It has been noted that undergraduate project-based laboratories lead to increased interest in scientific research and student understanding of biological concepts. We created a novel, inquiry-based, multiweek genetics research project studying Ptpmeg, for the Introductory Biology Laboratory course at Brandeis University. Ptpmeg is a protein involved in axon formation in Drosophila melanogaster. In order to better understand Ptpmeg’s functionality, students sought to find Ptpmeg’s enhancers and suppressors by engaging in either a 4- or a 7-week modular research project. By the end of the semester, students were able to learn various laboratory techniques and acquire a deeper understanding of Drosophila genetics in both versions of the course.

Background

Traditional laboratory courses use protocols with given outcomes and known solutions. These traditional labs are intended to teach students to follow a procedure and learn basic techniques, and they tend not to engage students nor to involve them directly in scientific discovery. In recent years, new research has emerged that has changed the focus of laboratory classes. They now aim to teach students skills and techniques that reinforce information presented in lecture. Most importantly, these new courses are aimed to engage students in the scientific process and encourage them to be part of scientific discovery (National Research Council, 2003).

The report Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education (AAAS, 2011) placed a great emphasis on biology education developing students’ “interest in the natural world” and sharing with them the “passion scientists have for their discipline and their delight in sharing their understanding of the world with students.” The report suggests that this interest can be developed in laboratory classes through project-based learning, whereby students are active participants in their research. Skills such as working collaboratively, thinking critically, and interpreting data, incorporated into both laboratory- and lecture-based classes, keep students interested in pursuing careers in science. Moreover, project-based learning has been shown to increase retention of important scientific concepts (Cianciolo et al., 2006; Lord & Orkwiszewski, 2006; Rissing & Cogan, 2009). Students that engage in undergraduate research early on in their academic career tend to become biology majors, and such experiences may be short or within the context of a course, rather than stand-alone apprenticeship-model projects ( Jones et al., 2010; AAAS, 2011).

Several models have been developed to incorporate inquiry-based modules into conventional laboratory courses. Short, 2- or 3-week modular concept-based laboratories can be used to enhance student learning in large introductory biology courses (Halme et al., 2006). Similarly, multiweek experiments relating interconnected concepts in genetics and molecular biology have also been shown to be effective (Aronson & Silviera, 2009). In most models, given the true experimental nature of the lab, the incorporation of multiple success points and a reasonable amount of experimental overlap within the class or group has been critical to allow all students the opportunity to continue performing a multiweek laboratory, even if the student “makes a mistake” while performing the procedure (Hanauer et al., 2006). In another inquiry-based class model, individual students participate in a small aspect of a larger, multiple-part, class-wide research project (Chen et al., 2005). The students collect and characterize the aggregate data, produced by the class as a whole, to produce publishable results.

The cell biology laboratory course at Brandeis allows students to participate in an inquiry-based research experiment within a large introductory class (Treacy et al., 2011). During this project, students create a mutation in human γD crystallin gene through site-directed mutagenesis. The purpose of this experiment is to create mutations that affect the structure of the crystallin protein, thereby creating in vitro cataract models. Students learn a variety of molecular biology techniques while at the same time developing important skills, such as thinking critically and analyzing data, which results in increased interest in basic research.

We have modified the traditional protocols for the introductory genetics laboratory course offered at Brandeis University and created a novel, inquiry-based, multiweek laboratory course series. Through conceptual-based learning, faculty-based research, and frequent and various assessments, this new module emphasizes essential genetics concepts, while also teaching students to use aggregate data from multiple experiments to formulate a conclusion. This methodology allows students to understand the progression and time-intensive nature of experiments. Moreover, students learn genetics-based methodologies used to study genetic inheritance, reiterating concepts taught in courses outside of the laboratory using an inquiry-based experiment.

Description of the Redesigned Course

Every year, Brandeis University – a private, liberal arts, research university – enrolls ~850 incoming students. Of those 850 incoming students, almost half wish to pursue a career in science. Most students who major in life sciences or HSSP (health, science, society and policy) take Biol 18b and 18a, which are the main biology laboratory classes for those majors. The first semester, Biol 18b, is focused on molecular and cellular biology techniques, and Biol 18a is focused on genetics and genomics. These courses have an enrollment of ~250 students each semester. These classes consist of one 80-minute lecture and one 4-hour lab period each week. The lecture portion is focused on introducing major concepts and techniques that students will be performing during that week in the lab. The lecture is taught by the professor, whereas the laboratory sections are taught by both graduate and undergraduate Brandeis students. There are approximately 20–24 students in each section assigned to two teaching assistants.

