Awards help sow the seeds for a plant-genetics research class
The plant world’s success as the basis of natural-ecosystem health and integrity comes, in part, from its diversity. That diversity aside, one plant has risen above its simple station in life to speak for all others.
Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant that anyone who has ever mowed a lawn has undoubtedly cut down, has been chosen as the model organism for studying plant biology.
“It was the first plant to have its entire genome sequenced,” said Janice Cooke, a forest biologist in the Department of Biological Sciences. “Because of its genetics and a number of growth attributes it has become the proverbial lab rat of the plant world.
“Essentially, Arabidopsis can test what the genes in trees do in these plants because it is a lot faster.”
And although plant researchers now use genomics technologies to understand how environmental queues like drought and day length affect growth, development and tree-defence systems, the use of Arabidopsis in this research is not widely done or taught at the U of A.
Cooke, who leads the pine-beetle project on campus and who herself has rarely worked with this model system before, has won a McCalla Professorship and a $23,000 Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund grant to learn about the use of Arabidopsis in research, and to transform Plant Physiology (Botany 340) to equip students with contemporary techniques to answer questions on how plants function in their environment.
The TLEF funding specifically will support design, testing, assessment and dissemination of these experiential activities, as well as development of supporting materials for both students and instructors. Undergraduates will be integral to the development and evaluation of these activities.
“The main reason we want to expose students to research that [researchers] are doing, and expose them to how to do research, is that it gets them excited by science,” said Cooke. “Once somebody is excited and engaged they want to know more.”
Moreover, Cooke says she wants to give students access to these kinds of cutting-edge research techniques because it helps prepare them for the real world. “It is one thing to follow a recipe, it is another thing to think through an experiment,” she says.
Cooke, who will be using the TLEF money to hire students to help her design and test-drive the retooled labs, says it is always important to provide the best course possible for our undergraduate populations.
“That means making sure they’re up to date and incorporate our current understanding of teaching philosophies, teaching paradigms and new information, but it takes a lot of effort to design new courses and bring in new ways to teach those courses,” she said. “Having the chance to obtain resources is a great motivator to say I am ready to revamp my course and make sure it reflects the latest knowledge of the field and the latest way to deliver the material.”
McCalla professorships are university awards intended to give faculty members an opportunity to explore and implement strategies integrating their research and teaching.
The TLEF, launched in 2006, is a key initiative in support of the U of A’s Dare to Discover vision document. The purpose of the fund is to support those engaged in teaching at the university, allowing them to improve their teaching skills, enhance their understanding of teaching and learning processes, and provide teaching environments to optimize the student experience.
More 2012 TLEF Grant Recipients
Department of English and Film Studies/Writing Studies
Roger Graves, Gerri Lasiuk, Daphne Read
Assessing and Developing Group Writing Tutorials to Improve Undergraduate Student Writing
Division of Studies in Medical Education
Pamela Brett-MacLean, Verna Yiu
“All the Class is a Stage”: An Accessible, Interactive Approach to Exploring Challenging Topics in Medical Education through Forum Theatre”
Department of Pediatrics
Susan Gilmour, Jonathan Duff, Carol Hodgson, Farhan Bhanji, Adam Cheng
Train to Perfection Strategies
Department of Pediatrics
Sarah Forgie, Eleni Stroulia, Valentin Villatoro, Mark Gierl
VICToRS: Virtual Inter-professional Case-learning Tools for Improving Real Service
Department of Family Medicine and Emergency Medicine
Darren Nichols, Shelley Ross
Coaching the Coaches: Use of a Novel Faculty Development Tool to Improve their Feedback to
Department of Family Medicine
Shelley Ross, Michel Donoff, Paul Humphries
Refining the Competency-Based Achievement System (CBAS): Ensuring Program Effectiveness in Family Medicine Residency Education
Department of Medicine
(Division of Neurology)
Penelope Smyth, Carol Hodgson Birkman,
J. Alan Gilbert
“Redrawing the Line on Professionalism” – Views on Professionalism Along the Health Care Continuum
Faculty of Nursing
Florence Myrick, Pauline Paul, Derek Selman, Wendy Caplan, Deirdre Jackman, Azizah Sculley, Katherine Melo
The Teaching Support Initiative (TSI): Fostering Quality Teaching and Learning through Ongoing
Bev Williams, Jude Spiers, Barb Gibson, Liz Richard, Wendy Motley, Willy Kabotoff, Debra McIlwraith, Azizah Sculley
The Influence of Undergraduate Education on Professional Practice Competencies
Department of Physical Therapy
Geoff Bostick, Eric Parent
Reliability of Practical Skills Assessment in Distributed Education
Department of Biological Sciences
Declan Ali, Kelvin Jones, Greg Funk
Development of Computer Simulation Software for Teaching Neuroscience
Department of Chemistry
Science Citizenship: Active(ism) Learning
Todd Lowary, Hayley Wan, Christine Brzezowski
The SpecMaster: A New Interactive Computer Game to Teach Organic Spectroscopy
Department of Physics
Problem Solving with Computers: Test Trials with Upper Level Physics Courses
The abstract of each TLEF grant recipient has been posted at
More 2012-13 McCalla Professorships
Lloyd Dosdall Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science
Nora Stovel English and Film Studies
Paula Marentette Augustana
Marvin Washington Strategic Management and Organization
Elaine Simmt Secondary Education
Chinthananda Tellambura Electrical and Computer Engineering
Karim Damji Ophthalmology
The abstract of each McCalla Professorship recipient has been posted at