Jessica Middlemis Maher

Ecology, Zoology, Evolutionary Biology



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    ABSTRACT: The availability of reliable evidence for teaching practices after professional development is limited across science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines, making the identification of professional development "best practices" and effective models for change difficult. We aimed to determine the extent to which postdoctoral fellows (i.e., future biology faculty) believed in and implemented evidence-based pedagogies after completion of a 2-yr professional development program, Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching (FIRST IV). Postdocs (PDs) attended a 2-yr training program during which they completed self-report assessments of their beliefs about teaching and gains in pedagogical knowledge and experience, and they provided copies of class assessments and video recordings of their teaching. The PDs reported greater use of learner-centered compared with teacher-centered strategies. These data were consistent with the results of expert reviews of teaching videos. The majority of PDs (86%) received video ratings that documented active engagement of students and implementation of learner-centered classrooms. Despite practice of higher-level cognition in class sessions, the items used by the PDs on their assessments of learning focused on lower-level cognitive skills. We attributed the high success of the FIRST IV program to our focus on inexperienced teachers, an iterative process of teaching practice and reflection, and development of and teaching a full course. © 2015 D. Ebert-May et al. CBE—Life Sciences Education © 2015 The American Society for Cell Biology. This article is distributed by The American Society for Cell Biology under license from the author(s). It is available to the public under an Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License (
    Full-text · Article · Mar 2015 · CBE life sciences education
  • Jessica Middlemis Maher · Heather A. Passmore · Terry L. Derting · Diane Ebert-May
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    ABSTRACT: Background/Question/Methods The need for training future faculty in inquiry-based, learner-centered instruction and then empirically evaluating the efficacy of that training is a high priority for improving undergraduate education in science (Brewer and Smith et al. 2011, Alberts 2011, PCAST 2012). Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching (FIRST) IV is an evidence-based national training project focusing on professional development in biology instruction for postdoctoral scholars. The goal of FIRST IV was to develop early-career biology faculty who implement and cultivate pedagogical theory and techniques shown to facilitate student learning and retention in the biological sciences. Using quantitative data derived from direct observation of teaching, self-reported instruments by instructors and students, and analysis of course materials, we determined the set of variables that predict how postdocs implement classroom instruction. Results/Conclusions We directly observed teaching by applying the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) instrument to videos of FIRST IV participants teaching a course during the program, and evaluated the degree to which postdocs used learner-centered pedagogy. In addition, we characterized instructors’ beliefs about the course(s) that they taught, and collected data about instructor teaching background and classroom context. Results indicate that a majority of FIRST IV postdocs (74%) successfully implemented learner-centered teaching practices while participating in the program; the remainder all used some degree of student engagement. Furthermore, instructor beliefs and perceptions about their teaching, and their knowledge of pedagogy, were important variables in predictive models of learner-centered in-class instruction.
    No preview · Conference Paper · Aug 2014
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    ABSTRACT: Challenges in training faculty in inquiry-based, learner-centered instruction include empirically evaluating the efficacy of the training in teaching practices and sustaining long-term support for change. Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching (FIRST IV) provided new approaches to professional development in biology instruction for 201 postdoctoral scholars. The goal of FIRST IV was to develop early-career biology faculty who value and implement evidence-based pedagogies that facilitate student learning. We report on the activities and outcomes of FIRST IV, using comprehensive evidence derived from expert reviews of participants’ teaching, self-reported data from participants, data from students, and comparisons with non-project faculty. FIRST IV participants completed a 4-day workshop twice in two years, followed by teaching an entire or partial course at their institution and sustained mentoring by experts in STEM education. Postdocs showed belief in learner-centered teaching, and 75% used learner-centered instruction when teaching actual courses. We also followed a subset of participants into their first faculty positions and quantified how their instructional design and student assessments differed from those of a colleague at the same institution. Although self-reported data indicated no differences in faculty perceptions of their teaching, external review of classroom teaching showed that FIRST IV faculty practiced significantly more learner-centered instruction and used more collaborative learning than did their colleagues. We conclude that the FIRST IV model offers significant and unique contributions to professional development in STEM education, because our approach and rigorous assessment process differs from typical workshops and shorter professional development programs that, like FIRST IV, aim to improve teaching practices of STEM faculty; importantly, FIRST IV faculty can fish.
    Full-text · Conference Paper · Jul 2014
  • John A. Marino Jr · Manja P. Holland · Jessica Middlemis Maher
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    ABSTRACT: Non-consumptive predator effects may have dramatic consequences for host–parasite interactions by influencing the ability of prey items to avoid, resist, or tolerate infection. Both predators and parasites can affect host traits, such as growth rates and behavior, and these effects may in part be mediated through shared physiological pathways (e.g. the glucocorticoid stress hormone, corticosterone [CORT]). Here, we examined the effects of trematode parasites (Digena: Echinostomatidae) and predator (larval odonate) exposure on larvae of two amphibian species (Rana sylvatica and R. clamitans) in laboratory experiments. First, we measured behavior and CORT responses of tadpoles exposed to predator chemical cue in combination with parasite cue or under direct exposure to parasites. We then measured the combined effects of predator cue and parasite infection on survival and traits. Evidence for effects of parasite cue in our study was equivocal, but we found novel interactive effects of parasites and predators on larval frogs. Parasites and predators had antagonistic effects on CORT, behavior, and morphology, and negative synergistic effects on development. In addition, parasite infection and predator cues additively reduced activity levels of both species and growth in wood frogs. Negative effects of parasite infection on survival and traits were dose-dependent for both species, although wood frogs generally experienced stronger effects of infection than green frogs. Our results emphasize the importance of considering effects of parasites as well as predators, since both can have strong effects on survival and the combination can have both additive and non-additive effects on key traits. These effects likely have important implications for amphibian population dynamics, community structure, and conservation.