Students enrolling in Biol 18b and Biol 18a are mostly second-year undergraduates. Students generally enroll in general chemistry and calculus in their first two semesters and do not take biology until their sophomore year. Students joining our course have had the opportunity to experience a full year of chemistry and, thus, understand the importance of following a set protocol and collecting a known result, but they have not taken any collegiate-level biology.

Laboratory Design

Traditionally, biology laboratory curricula have used “cookbook” labs with straightforward protocols and known outcomes. The introductory genetics laboratory course at Brandeis was originally focused on straightforward Mendelian genetics, using Drosophila. This conventional laboratory asked students to predict and analyze inheritance of certain previously characterized, observable traits such as white eye or curly wing. The course was redesigned according to the Vision and Change criteria and with certain goals in mind:

  1. To create an inquiry-based laboratory course for introductory biology students studying genetics.

  2. To utilize current research from a faculty member within the university and incorporate it into the classroom.

  3. To promote student understanding of particular topics in genetics, including inheritance, transposons, recombinant DNA technology, phenotypic analysis, gene expression, gene regulation, gene structure, progeny prediction, and deletion mapping.

  4. To promote students’ knowledge of certain techniques in genetics and genomics, including fly manipulation, crossing, use of a dissection microscope, and DNA analysis.

  5. To promote students’ interest in biology and research.

Biol 18a is taken concurrently with Biol 14a, which is a lecture-based introductory genetics course. In order to emphasize the concepts that students were learning in lecture, our inquiry-based laboratory was focused on work with D. melanogaster while simultaneously applying information from Biol 14a. It is important to note that many concepts introduced in Biol 14a are more in-depth than a traditional introductory biology course at other universities. Although the concepts incorporated into this laboratory are challenging for many first-year students, they are focused on a deeper understanding of higher-level material rather than a broad introduction of many topics.

The redesigned genetics project was focused on Ptpmeg, a gene needed for proper axon development of mushroom body α/β neurons (Whited et al., 2007). Many neurological disorders result from improper axonal projections, and so understanding cellular mechanisms that control axon growth is very important. Additionally, human homologs of Ptpmeg have been suggested to function as tumor suppressors (Laczmanska & Sasiadek, 2011).

Students were asked to identify enhancers and suppressors of the overexpression phenotype of Ptpmeg in the Drosophila eye to understand the functionality of the gene and its associated phenotypes. Students used deletion mapping to identify enhancers and suppressors, while also learning about the concept of inheritance. All experiments were performed in a GMR-Gal4:UAS-Ptpmeg system (Whited et al., 2007). In these flies, overexpression of Ptpmeg in the eye leads to an observable rough-eye phenotype. Deletion of potential enhancers and suppressors in the fly’s genetic background produces flies with a greater or weaker rough-eye phenotype.

At the beginning of the course, the professor presented the objectives of this project and outlined the experiments that would be performed. Every week, lectures were given in order to specifically cover information relevant to the experiment for that week, as well as to go over important concepts and ideas that were needed to understand the experiment. Before coming to the weekly laboratory, students were assigned pre-lab questions about the experiment in order to have them thinking about the ideas and concepts that they were responsible for that week. The professor also offered a weekly concept review where students could hone in on the underlying concepts by reviewing key ideas and applying that learned information to new and/or different scenarios.

The structure of the inquiry-based Ptpmeg genetics project has undergone several permutations. Two different structures were both found to effectively demonstrate deletion mapping. These two structures included 4- and 7-week experiments. In the 4-week experiment, students were asked to cross flies only once, whereas in the 7-week experiment, students performed two successive deficiency screens. The 7-week experiment was performed each spring from 2007 to 2010, and the 4-week experiment was performed each spring from 2011 to 2013. The sequences of each set of experiments are summarized in Tables 1 and 2.

Table 1.

Four-week Ptpmeg student laboratory outline: description of experiments done, equipment used, and concepts learned.

