Welcome to CourseSource, an open-access journal of peer-reviewed teaching resources for undergraduate biology and physics

We publish articles that are organized around courses in both biological and physics disciplines, and aligned with learning goals established by professional societies representing those disciplines. Please let us know what you think as you explore the articles and other information in the journal. We welcome your comments, questions, and/or suggestions. You can also follow us @CourseSource on Twitter to receive notifications about newly published articles and announcements! Learn more about CourseSource.

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Breaking It Down: What Factors Control Microbial Decomposition Rates?

Brian M. Connolly*, Nigel D'Souza, Naupaka Zimmerman, John Zobitz

Version: 1.0

Published on 05.2024

Demonstrating and modeling changes in ecosystem processes in the laboratory classroom can be logistically difficult and expensive. This complexity often leaves little time for students to generate and test hypotheses. Yet, we must foster student understanding of how matter and energy move through ecosystems to develop an appreciation of how current ecosystems function and how human-mediated global change may alter ecosystem processes. In this lesson, we describe an adaptation of the Tea Bag Index (TBI) that provides students with an inexpensive, adaptable, and easily replicated method for testing how an ecosystem function (i.e., decomposition by microorganisms) alters carbon flow between two carbon pools (i.e., dead organic matter and the atmosphere). We outline the steps that small student research groups can take to develop testable research questions with an emphasis on how abiotic factors (e.g., temperature, moisture availability) can influence the rate of biomass loss. We outline the equipment and methods that can be used for conceptual add-ons (e.g., CO2 gas analysis) and include exercises that work on teaching students principles of tidy data organizing and data analysis. Finally, we include rubrics for written and graph-based assignments and an example dataset to assist instructors in implementing the lab in their own courses. In post-lab evaluations, students reflected positively on this lab exercise in open-ended course evaluation prompts and we observed better quality data collection and analysis in subsequent experimental labs, likely motivated by the practice and guidelines provided in this lab module.

Primary Image: The biomass of dead plants as an energy source for multiple decomposers. Dead organic matter is a rich energy source for those fungi and bacteria that can break down cellulose. In this picture, multiple species of fungal decomposers work to break down a fallen log in Mt. Spokane State Park (Washington, USA). One species of Xeromphalina fungi (Division: Basidiomycota; Class: Agaricomycetes) has derived enough energy from decomposition to produce a fruiting body (dusky orange caps and stems) that this fungus will use to spread its spores. Photo Credit: Brian Connolly.

data analysis, hypothesis testing, data visualization, data management, Microbial Respiration, Decompostion, Abiotic Conditions, Results Communication
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Student-Generated Analogies for Learning about Information Flow

Dina L. Newman*, Crystal Uminski, L. Kate Wright

Version: 1.0

Published on 04.2024

Using analogies is a standard practice for both teaching and communicating ideas in science. Here we upend the traditional lesson, where the instructor provides a fully constructed analogy and explains it, by having the students develop a complex analogy themselves. This high engagement, peer learning activity engages students in critical thinking and analogical reasoning to foster deeper understanding of molecular processes and their interconnection. In this lesson, groups of students are asked to relate given items to DNA and to decide which level it best represents (nucleotide, gene, chromosome, or genome). Next they are tasked with extending the analogy to include other actors in the central dogma of molecular biology (RNA, protein, polymerases, ribosomes, etc.), and then to extend it even further (introns/exons, mutations, evolution, etc.). Finally, each group presents their analogy to the class, and they evaluate each other. We provide multiple examples of items that can be used in the activity, but others can be identified with some creativity. This exercise is also an excellent tool for instructors to discover where their students have gaps and need help making connections to bridge their understanding of processes in molecular biology.

Primary Image: Items to compare to DNA. Is each most similar to a gene, a chromosome, or a genome? 

critical thinking, central dogma, analogical reasoning

CourseSource Blog - view more

New Immunology Learning Framework!

December 11, 2023

CourseSource is pleased to announce a new learning framework for Immunology! This framework is endorsed by the Society for Leukocyte Biology (SLB) and is approved for use by ImmunoReach, a Community of Practice focused on interdisciplinary Immunology education. 

This learning framework for undergraduate immunology education was developed as a result of a grassroots effort to address the calls for educational reform noted in the Vision and Change Report (AAAS, 2010). The working group developed a two-part immunology-focused framework that includes concepts and competencies aligned with Vision and Change. This learning framework was developed through an iterative cycle of reviews and revisions, both within the task force and with community feedback. Educators reviewed the document through surveys, focus groups and interviews. The learning outcomes are included as examples, and instructors may adopt them or come up with their own.

Check it out here: https://qubeshub.org/community/groups/coursesource/courses/immunology 

We look forward to seeing your submissions!


Publish Your Educational Toxicology Exercises in CourseSource!

August 9, 2022

CourseSource has recently partnered with the Society of Toxicology (SOT), and we are recruiting submissions that utilize the Toxicology Learning Framework to add to the toxicology collection!

Interested in sharing your work? Check out this video recording of the CourseSource workshop held at the 2022 SOT Annual Meeting: Publishing Educational Toxicology Exercises in CourseSource: A Step-by-Step Workshop for Preparing Your Manuscript. This workshop equips educators to use CourseSource and inspires them to submit their inclusive, evidence-based educational resources. In the first part of the workshop, Erin Vinson, the former managing editor of CourseSource, reviews the design of the CourseSource website and its features, and the various types for submissions. In the second part, Lauren Aleksunes (“Repurposing Drugs as Countermeasures for Chemical Weapons: An Interactive Training for Undergraduate Students”), Joshua Gray (“Pick Your Poison: A Semester-Long Toxicology Project Integrating Toxicology Core Concepts and Scientific Communication”), and Mindy Reynolds (“A Case Study Approach to the One Environmental Health Hypothesis”) discuss their curricula and the preparation of CourseSource manuscripts. The last section provides time for participants to prepare their own concepts for submission.

We look forward to seeing your submissions!

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