Although guest speakers have been a part of our curriculum for several decades, in recent years we have adopted a system that allows us to maximize the benefit of these speakers for our students. We provide learning opportunities before, during, and after a seminar to enhance students' scientific comprehension. Our system begins with students reading peer-reviewed literature relevant to a future seminar. In class, students work cooperatively to answer guided questions about the article, which serves as a basis for a discussion of the article among the entire class. This preparation facilitates students' understanding, their engagement, and their awareness of effective presentation techniques. Finally, small-group discussions with the speaker can provide students knowledge about their curriculum, awareness of additional opportunities, and insight into the nature of science. Our system thus provides a series of learning opportunities that ensure student engagement with the material multiple times, resulting in a deeper understanding of scientific research and effective mechanisms to communicate it.
Active-learning experiences – in classrooms, laboratories, and outside of courses – are highly valued components of preparing undergraduates to become biologists. We characterized the educational opportunities available to students in the biological sciences at colleges and universities within the eastern Great Lakes region and student perceptions of a variety of opportunities. We surveyed biology departments at 33 institutions to determine the availability of and participation in educational travel, internships, laboratories, skill development, and undergraduate research involvement. There was variation in the availability of internships, the types of skill development and educational travel offered, and the numbers of labs required in different biology curricula. Undergraduate research was offered at all institutions, and most research-active students presented results at least locally. Most colleges and universities offer a wide range of educational experiences and opportunities that complement traditional biology curricula and that are valued by students. Because fewer than half of the students took advantage of most of these experiences, schools still have the opportunity to increase their value in undergraduate education through increased student participation.