Cissy J. Ballen
Assistant Professor - Auburn University
I am an discipline-based education researcher who studies biology education. My interests in this field are broad, but largely center on identifying scalable strategies in higher education that improve learning for all, and reducing attrition of historically underrepresented groups in STEM fields. Prior to starting at Auburn, I completed postdoctoral research positions at Cornell University and University of Minnesota, studying the effects of high stakes assessment, support programs, teaching methods, and classroom culture on student performance and persistence in undergraduate biology. I completed my doctoral degree in evolutionary biology at the University of Sydney, Australia.
These are my research interests:
My research centers on strategies to reduce attrition of historically underrepresented groups in STEM fields. I became interested in this topic as an undergraduate teaching assistant in zoology at the University of Minnesota. Sehoya Cotner and I co-wrote a paper published in the Journal of Science Teaching that demonstrated female students largely benefit, disproportionately from men, by having a female role model teaching their Biology class. While the research has broad applications, the results also rang true on a personal level. At the University of Minnesota I will continue my work on institutional biases and solution-oriented strategies to promote diversity in the sciences.
Former Postdoctoral Researcher in pedagogical sciences
As a Postdoctoral Researcher at bioCEED, I am involved in several projects including PRIME, iSCOPE, bioSKILLS and Teach 2 Learn where I aim to identify, develop and evaluate innovative pedagogical activities in higher education. I focus my research on the perception of transferable skills acquired through different student-active learning activities, including internships and practical experience. Study groups include both students and educators/supervisors, both at university and in the workplace. One part of this research includes the evaluation student awareness of the role they can play in the society when entering the workforce as a biologist. Further, I implement and evaluate the use of digital technologies as learning and teaching tools in different BSc- and MSc-level courses.
These are the projects I am working on:
PRIME – Work placements
Through the PRIME project (How implementation of PRactice can IMprove relevance and quality in discipline and professional Education), a recently implemented course gives BSc students in biology the opportunity to conduct an internship at different workplaces as part of the course curriculum. My role in this project is to investigate how the increased level of practical experience, which comes from these work placements, influences student learning. More specifically, I evaluate how these work placements affect the candidates’ transferable skills’ perception and acquisition of transferable skills by evaluating how work placement impacts student awareness of, among others, their responsibility, independence, time management, communication or collaboration. I also evaluate the effects that these work placements have on students’ future study choices and professional careers.
iSCOPE (integrating Science of Oceans, Physics and Education) brings together four partners, University of Bergen (Norway), University of California at Berkeley (USA), Concordia University (Canada), and University College of Stord and Haugesund (Norway), to identify and evaluate (year 1), transfer and test (year 2) and iteratively test (year 3) excellent methods of educational intellectual stimulation in order to support and enhance University of Bergen and Norway’s leadership in teaching and research in marine biological sciences. The iSCOPE project builds on University of Bergen’s Center of Excellence in Biology Education (bioCEED) and the multi-award winning master course BIO300 Biology Bootcamp, as well as on UNESCO’s International Year of Light 20152 (IYL2015) project “Skylight – a Global Science Opera”. Within iSCOPE I will, together with other international experts in the field, evaluate innovative pedagogical practices in higher education with particular focus on art-based pedagogy, field work design experiments, practical experience and the societal relevance of student work.
Together with researchers and colleagues at bioCEED, I participated in the development of a comprehensive national survey for students, teachers, administrative and technical staff and biologists in the workplace. This survey is the first of its kind and touches upon crucial themes for bioCEED, including teaching methods, learning in practice, and other general skills. I am co-author of a four-part report detailing the data and discussing further use. We plan to use the survey in a post-test in 2018.
