Evidence-based teaching strategies increase student engagement

By Jonathan Andicoechea, OSU College of Science

Resilient Teaching Voices Series

Despite continuous research attempting to drive a stake through its heart, the exclusive use of the lecture format continues to haunt the college classroom. Like a ghoul slinking around under the cover of darkness, it feasts on students’ academic potential, resulting in depressed learning gains and an enervated personal connection with the course content. While multiple means of exorcism have been proposed, educational researchers and instructors alike continue to advocate for the widespread implementation of structured, contextualized, and active learning activities (Neill, Cotner, Driessen, & Ballen, 2018).

I became passionate about equity in higher education when I taught nonmajors biology at the University of Minnesota. My students were first generation and low income—often from Muslim Somali families. They experienced social identity threat as undergrads at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). I observed how chemistry and biology instructors slowed my students’ academic progress by relying on outdated teaching approaches. They likewise harmed students with the soft bigotry of their low expectations. In short, these instructors rejected evidence-based (Drinkwater, Matthews, & Seiler, 2017) and culturally-responsive pedagogy (Tanner & Allen, 2007) shown to benefit all students.

To compensate, I tried to teach from a lived curriculum that was culturally responsive and replete with active learning activities. These approaches recognized first, that nonmajors have their own needs and skill sets, and second, that teaching is a cultural process that requires instructors and students to negotiate meaning in socially contestable spaces. To this end, I would use examples from my students’ daily lives and experiences. Consider how I connected the cellular respiration lesson with the different cuisines represented in my classroom, or how we discussed human immigration during the gene flow lesson. These interventions increased student interest in the topic. I also hoped they would help students strengthen their science identities. In one memorable intervention, we used liquid nitrogen to make ice cream; students enjoyed the hands-on demonstration that combined chemistry and biology concepts in an accessible manner.

I hope, as more instructors across the nation learn about equity in education, that we will continue to improve how we teach undergrads. By diversifying our teaching tool kits we ensure that our instruction can inspire a new generation of citizens.


Drinkwater, M.J., Matthews, K.E., & Seiler, J. (2017). How is science being taught? Measuring evidence-based teaching practices across undergraduate science departments. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 16(1), ar18.

Neill, C., Cotner, S., Driessen, M., & Ballen, C. (2018). Structured learning environments are required to promote equitable participation. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 20, 197-203.

Tanner, K., & Allen, D. (2007). Cultural competence in the college biology classroom. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 6(4).

Wright, R.L. (2005). Points of view: content versus process. Is this a fair choice? Cell Biology Education, 4(3), 189-196.

About the author: Jonathan Andicoechea is a new faculty member in Integrative Biology. He recently earned a PhD in science education from the University of Minnesota, where he focused on how gender identity affected students’ objective and subjective perceptions of their academic experience in nonmajors biology courses.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of guest posts about resilience and teaching strategies by members of the Spring ’24 Resilient Teaching Faculty Learning Community facilitated by the Center for Teaching and Learning. The opinions expressed in guest posts are solely those of the authors.

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