National Academies Education Fellows O’Tousa and Hager Bring Fresh Goals For Undergraduate Education

Author: Marissa Gebhard


Joseph O’Tousa, professor of biological sciences, and Kristin Hager, associate teaching professor of biological sciences, were named National Academies Education Fellows in the Life Science for the 2011-2012 academic year. O’Tousa and Hager participated in the 2011 National Academies Summer Institute in Biology at the University of Wisconsin in June, where they were among teams from 16 US research universities.


The Summer Institute in Biology aimed to improve undergraduate biology education by promoting new teaching approaches, including active learning, assessment and diversity, and more interdisciplinary teaching. More than 250 faculty members have taken the course, and teach more than 100,000 students each year. “The meeting had a major impact on me” Hager commented, “because initially I was a little skeptical that I could implement novel, yet effective teaching tools appropriate for my large lecture courses. I learned strategies and methods to design approaches that are more effective than traditional teaching methods. These proven methods are well-documented in peer-reviewed literature.” Hager went on to say, “I learned some valuable, practical, tips. Good teaching practices are similar to good experimental design in the research laboratory. You need to pay attention to the design and the possible outcomes.”


Both O’Tousa and Hager remarked that the workshop helped solidify methodologies for course and lecture design. “I know it takes some discipline to formally establish learning goals and assessment tools beforehand, but I now see that this paves the way for better assessment strategies and improved learning outcomes. The workshop definitely altered my approach,” O’Tousa continued, “I see the value of setting expectations high and providing students an environment to apply what they have learned. I think I can readily apply what I learned to my teaching.”


O'Tousa lectures in both of Notre Dame’s introductory biology courses. These are the first college level biology courses most science majors will take. Hager teaches in the next tier of courses, as she currently lectures both in Cell Biology and in Human Physiology. She added: “I plan to implement changes in both courses and emphasize student ownership of learning goals and outcomes.” O’Tousa and Hager plan to engage other biology faculty and run teaching workshops at Notre Dame to further the impact of their participation at the Summer Institute.

The Summer Institute was developed in response to the call for professional development programs in the 2003 National Research Council Report “Bio2010: Transforming Education for Future Research Biologists.”