Teach 2 Learn – Active learning creating video tutorials
Through the Teach 2 Learn project (Active learning creating video tutorials), BSc and MSc students in biology are given the opportunity alongside their coursework to produce a 4 min video tutorial in which they answer a question, in order to teach other students key scientific concepts (bioSKILLS). The Teach 2 Learn project contributes to the bioCEED digital platform with student-generated tutorials. To date, the video tutorials cover the following bioSKILLS: statistics (software R), lab material and techniques (e.g. microscopy, dissection), fisheries and marine biological methods (e.g. different fishing and sampling gears) and theoretical knowledge on different organisms.
These video tutorials are a resource for both teachers and students. Teachers use them as pedagogical tools during their courses while students can use these tutorials before or after having studied the course material, as an additional resource to better prepare themselves before entering laboratories. Moreover, the students producing these video tutorials reinforce their learning on that specific bioSKILL while acquiring several other transferable skills such as didactic method, communication, group work, independence, responsibility or creativity.
As coordinator of the project, I identify the different courses suitable for the project at the University of Bergen and at the University Center in Svalbard, UNIS. In close collaboration with the course instructors, I implement the Teach 2 Learn activities, support and supervise students, providing them with the necessary pedagogical guidance during the video production, and am responsible for the project’s evaluation and for dissemination of the results. I investigate how the digitalization of course material contribute to student learning at different levels.
These are the projects I am working on:
ArtsApp was developed by bioCEED (UiB), The Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre, and The Centre for Science Education (UiB). We have now conducted two studies assessing the effect of the app vs. the traditional textbook (Lids Flora) on motivation, competence and achievement. The results indicate that the app has a main effect increasing students´ motivation, competence and achievement, relative to the textbook, but also indirectly via motivation. The scientific investigation is a collaboration with researcher at bioCEED and the University of Rochester, USA.
bioCEED conducted a baseline national survey of biology students. We aim to replicate this study in a four-year period. A sub-part of this survey is a study conducted with researchers at the department of Education where we assess students´ aspiration for studying, motivation, perception of teachers support and prospective achievement. The results indicate that students holding an intrinsic aspiration, as opposed to extrinsic aspiration, has higher achievement levels. Furthermore, students with intrinsic motivation, as opposed to extrinsic motivation, achieve at a higher level.
A central goal of bioCEED is to change the teaching from a teacher-centred to a learner-centred education. In two quasi-experimental studies we have assessed the relative difference of students participating in traditional lectures vs attending team-based lectures. We hypothesize that students participating in team-based lectures will be more motivated and have higher perceived learning outcomes compared to students in traditional lectures.
In two studies, researchers at bioCEED and collaborators at The University of Minnesota, USA have investigate how gender differs on measures such as self-efficacy, intrinsic value, engagement, and science confidence. We find unique effects of gender differences and aim to investigate why this occurs. We know that there are more males with more confidence in STEM-fields even though females out-perform males.
Motivation and achievement – meta-analysis
By looking through the entire field of motivation and achievement, researchers at bioCEED, PRIME, and the University of Rochester, USA, investigate the effect of motivation on achievement and different moderators on this effects. We have found studies ranging from elementary school to college and from individualistic and collectivistic cultures.
These are the projects I am working on:
Through the PRIME project, we have implemented a new work placement course for biology students. This course gives students access to different workplaces and rewards 10 ECTS. The students write blogs about their experiences in workplace. I am researching the content of the blogs to uncover how student write about knowing in work placements circumstances.
Engagement with biology practices in field excursions
One of the main practical parts of the biology education is field work, this is an arena for research and learning. I have conducted a organizational ethnographic study of field excursions across several weeks. I am currently writing up the results.
We have developed a comprehensive survey battery for students, teachers, administrative and technical staff and biologists in the workplace. This survey is the first of its kind and touches upon crucial themes for bioCEED, for instance teaching methods, practice learning, and generic skills. The survey was later written into a four-part report. The survey will be used in a post-test in 2018.
Sammen for bedre læring
This is a collaboration between medicine, biology, teacher education, and music education led by Arild Raaheim. We have developed three distinct case studies and are investigating how students learn across these different instances of work placements. I am lead author in a joint paper to write up our findings.