Week No.Procedures PerformedEquipment UtilizedTechniques/Concepts
1 Detection of sex and morphological features of Drosophila melanogaster

Set up experimental crosses 
Dissecting microscope
Carbon dioxide pads
Dissection tools
Incubators 
Morphological analysis
Microscopy
Handling of model organisms
Anesthetizing flies 
2 Transfer of parent flies to new vial Carbon dioxide pads  
3 Score progeny for enhancers and suppressors Dissecting microscope
Carbon dioxide pads 
Ptpmeg expression as a function of enhancers and suppressors
Balancer chromosomes
Mendelian inheritance 
4 Compile class results
Characterize deficiencies for possible genes 
Computers /laptops
Flybase 
Determining sequences and gene products that can enhance and suppress Ptpmeg expression
Genomic analysis 
Week No.Procedures PerformedEquipment UtilizedTechniques/Concepts
1 Detection of sex and morphological features of Drosophila melanogaster

Set up experimental crosses 
Dissecting microscope
Carbon dioxide pads
Dissection tools
Incubators 
Morphological analysis
Microscopy
Handling of model organisms
Anesthetizing flies 
2 Transfer of parent flies to new vial Carbon dioxide pads  
3 Score progeny for enhancers and suppressors Dissecting microscope
Carbon dioxide pads 
Ptpmeg expression as a function of enhancers and suppressors
Balancer chromosomes
Mendelian inheritance 
4 Compile class results
Characterize deficiencies for possible genes 
Computers /laptops
Flybase 
Determining sequences and gene products that can enhance and suppress Ptpmeg expression
Genomic analysis 
Table 2.

Seven-week Ptpmeg student laboratory outline: description of experiments done, equipment used, and concepts learned.

Week No.Procedures PerformedEquipment UtilizedTechniques/Concepts
1 Detection of sex and morphological features of Drosophila melanogaster
Set up experimental crosses
Transfer of flies to new vials 
Dissecting microscope
Carbon dioxide pads
Dissection tools
Incubators 
Morphological analysis
Using light microscopes
Handling of model organisms
Anesthetizing flies 
2 Transfer of parent flies to new vials Carbon dioxide pads  
3 Score progeny for enhancers and suppressors
Compile class data and determine location of potential enhancer or suppressor 
Dissecting microscope
Carbon dioxide pads 
Ptpmeg expression as a function of enhancers and suppressors
Balancer chromosomes Mendelian inheritance 
4 Set up crosses of smaller deficiencies within larger deletion identified by the class
Transfer of parent flies to new vials 
Light microscope
Carbon dioxide pads
Incubators 
REVIEW
Morphological analysis
Using light microscopes
Handling of model organisms
Anesthetizing flies 
5 Remove parents from new set of vials Carbon dioxide pads  
6 Score progeny for enhancers and suppressors Light microscope
Carbon dioxide pads 
REVIEW
Ptpmeg expression as a function of enhancers and suppressors
Balancer chromosomes
Mendelian inheritance 
7 Compile class results
Characterize deficiencies for possible genes 
Computers/laptops
Flybase 
Determining sequences and gene products that can enhance and suppress Ptpmeg expression
Genomic analysis 
Week No.Procedures PerformedEquipment UtilizedTechniques/Concepts
1 Detection of sex and morphological features of Drosophila melanogaster
Set up experimental crosses
Transfer of flies to new vials 
Dissecting microscope
Carbon dioxide pads
Dissection tools
Incubators 
Morphological analysis
Using light microscopes
Handling of model organisms
Anesthetizing flies 
2 Transfer of parent flies to new vials Carbon dioxide pads  
3 Score progeny for enhancers and suppressors
Compile class data and determine location of potential enhancer or suppressor 
Dissecting microscope
Carbon dioxide pads 
Ptpmeg expression as a function of enhancers and suppressors
Balancer chromosomes Mendelian inheritance 
4 Set up crosses of smaller deficiencies within larger deletion identified by the class
Transfer of parent flies to new vials 
Light microscope
Carbon dioxide pads
Incubators 
REVIEW
Morphological analysis
Using light microscopes
Handling of model organisms
Anesthetizing flies 
5 Remove parents from new set of vials Carbon dioxide pads  
6 Score progeny for enhancers and suppressors Light microscope
Carbon dioxide pads 
REVIEW
Ptpmeg expression as a function of enhancers and suppressors
Balancer chromosomes
Mendelian inheritance 
7 Compile class results
Characterize deficiencies for possible genes 
Computers/laptops
Flybase 
Determining sequences and gene products that can enhance and suppress Ptpmeg expression
Genomic analysis 

Both the 4- and 7-week experiments began with students becoming comfortable working with Drosophila and understanding the organism’s basic life cycle. Students then took Drosophila and carefully dissected them in order to study internal structures. After the students familiarized themselves with Drosophila sex identification, they learned how to carefully anesthetize Drosophila and set up their crosses. Each partner pair of students set up four crosses, each with virgin female flies overexpressing Ptpmeg, using the GMR-Gal4:UAS-Ptpmeg system balanced over CyO (Balancer I) and each with a differently deficient male fly with a balancer chromosome (Balancer II). Each pair of students tested four different deficiency strains individually. Those four strains were also tested by another partner pair in a different section of the course to ensure consistency between the results. As a class, ~280 different strains were screened, covering deficiencies along chromosomes 2 and 3. After 2 days, students returned to the lab, after eggs had been laid, to transfer the parents into a different set of vials.

