Title: Understanding Molecular Mechanisms from the Multiple Perspectives of Structural Dynamics and Explanation
Abstract: Molecular mechanisms are central to both scientific research and science education. Scientists often devote their careers to elucidating specific pieces of a mechanism, and as this knowledge base grows, it becomes increasingly important for science instructors to effectively convey these developments to their students. Because of the mechanism’s prominence in the classroom, recent studies have focused on elucidating the essential components of expert explanations. My talk will thus focus on expert explanations from the perspectives of both the mechanistic and the discipline-based education researcher. First, I will discuss the implications of structural dynamics on the mechanism of the hepatitis delta virus RNA enzyme (HDV ribozyme). My work shows that the dynamics of a G1U37 wobble pair motif in the ribozyme active site have great implications for the ribozyme’s optimal function. Second, I will discuss my work investigating instructor use of various external representations (both spoken and visual) during in-class mechanistic explanations. We have found it useful to apply a hybrid coding model to our instructor data of lecture slides and transcripts. The hybrid model consists of 1) a model of expert mechanistic explanations (the Methods, Analogies, Context, How model), and 2) a model defining important aspects of external representations (the Concept-Reasoning-Mode model). We find that this hybrid model allows us to highlight the reasoning and conceptual skills required to fully interact with all aspects of expert explanations. These projects emphasize the complexity of the molecular mechanisms that are currently being investigated in research groups worldwide, and the necessity of effectively conveying this complexity to help novice students develop into expert scientists.
Bio: Dr. Kamali Sripathi received her PhD from the University of Michigan in 2014. Her thesis work focused on the implications of structural dynamics on the function of RNA enzymes. Dr. Sripathi first became interested in discipline-based education research (DBER) from her experiences both as a low-vision science student and as a graduate teaching assistant. She realized that the challenges that she herself had initially faced in the lab were very different from those that her students experienced. This insight fueled her ultimate research interest of further understanding effective strategies that low-vision science students use to interact with primarily visual educational materials. She transitioned into DBER in a postdoctoral position with Dr. Trevor Anderson’s Visualization in Biochemical Education (VIBE) research group at Purdue University. Here, Dr. Sripathi was able to investigate the multiple roles of external representations in mechanistic explanations of enzyme catalysis and biochemical processes. She was then able to bring her representational perspective to teaching the general chemistry laboratory classes at Lyman Briggs College and the Chemistry course for the Engineering and Science Success Academy this past year (Michigan State University, 2015-2016). Her ultimate career goal is a position that combines her passion of teaching with her interest for investigating strategies that both low-vision and normally-sighted science students can use to succeed in the classroom, the laboratory, and beyond.