September 2010

Promoting Concept-driven Teaching Strategies


ASBMB recently received a $370,000 five-year grant from the NSF. Here, J. Ellis Bell explains what the society hopes to achieve with the money.


The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology recently received a National Science Foundation grant for a five-year initiative that will focus on network building to create and disseminate assessment tools for the foundational core knowledge and skills required for biochemistry and molecular biology degrees and to promote student-centered teaching approaches.

"...the initiative will serve as a hub to connect faculty members from a variety of institutions..."

The project’s major objectives are 1) to develop a set of core concepts and skills specific to biochemistry and molecular biology; 2) to develop validated assessment tools and 3) to create a central resource of pedagogical approaches based on cognition research that are useful to biochemistry and molecular biology educators.

The project also will build a network of faculty interested in adopting validated, student-centered teaching approaches by bringing together individuals with expertise in concept inventory development, education research, process skills and assessment. It will draw upon efforts in concept inventory development, education theory, pedagogical approaches and assessment.

Through this project, the society hopes to impact biochemistry and molecular biology education at the program, departmental, course and faculty levels. As part of the initiative, we will collaborate with other groups, including the Carrick Education Group in Australia, which is working with the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. We hope the product of the initiative, a web-based central resource of biochemistry and molecular biology education information and tools, will help establish objectives, outcomes and assessment strategies based on validated tools and pedagogical approaches. Importantly, the initiative will serve as a hub to connect faculty members from a variety of institutions, which will minimize isolated and overlapping development of assessment tools, strengthen education research, improve the quality of publications and promote the formation of new networks.

The project has four specific aims:

  1. 1. Identify foundational concepts in terms of core knowledge, principles, research and skills.
    2. Create a taxonomy of foundational concepts and skills and link them to topics outlined in ASBMB’s undergraduate curriculum recommendations.
    3. Develop and evaluate appropriate assessment tools for the topics identified in the first specific aim.
    4. Create a tool kit that can be accessed easily by the academic community.

In the coming year, there will be many ways to get involved in the network’s activities, including a symposium titled “Promoting Concept-driven Teaching Strategies in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology through Concept Assessments” at the 2011 ASBMB annual meeting and an ASBMB special education symposium at the University of Richmond.

Regional Workshop Goals

2011-2012: Taxonomy of concepts and skills – links to potential revisions of ASBMB-recommended curriculum and active-learning strategies

2012-2013: Development and testing of assessment tools

2021-2014: Development and testing of assessment tools

2014-2015: Dissemination of results/tool kit development

A series of regional workshops organized by the Undergraduate Affiliates Network also are being held across the country. The workshops will include an overview/update of the project, an introduction to the workshop’s specific goals, a hands-on activity relating to these goals and a keynote talk by a working group member or local “expert.”

The specific goal of the first workshop will be “foundational concepts and skills” and will include a guided exercise in developing an assessment tool for one concept and one skill. The workshop will conclude with a discussion session to define assignments and deadlines for the participants, including plans for local interactions and development of a “white paper” on the workshop outcomes.

To learn more about the project and how you can help, contact me or Weiyi Zhao (

J. Ellis Bell ( is professor of chemistry at the University of Richmond.

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