In the next lab session, students removed parent flies from the second set of vials and transferred them to the morgue. Two lab sessions later, students took their two sets of vials, which now contained offspring from their crosses and scored their progeny. The students counted flies in both vials to increase the number of progeny to be scored. They separated the progeny into three or four groups: Ptpmeg over-expression and deficiency, Ptpmeg and Balancer II, Balancer I and deficiency, and Balancer 1 and Balancer 2. To determine whether their deficiency contained an enhancer or suppressor, the students observed the flies that had the rough-eye phenotype and the deficiency chromosome. These progeny did not have either of the balancer chromosomes. The class data were then compiled for locations of enhancers and suppressors.

In the 4-week experiment, students then looked for genes that their class-wide deficiency “hit” had deleted and characterized their function, using the program FlyBase, immediately after completion of the first cross (Ashburner & Drysdale, 1994). However, in the 7-week experiment, after the potential chromosomal locations of the enhancers and suppressors were determined from the first set of crosses, the lab staff obtained deficiency strains with smaller deletion regions within these regions in order to further narrow down the precise locations of enhancers and suppressors. The students went through the same process of setting up crosses and scoring their progeny, identifying enhancers and suppressors, and subsequently looking at FlyBase to determine what kinds of enhancers and suppressors they might have obtained (Ashburner & Drysdale, 1994). Logistically, there was a 3-week break between the first and second cross cycle in the 7-week experiment to provide time for the course staff to order and expand new deficiency strains based on the results the students obtained in the first 3 weeks. We hypothesized that students would gain a deeper understanding of the complicated process of deficiency screening by performing the process of crossing their flies twice in the 7-week program. Students in both structures were asked to read an abstract from the field concerning Ptpmeg function in flies.

In order to demonstrate their knowledge of the material, students were required to answer questions after each lab. The teaching assistants provided feedback each week to these assignments. Additionally, two 80-minute conventional exams were administered in order to check for their understanding of the material. Students in both courses were asked to write one News and Views article, write one scientific journal article, and present on a biological topic twice during the semester. None of these assignments, however, were associated with the Ptpmeg experimental series in either course.

Evaluation

A postcourse survey was sent out to the students 2 to 3 weeks following the completion of the experiment to determine what information students retained from the experiments and what they believed they learned from the course. The survey was done on a voluntary basis, and students were awarded bonus points for their participation. Approximately 70% of the students that were enrolled in the course participated in the survey. The contents of the survey included questions that tested students’ knowledge of important concepts discussed in the course. Additionally, students were asked to rank, on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree), their perception of the various aspects of the course, such as whether they understood the basics of Drosophila genetics. These surveys allowed us to compare the effectiveness of both the 7-week and the 4-week design. The survey results are summarized in Tables 3, 4, and 5.

Table 3.

Results of postsurvey questions for 4-week Ptpmeg laboratory experiment.

QuestionnPercentage of Students’ Level of Agreement
Little Agreement (Score 1–3)Neutral (Score 4)High Agreement (Score 5–7)
I understand the basics of Drosophila genetics. 158 20.2% 19.6% 60.1% 
I feel confident in my ability to explain biological concepts to a variety of audiences. 158 27.9% 22.8% 49.4% 
I know what is expected as part of a scientific paper. 157 13.4% 10.8% 75.8% 
I understand basic lab protocol as it applies to setting up Drosophila genetics crosses. 158 15.9% 6.3% 77.8% 
I feel the labs from Bio18a increased my understanding of Drosophila genetics. 158 15.2% 8.2% 76.5% 
QuestionnPercentage of Students’ Level of Agreement
Little Agreement (Score 1–3)Neutral (Score 4)High Agreement (Score 5–7)
I understand the basics of Drosophila genetics. 158 20.2% 19.6% 60.1% 
I feel confident in my ability to explain biological concepts to a variety of audiences. 158 27.9% 22.8% 49.4% 
I know what is expected as part of a scientific paper. 157 13.4% 10.8% 75.8% 
I understand basic lab protocol as it applies to setting up Drosophila genetics crosses. 158 15.9% 6.3% 77.8% 
I feel the labs from Bio18a increased my understanding of Drosophila genetics. 158 15.2% 8.2% 76.5% 
Table 4.

