December 2009

Bringing Active Learning to the Biochemistry Classroom One Step at a Time

Overcoming POGIL-usage Barriers

Modular activities can be introduced gradually and mixed with existing course structures: Those of us in the active learning community sometimes have failed to communicate the versatility of active learning approaches. As a result, many instructors who are new to POGIL are under the impression that the only effective way to implement it is to convert an entire course from lecture to POGIL. In our experience, very few people have the time and support to make sweeping changes in their classrooms and more often than not, major changes are not necessary. There is a growing consensus that the effect of many people making incremental changes in their classrooms is greater than a small number of people making radical changes. Therefore, in preparing POGIL biochemistry materials for dissemination, we were careful to create free-standing modules that could be interspersed in an otherwise lecture-based course. Many core collaborators and faculty beta testers have used our POGIL activities in combination with a number of other approaches, including lectures, PBL, cases or literature-related projects.

Workshops have helped faculty members recognize and develop their natural inclinations and abilities in the classroom: Workshops have been instrumental in helping faculty members move from theory to action with regard to active learning. Workshops are powerful because they bring together diverse people with common interests and give them a forum in which to explore and wrestle with new ways of thinking about teaching and learning. It is striking how often faculty members at workshops realize that their personal teaching philosophy has much in common with POGIL and that they already have much of what it takes to implement POGIL.

Establishing faculty networks is essential for increasing and sustaining classroom innovations: Feedback from participants in our project has convinced us that obtaining materials or attending one workshop is not enough to foster real and lasting changes in teaching. Connections with like-minded faculty members at one’s home institution or elsewhere are necessary to ensure implementation of new approaches and their future growth and adaptation. Therefore, societies like ASBMB have the potential to make or break teaching innovations, given the leadership roles professional societies can play in shaping the direction of a field. ASBMB can help connect and support networks of faculty members researching teaching innovations by maintaining databases of instructors using specific pedagogical methods, by prominently featuring education symposia and poster sessions at national meetings, and by actively promoting institutional changes that lead to innovative education research and practices that are now more highly valued at colleges and universities.

Two years into our efforts to disseminate POGIL materials for biochemistry, a diverse community of biochemists using POGIL materials in their classrooms has become well established. However, we still need your help— the greatest changes in BMB education will happen when we all do what we can to improve learning, one step at a time.


  1. Wolfson, A. J., Anderson, T. R., Bell, E., Bond, J., Boyer, E., Copeland R. A., Gordon, B., Kresge, N., and Rubenstein, P. (2008) Biochemistry/Molecular Biology and Liberal Education: A Report to the Teagle Foundation. 
  2. Fairweather, J. Linking Evidence and Promising Practices in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education. A Status Report for The National Academies National Research Council Board of Science Education. Last accessed October 26, 2009.
  3. Process-oriented Guided Inquiry Learning. Last accessed October 26, 2009,
  4. Minderhout, V., and Loertscher, J. (2007). Lecture-free Biochemistry. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 35, 172–180. 
  5. Loertscher, J. and Minderhout, V. (2009). Foundations of Biochemistry. Pacific Crest, Lisle, IL.
  6. Minderhout, V. and Loertscher J. (2008).Facilitation: The Role of the Instructor in Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (R. S. Moog and J. N. Spencer, Eds.) American Chemical Society Symposium Series 994, Washington, D.C.

Jennifer Loertscher ( is an assistant professor of chemistry at Seattle University.



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