Rob Brooker headshot
Office Address

420 Washington Avenue SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States



Biology Teaching and Learning,
Genetics, Cell Biology and Development

Our research focuses on teaching and learning in the biological sciences. In particular, we are interested in identifying the factors that help students learn and gain expertise in biology, and the factors that cause them to be motivated and feel included in their courses. Much of our recent focus is on the impact of Vision and Change (V&C), which was a lengthy report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2011 issuing a call to action to change biology instruction. A key position of this report is that biology instructors need to shift away from packing their courses with a multitude of topics. Instead, the report suggests that a better way to promote biological literacy is to organize instruction around a series of Core Concepts and Competencies. The Core Concepts provide students with a broadly applicable framework of biological principles that forms the foundation of biological knowledge. The Core Competencies equip students with the skills to engage in the practice of science. A primary aim of our research is to analyze students’ familiarity with these Core Concepts and Competencies, and determine if they are beneficial to student learning, confidence, and motivation as they advance through their courses in college. Our current research largely involves analyses of surveys and weekly student reflections about learning in general and V&C tenets in particular.

Expand all

Research statement

My research interests fall into two general areas: membrane transport and biology education. Our lab studies membrane transporters that cotransport metals across the plasma membrane; more specifically, we study transporters that cotransport Fe2+ and Mn2+ across the plasma membrane (MntH, also called Nramp1 and Nramp2 in humans). We are interested in the structure/function relationships of these types of transporters and have an ongoing collaboration with Dr. Preben Morth, who is an X-ray crystallographer. We are also interested in how the metal binding site in this transporter is able to evolve in a way that alters its metal specificity. In the past few years, I have also become interested in Biology Education research. I am just beginning to carry out such research at the University of Minnesota. My interests include the use of jargon, the impact of metacognition, and the use of technology, as they affect learning gains in biology classes.

Selected publications

Brooker, R., Matthes, D., Wright, R., Wassenberg, D., Wick, S., & Couch, B. (2013). Scale-up in a large introductory biology course. In Connected Science: Strategies for Integrative Learning in College (pp. 89-99). Indiana University Press.

Genetics, Analysis and Principles, 7/e (2021) by Robert J. Brooker, McGraw-Hill Pub., New York.

Biology, 6/e (2023) by Robert J. Brooker, Eric P. Widmaier, Linda E. Graham, and Peter D. Stiling, McGraw-Hill Pub., New York.

Education and background

Degrees earned
  • PhD Genetics, Yale University, 1983
  • BS Biology (summa cum laude), Wittenberg University, 1978

BioSketch | Curriculum Vitae

Awards and honors
  • 2007-present National Academies Education Fellow in the Life Sciences
  • 2004 St. Paul Rotary Club- Outstanding Teacher Award
  • 2004 Morse Alumni Outstanding Teacher Award (University of Minnesota)
  • 1993 Biological Science Student Association: Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award
  • 1984 NRSA: Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • 1980 NIH: Predoctoral Fellowship
  • 1978 Summa Cum Laude Biology: Undergraduate

Teaching statement

My teaching philosophy is to rely on education research, particularly research that is focused on biology education, as a foundation for my teaching strategies. I am an advocate of “Flipping the Classroom” in which the majority of class time is spent on active learning exercises and projects. I am also an advocate of having students work in teams, where they can enhance each other’s learning, and motivate each other. I think that a good education in biology involves three things: (1) acquiring foundational knowledge; (2) developing skills that are required of biologists; and (3) cultivating one’s creativity. When we flip the classroom, the first goal of acquiring foundational knowledge is achieved by readings and online lectures that are done prior to coming to class. The other two goals (developing skills and cultivating creativity) are the focus of our in-class activities.

Favorite teaching innovation or approach

In the sections of Foundations of Biology (Biol2003) that I co-teach, and in my Genetics course (Biol4003), we have long-term projects that last about 8 weeks each. The goal of the long-term projects is to allow teams of students to dig more deeply into a scientific topic and provide an avenue for them to unleash their creativity. For example, in our Foundations of Biology course, one long-term project is that each team of 8 or 9 students develops a research proposal that revolves around membrane transporters. The teams propose two novel hypotheses, design experiments, and explain how they will analyze their results. In my Genetics course, one of the long-term projects is to devise a proposal to start a biotechnology company based on triplex DNA technology. Each team chooses two genes they would like to silence and then they describe: how they would conduct research to show the efficacy of silencing the gene; how they would conduct clinical trials, and how they would carry out commercialization. With regard to these long-term projects, each team submits weekly progress reports, which I review and provide feedback. I am truly inspired by the creativity and enthusiasm of our students while working on these projects.

Courses taught
  • Biol 2003 – Foundations of Biology (I teach the part of the course that focuses on biochemistry and cell biology.)
  • Biol 4003 – Genetics.
  • Biol 4003 – Cell Biology
Recent presentations, invited seminars and workshops

NANSI Summer Institute, 2011-2014

April, 2012: East China University of Science and Technology, Dept. of Pharmacology, Shanghai, China, Structure and Function Studies of MntH, an H+/Mn2+ Symporter.

October, 2011: University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway. Biology Education: Past, Present, and Future. The University of Oslo had a one-day symposium celebrating its 150th anniversary. I was the opening speaker.

Professional experience
  • 1986-1991 Assistant Professor, Department of Genetics and Cell Biology and the Biotechnology Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
  • 1991-1997 Associate Professor, Department of Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
  • 1997-present Professor, Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development and the Dept. of Biology Teaching and Learning, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
  • 1996-2000 Director of Graduate Studies, Graduate Program in Molecular, Cellular, Development Biology and Genetics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
  • 2001-2006 Associate Head, Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
  • 2004-2007 Director of Graduate Studies, Graduate Program in Microbial Engineering, University of Minnesota
Professional service
  • Founding Member, Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER)
  • Host for the annual meeting of the Society of Biology Education Research (SABER) for the past 4 years
  • Participant in AAAS & NSF Vision & Change Initiative
  • Facilitator and Workshop leader for the NorthStar (Midwest Regional) Summer Institute
  • Prior Editorial Board Member, Membrane Biochemistry, The Journal of Biological Chemistry
  • Prior Member, NSF Metabolic Biochemistry Panel
  • Ad hoc Reviewer, Biochemistry, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, Journal of Bacteriology
Current grants
  • Norwegian Centennial Chair Program, Structural characterization of the manganese transporter, MntH, of Escherichia coli.