Results of postsurvey questions for 7-week Ptpmeg laboratory experiment.

QuestionnPercentage of Students’ Level of Agreement
Little Agreement (Score 1–3)Neutral (Score 4)High Agreement (Score 5–7)
I understand the basics of Drosophila genetics. 157 10.2% 7% 82.8% 
I feel confident in my ability to explain biological concepts to a variety of audiences. 157 10.9% 14.6% 74.5% 
I know what is expected as part of a scientific paper. 155 11% 12.3% 76.7% 
I understand basic lab protocol as it applies to setting up Drosophila genetics crosses. 156 7.7% 5.8% 86.6% 
I feel the labs from Bio18a increased my understanding of Drosophila genetics. 153 9.1% 5.2% 85.7% 
QuestionnPercentage of Students’ Level of Agreement
Little Agreement (Score 1–3)Neutral (Score 4)High Agreement (Score 5–7)
I understand the basics of Drosophila genetics. 157 10.2% 7% 82.8% 
I feel confident in my ability to explain biological concepts to a variety of audiences. 157 10.9% 14.6% 74.5% 
I know what is expected as part of a scientific paper. 155 11% 12.3% 76.7% 
I understand basic lab protocol as it applies to setting up Drosophila genetics crosses. 156 7.7% 5.8% 86.6% 
I feel the labs from Bio18a increased my understanding of Drosophila genetics. 153 9.1% 5.2% 85.7% 
Table 5.

Students’ postsurvey responses to multiple choice questions in 4- and 7-week Ptpmeg laboratories.

QuestionAnswer ChoicesCorrect Answer(s)Percent Correct
4-week7-week
The purpose of the balancer chromosome is to: 
  • Delete target genes in order to create a deficiency line

  • Prevent crossing-over between homologous chromosomes

  • Create observable dominant phenotypes (i.e., curly wings or stubble bristles)

  • Allow flies to live in the presence of overexpressed genes

 
B and C 93.7%* 87.1%* 
A fly that is deficient for a certain gene: 
  • Is directly affected at the level of DNA

  • Is directly affected at the level of mRNA directly

  • Is directly affected at the level of primary protein structure

  • Is directly affected at the level of quaternary protein structure

 
A 76.5% 81.5% 
In Drosophila, Ptpmeg is: 
  • Only expressed in males

  • Only expressed in females

  • Only expressed in the eye

  • Expressed throughout the entire fly

 
D 37.6% 30.7% 
By deleting a suppressor of Ptpmeg, we would expect a phenotype of: 
  • Enhanced rough eyes

  • Wild type eyes

  • Smooth eyes

  • White eyes

 
A 92.6% 94.9% 
In Drosophila, temperature sensitive mutations: 
  • Occur with great frequency

  • Are impossible in such a highly developed organism

  • Are possible

  • Only occur in mitochondrial DNA

 
C 80.3% 79.1% 
QuestionAnswer ChoicesCorrect Answer(s)Percent Correct
4-week7-week
The purpose of the balancer chromosome is to: 
  • Delete target genes in order to create a deficiency line

  • Prevent crossing-over between homologous chromosomes

  • Create observable dominant phenotypes (i.e., curly wings or stubble bristles)

  • Allow flies to live in the presence of overexpressed genes

 
B and C 93.7%* 87.1%* 
A fly that is deficient for a certain gene: 
  • Is directly affected at the level of DNA

  • Is directly affected at the level of mRNA directly

  • Is directly affected at the level of primary protein structure

  • Is directly affected at the level of quaternary protein structure

 
A 76.5% 81.5% 
In Drosophila, Ptpmeg is: 
  • Only expressed in males

  • Only expressed in females

  • Only expressed in the eye

  • Expressed throughout the entire fly

 
D 37.6% 30.7% 
By deleting a suppressor of Ptpmeg, we would expect a phenotype of: 
  • Enhanced rough eyes

  • Wild type eyes

  • Smooth eyes

  • White eyes

 
A 92.6% 94.9% 
In Drosophila, temperature sensitive mutations: 
  • Occur with great frequency

  • Are impossible in such a highly developed organism

  • Are possible

  • Only occur in mitochondrial DNA

 
C 80.3% 79.1% 

Students’ Understanding of Concepts & Perceptions of the Course

Students were asked to answer multiple-choice questions about major concepts that were presented throughout the redesigned Ptpmeg genetics laboratory course. These core concepts were identified as being critical to student understanding of the Ptpmeg experiment with respect to our genetics curriculum. Students were also asked how they felt about what they had learned.

