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.
Key Words: Seminar; research talk; research articles; scientific literacy.
Biology programs often include seminar presentations from outside
speakers as part of a regular seminar series or as opportunities allow.
In a recent survey of biology programs in the Great Lakes area, more
than two-thirds of programs include research seminars as part of the
curriculum (Parker & Morris, 2016). Research seminars provide students the opportunity to interpret and critically analyze scientific
information and help develop their maturity and confidence as they
enter the scientific field (Pall, 2000; Hunter et al., 2007). Often departments provide travel funding and/or stipends for these speakers and
thus must demonstrate value for their students. At Canisius College,
we have attempted to maximize the benefits of our limited travel
and speaker funds by developing multiple learning opportunities
related to each departmental seminar. Our goal in this article is to
share our experience in using a single seminar to teach multiple critical skills related to scientific communication.
Increasing Comprehension of
Preparing Students for Discussion
Prior to each seminar, we required students to read a peer-reviewed
paper related to the upcoming seminar. We requested that seminar
speakers provide either a paper that they had authored or a paper that
was related to their topic. Specifically, we asked that chosen papers
have methods, analysis, and results that would be accessible to soph-omore-level and junior-level biology majors. Papers were posted to
our student learning management software for student accessibility.
This also allowed faculty to determine whether students had accessed
The week prior to an outside speaker, we devoted class time to
the seminar-related paper. Students were expected to read the paper
prior to coming to class. To verify that all students had prepared for
class, we gave a short quiz designed to test broad understanding of
the article. For our quizzes we developed multiple-choice questions
related to topics that were broadly addressed in the article, but not
simply known from prior course work. For example, we tested on
primary hypotheses, study species, major techniques described in
the methods, key and/or broad results, and occasionally how the
results were presented. By using a quiz, students were held responsible for preparing for class; however, we did not want students to
spend too much time on comprehension of every detail in the article.
Because the quizzes were short, students were concerned that they
would miss key details when reading the article or that missing a single question would negatively affect their grade. Therefore, we provided six multiple-choice questions, but students had to correctly
answer only five to receive 100%, the maximum score on the quiz.
Students worked together in groups of three to five, during one or two
class periods, to answer a series of questions related to the paper. This
active-learning assignment allowed students to apply new knowledge
The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 81, No. 8, pp. 585–588, ISSN 0002-7685, electronic ISSN 1938-4211. © 2019 National Association of Biology Teachers. All rights
reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Reprints and Permissions web page,
www.ucpress.edu/journals.php?p=reprints. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2019.81.8.585.
THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER MAKING THE MOST OF SCIENCE SEMINARS
TIPS, TRICKS &
Making the Most of Science
• SARA R. MORRIS, HANNAH M.
ELSINGHORST, SUSAN M. ARONICA