research (DBER) meets this aim through the investigation of learning. As a trained biologist and educator, the overarching goal of my research is to improve post-secondary biology education through the investigation of learning and teaching practices. Specifically, my research focuses on the relationships between course elements, student performance, and student affective profiles, supporting student belonging, interest, learning, and achievement in post-secondary biology courses while recognizing structural barriers and historical and current racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia.

My previous research can be broadly divided into three avenues: Active Learning, Study Habits, and Ideological Awareness Curriculum. I detail these three avenues below.

Active Learning: Definitions and Specific Strategy Impacts on Performance
One course element commonly mentioned when describing effective teaching practices is active learning ,a principle broadly based on the constructivist theory that learners need to construct their own understanding for it to be meaningful. Active learning has been shown to increase performance and decrease failure rates for students in undergraduate science, engineering, and mathematics (SEM) courses, helping especially students from the most at-risk student groups (e.g., first-generation college students and those who identify with race/ethnicities historically underrepresented in SEM fields). However, the term active learning and the strategies associated with the term itself have been historically ill-defined, making the previous claims difficult to interpret and replicate in classrooms. Therefore, my previous work focused on investigating how active learning was defined by the BER community; I published the first study to use empirical approaches to establish both a definition of active learning and a pool of teaching strategies that are considered active learning practices. Findings from this research showed group work was among the most common active learning practices reported by the post-secondary BER community, but there were more than 200 unique active learning strategies contributed, demonstrating a variety of strategies are used in biology courses. Given that group work was the most used strategy, I examined the effect of this strategy on student performance using meta-analysis approaches. Findings showed the effect of group work on student performance in undergraduate biology courses is equal to an entire letter grade improvement.

Study Habits
Undergraduate biology courses often assess students using Low-level Bloom’s Taxonomy closed-note multiple-choice question exams, rewarding simple recall-based memorization of details rather than the development of the diverse skills needed to succeed in the scientific workforce. Open-note exams, exams on which students can use their notes, can reward a different skillset—one more aligned with recommendations for improving undergraduate biology education. For this reason, I examined the impact of open-note exams on student perceptions (i.e., test anxiety, time spent studying, perception of cheating), study habits, and performance. Findings demonstrated that students adapted their study habits for open-note exams by focusing on note preparation and broad conceptual understanding rather than rote memorization. Additionally, students who focused on understanding, note preparation, and using external resources outperformed students who did not report those study habits. I’ve also investigated student study habits, in terms of active and passive study habits, for high-stakes assessments ranging from majority low-Bloom’s taxonomy exams to majority High-Bloom’s taxonomy exams for both lower-level and upper-level students. Findings showed students, regardless of level and regardless of the Bloom’s taxonomy level composition of the exam, used a mix of passive and active study strategies, and the amount of passive and active study strategies did not differ across levels or exam type. Lastly, I investigated the impact of the emergency transition to remote instruction, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on student study habits. Findings showed students struggled to maintain their pre-pandemic study habits, due to motivation and focus issues, sub-optimal at-home learning environments, and the inability to access campus resources during the pandemic.

Ideological Awareness Curriculum
Traditional scientific training exclusively prepares students for scientific practice without helping students navigate social concepts. However, a goal of science education is to develop a scientifically literate population capable of making informed decisions in a democracy, so issues that sit at the intersection of biology and society should be a defining component of any biology curriculum. Given this goal, as well as the wake of recent social reckoning and unrest in the United States, my research met calls for teaching societally relevant topics in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classes by creating and implementing a culturally relevant curriculum, focused on ideological awareness, to students in introductory biology classes. Ideological awareness is an understanding of biases, stereotypes, and assumptions that shape contemporary and historical science. An ideological awareness curriculum accepts the pervasive role that values have in all aspects of science and enables students to challenge prevailing worldviews and the status quo, recognizing potentially controversial issues at the intersection of biology and politics, religion, race, or LGBTQIA+ identity. The students who we taught this material to over the course of three days noted they preferred this curriculum over a traditional curriculum, and they showed a 300% increase in the frequency of named scientists from minoritized backgrounds compared with the traditionally taught students. Next, we expanded the ideological awareness curriculum from a three-day treatment to a whole semester treatment and measured the number of societal topics they were able to connect to their biological content. Findings showed that students who received the ideological awareness curriculum were able to reference significantly more societal topics connected to biology than those students who did not receive the curriculum.

My work as a Post-Doctoral Associate in Kelly Lane's lab at the University of Minnesota focuses on two social constructs and their relationship to post-secondary biology education. The first focuses on the terms sex and gender and how college biology instructors use them in biology classrooms. The second focuses on student understandings of race and genetics.


Selected publications

2023: Beatty A.E., Driessen, E.P., Clark, A.D., Costello, R.A., Ewell, S., Fagbodun, S., Klabacka, R.L., Lamb, T., Mulligan, K., Henning, J.A., & Ballen, C.J. Biology instructors see value in discussing controversial topics but fear personal and professional consequences. CBE-LSE.

2023: Lamb, T.*, Driessen, E.P., Beatty, A., Youngblood, R.**, Esco, A., Cotner, S., Creech, C., Drake, A., Fagbodun, S., Hobbs, K., Lane A.K., Larson, E., McCoy, S., Thompson, S., & Ballen C.J. Equitable instructor assessment changes amid COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of College Science Teaching.

2022: Driessen, E.P., Beatty, A.E., & Ballen, C. J. Evaluating open-note examinations: student perceptions and preparation methods in an undergraduate biology course. International journal of STEM Education. PLOS ONE.

2022: Tracy, C.#, Driessen, E.P.#, Beatty, A.E., Lamb, T.*, Pruett, J., Botello, J., Brittain, C., Claudio Ford, I., Josefson, C., Klabacka, R., Smith, T., Steele, A., Zhong, M., Bowling, S., Dixon, C., & Ballen, C.J. Why students struggle in biology education: sources and solutions. CBE—Life Sciences Education.

2022: Driessen, E.P., Wilhelm, J., Cole, M., Dunn, A.**, & Sallah, K.** The impacts of two curricula on middle-level students’ engineering understanding. The Journal of Educational Research.

2022: Wilhelm, J.A., Cole, M., Driessen, E.P., & Ringl S.J. Grade-level influences in middle school students’ spatial-scientific understandings of lunar phases. School Science and Mathematics.

2021: Beatty, A.E., Driessen, E.P., Gusler, T.,** Ewell, S., Grilliot, A., & Ballen, C. J. Teaching the Tough Topics: Fostering ideological awareness through the inclusion of societally impactful topics in introductory biology. CBE—Life Sciences Education.

2021: Beatty, A.E., Ballen, C.J., Driessen, E.P., Graze, R.M., & Schwartz T.S. A delicate balance of structure and independence: Skill-building in an upper-division CURE. Integrative and Comparative Biology.

2020: Driessen, E. P., Knight, J. K., Smith, M. K., & Ballen, C. J. Demystifying the Meaning of Active Learning in Postsecondary Biology Education. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 19(4), ar52.

2020: Driessen, E.P., Beatty, A., Stokes, A.**, Wood, S.**, & Ballen, C.J. Learning principles of evolution during a crisis: An exploratory analysis of student barriers one week and one month into the COVID‐19 pandemic. Ecology and Evolution.

2018: Driessen, E.P., Dunn, A.**, Sallah, K.**, Wilhelm, J. & Cole, M. A Qualitative Study of Baseline Urban and Rural Middle Level Science Teacher and Student Views on Engineers and Engineering. International Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 13(7), 559-578.