Around three-quarters of students, both in the 4-week course and in the 7-week course, thought that they understood the basic lab protocol as it applied to Drosophila genetics. This meant that they had improved, overall, in their laboratory skills and their understanding of them. Although only around 50% of students in the 4-week course felt they could explain biological concepts to a variety of audiences, 75% of students in the 7-week course felt they could do this. Future assessments can focus on which specific concepts they felt they could or could not explain and what particular activities associated with the course may have aided in that process. We suspect that the variability in the topics included in the written assignments, associated with the two different permutations of the course, may have influenced this difference.

Additional questions tested students’ knowledge of Drosophila genetics, and some focused on the application of material. Ptpmeg is simply one very specific protein in a very complicated system, and there is always the potential that using such a targeted model experiment may confuse students about basic concepts. When asked what the purpose of the balancer chromosome was, 93.7% and 87.1% of students in the 4-week and 7-week experiments, respectively, answered correctly (Table 5). However, when asked where Ptpmeg expression occurred, only 37.6% and 30.7% of students answered correctly (Table 5). The majority of students in both the 4- and the 7-week class were also able to understand how deletions in certain genes manifested themselves at the protein level, with 76.5% and 81.5% of students answering this question correctly (Table 5). The percentage of students who correctly identified that a deleted suppressor would result in an enhanced rough-eye phenotype was 92.6% and 94.9% for the 4-week and the 7-week experiment, respectively (Table 5). This suggested to us that students understood the different elements of the experiments while also being able to infer what the results of their experiments meant at a basic level, despite the advanced and very specific nature of the project itself.

The students in the 7-week experiment were in high agreement that they understood the basics of Drosophila genetics, whereas the students in the 4-week experiment were 60.1% confident (Table 3 and 4). Not only did students feel that they understood the basics of Drosophila genetics, they felt that Biol 18a had increased their understanding. This was shown in a majority of their responses to the multiple-choice questions.

Closing Thoughts

We have created both 4-week and 7-week laboratory experiments that allow students to explore and understand the fundamentals of Drosophila genetics using a high-level, specific system based on faculty research at Brandeis University. These inquiry-based labs allow students to determine the functions of suppressors and enhancers, and their relationships to gene expression, while exposing them to common techniques used in fly laboratories. Students are able to work on a project that has a potential human health application, while performing a real research experiment that requires each student pair to collect individual data that must be combined to formulate a conclusion.

The structure of the course has undergone several permutations, including a 4-week and a 7-week experiment. In both structures, students had weekly lectures, laboratory sessions, and concept review sessions. Students were able to understand the overall goal or objective of experiments while understanding how each experiment and sequence of experiments led to their results and conclusions. The 7-week and 4-week experiments have their own strengths and weaknesses. The 7-week program allows students to repeat procedures, building their technical skills. Additionally, students work with smaller deletion strains in their final analysis on FlyBase, which allows them to narrow down the possible deletions and enhancers. In end-of-term evaluations, however, students expressed frustration with the repetitive nature of the experimental series. The greatest advantage of the 4-week program is that the students learn all the same concepts and skills, but they have more time for other projects and experiments. Additionally, if you look at the multiple-choice responses, the percentage of students who gave the correct response was around the same for both programs. However, if you look at students’ perceptions of what they felt they had learned, there seems to be a difference between the 7-week and 4-week experiments. This could be due to the repetitive nature of the 7-week course, which potentially allows students to think critically about the same concept for a longer period, thus providing a better depth of understanding. Future course modifications will involve administering both a pretest and a posttest to better delineate students’ conceptual understanding before and after taking the course.

Having students work on their own project with real implications increases their interest in research. Moreover, when research is taken directly from faculty at Brandeis, it increases faculty awareness of students’ work in the course. This inquiry-based lab also increased students’ conceptual understanding so that they truly understood the relationship between genes and gene expression.

Acknowledgments

We thank Professor Paul Garrity for helping with the scientific background in this laboratory and inspiring this project, and Deborah Bordne for all technical manipulation of the flies.

References

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