UAB'S biology department had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Sara Brownell of Arizona State University for our weekly seminar series in April 2018. Dr. Brownell is well-known for her work on STEM education pedagogy and her advocacy for active learning and student-centered teaching approaches. Her seminar, "From Conflict to Common Ground: A Call to Use Cultural Competency in Teaching Evolution", focused on work done by Dr. Brownell and her graduate student Liz Barnes about instructor/student interactions influencing acceptance of human evolution in college evolutionary biology courses. Unsurprisingly, Barnes and Brownell discovered that instructor hostility toward religion is an important factor preventing religious students from accepting evolution. Assuming that professors are unlikely to become more religious, and students are unlikely to become less so, Dr. Brownell outlined a strategy to bridge the divide by directly addressing students' beliefs. By simply acknowledging the existence of students' religious beliefs and stating that religion and evolution don't have to be mutually exclusive beliefs, Brownell increased her students' acceptance of macro evolution. In addition to acknowledging religious beliefs, educators can also use other culturally competent strategies like showing students that well-known scientists are religious. Their umbrella framework for unifying these strategies is known as Religious Cultural Competence in Evolution Education (ReCCEE). Dr. Brownell modeled many ReCCEE strategies, as well as incorporating active-learning throughout her talk. The conversation followed during a ROSE lunch, where ROSE members led a discussion with Dr. Brownell about broader education reform.
Rachel Rock, undergraduate student working in Dr. Morris' lab who got to talk with Dr. Brownell after the lunch, said, "She was an inspiration. She made me feel like there is a place for me in academia and that the research I do is relevant." As UAB is emerging in education research and reform, Dr. Brownell's talk could not have come at a more opportune time.
For more information on her lab and its interests, visit: http://sebbers.wixsite.com/biology-ed-lab