Course Title:

Biochemistry, KSAS


One of the greatest challenges in teaching a course as large as Biochemistry (400+ students) is keeping students engaged. The instructors of this course recognize the value of active learning exercises and therefore use a wide variety of these techniques to keep students engaged with the course content and with each other.  

Areas of Focus:

  • Incorporate active learning strategies
  • Provide diverse assessment strategies
  • Represent content in a variety of formats 

“The learning assistants are a great help during these active sessions…it has been truly transformative even in the limited way we are using them now and there is so much room for expansion.”

 Katie Tifft, instructor

  • Barrier to Student Success

    Biochemistry is a large class with more than 450 students each semester. The instructors were struggling to efficiently and effectively manage break-out groups during class. 

  • Solution

    The instructors created a ‘learning assistant’ program (modeled after the one at University of Colorado), where undergraduate students who have previously taken the course are hired to assist the instructors during class, monitor groups, facilitate discussions, answer student questions, etc. for the purpose of increasing classroom engagement. The feedback from students and instructors has been extremely positive – they have since expanded it to other courses and the department is committed to funding this program for the foreseeable future.   Other active learning strategies that are used include:  pre-class videos, iClickers, think-pair-share, in-class group problem sessions, group discussion, hands-on activities, and demonstrations.  An assortment of formative and summative assessment strategies are used in combination to regularly check in with students and benchmark their progress.       

    Summative Assessments:  

    • Written exams include a variety of question types (multiple choice, T/F, short answer, label diagrams, etc.), learning objectives listed for each exam, diagrams of structures that can be printed out and used as a resource during exam.  
    • Weekly homework – set of questions as an online Canvas test; can be submitted multiple times. Variety of question types – multiple choice, short answer, etc.  
    • In class group assignments – solve problem sets in collaborative environment, use ‘IF-AT’ (Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique) forms to submit work   

    Formative assessment:  

    • Use of iClickers  
    • Weekly survey asks students if they have any questions, if any concepts are confusing  
    • Self-assessment: Students complete practice problems with answer keys to try before exams  

      Course materials are provided in the form of slides, textbook readings, and videos. Pre and post lecture slides include text, videos, and images. 

  • Student Testimonial

    “The lectures are very well structured so that student engagement is a priority, and the clicker questions and in-class worksheets are good benchmarks to gauge your level of understanding. I also think that the amount of resources provided really help put students in a place where they can succeed, from the practice problems to the recorded lectures to the in-class problem sessions.”   

    “I liked the diversity of the concepts and the interactivity of the class. I also appreciated the problem sets to get in the mindset of the types of questions we meet encounter on exams.”   

    “The way this course is logistically set up (with pre-lectures, lectures, in-class worksheets, daily homework, and group problem solving sessions) is designed to keep you on top of work and all the content and assignments are relevant. It is a lot of material, but the course is set up in a way to make you successful with mastering and understanding the material. The best large science course at Hopkins.”  

  • Alignment with UDL
  • Additional Information

    Division/Department: KSAS (Homewood) 
    HUDL Ambassador: Amy Brusini 
    Faculty Name: Katie Tifft, Emily Fisher, Vince Hilser 
    Resources: Molecule demonstration activity with ping pong balls