    No preview · Article · Nov 2013 · Oikos
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    Jessica Middlemis Maher · Jonathan C Markey · Diane Ebert-May
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    ABSTRACT: Statistical significance testing is the cornerstone of quantitative research, but studies that fail to report measures of effect size are potentially missing a robust part of the analysis. We provide a rationale for why effect size measures should be included in quantitative discipline-based education research. Examples from both biological and educational research demonstrate the utility of effect size for evaluating practical significance. We also provide details about some effect size indices that are paired with common statistical significance tests used in educational research and offer general suggestions for interpreting effect size measures. Finally, we discuss some inherent limitations of effect size measures and provide further recommendations about reporting confidence intervals.
    Preview · Article · Sep 2013 · CBE life sciences education
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    Jessica Middlemis Maher · Earl E Werner · Robert J Denver
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    ABSTRACT: Amphibian tadpoles display extensive anti-predator phenotypic plasticity, reducing locomotory activity and, with chronic predator exposure, developing relatively smaller trunks and larger tails. In many vertebrates, predator exposure alters activity of the neuroendocrine stress axis. We investigated predator-induced effects on stress hormone production and the mechanistic link to anti-predator defences in Rana sylvatica tadpoles. Whole-body corticosterone (CORT) content was positively correlated with predator biomass in natural ponds. Exposure to caged predators in mesocosms caused a reduction in CORT by 4 hours, but increased CORT after 4 days. Tadpoles chronically exposed to exogenous CORT developed larger tails relative to their trunks, matching morphological changes induced by predator chemical cue; this predator effect was blocked by the corticosteroid biosynthesis inhibitor metyrapone. Tadpole tail explants treated in vitro with CORT increased tissue weight, suggesting that CORT acts directly on the tail. Short-term treatment of tadpoles with CORT increased predation mortality, likely due to increased locomotory activity. However, long-term CORT treatment enhanced survivorship, likely due to induced morphology. Our findings support the hypothesis that tadpole physiological and behavioural/morphological responses to predation are causally interrelated. Tadpoles initially suppress CORT and behaviour to avoid capture, but increase CORT with longer exposure, inducing adaptive phenotypic changes.
    Full-text · Article · Mar 2013 · Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
  • Jessica Middlemis Maher · Bryan Arnold · Terry L. Derting · Diane Ebert-May
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    ABSTRACT: Background/Question/Methods Continuing demand for catalyzing widespread empirically validated teaching practices in science (e.g. Brewer and Smith et al. 2011, Alberts 2011, PCAST 2012) demonstrates the necessity of training future faculty in inquiry-based, learner-centered instruction and then evaluating the efficacy of that training. FIRST IV (Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching) is an evidence-based national training project focusing on professional development in biology instruction for postdoctoral scholars. FIRST IV postdocs are selected for a two-year program that involves yearly workshops, multi-dimensional feedback on their teaching practice at their home institutions, a strong communication network facilitated by an email listserv, and rigorous mentoring throughout the program. The goal of FIRST IV is to develop early-career biology faculty who implement and cultivate pedagogical theory and techniques shown to facilitate student learning and retention. Results/Conclusions We tested whether FIRST IV postdocs successfully developed learner-centered teaching practice during the program. First, we analyzed the extent to which course design aimed for a high cognitive level in students’ understanding of biological concepts, using syllabi-level goals, daily objectives, and assessments (high stakes quizzes and exams) as measures. In addition, we applied the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) instrument to videos of FIRST IV participants teaching at their home institutions, and investigated whether postdocs use learner-centered pedagogy in the classroom. Both measures showed that FIRST IV postdocs developed course goals and objectives at higher cognitive levels and taught with greater active student inquiry and interaction than a comparison group. Therefore, we conclude that postdocs trained under the FIRST IV model, working in an iterative professional development process with strong mentoring and support, are successfully implementing teaching practice reforms.
    No preview · Conference Paper · Aug 2012
  • Michael F Benard · Jessica Middlemis Maher
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    ABSTRACT: Phenotype is often correlated with resource use, which suggests that as phenotypic variation in a population increases, intraspecific competition will decrease. However, few studies have experimentally tested the prediction that increased intraspecific phenotypic variation leads to reduced competitive effects (e.g., on growth rate, survival or reproductive rate). We investigated this prediction with two experiments on wood frogs (Rana sylvatica). In the first experiment, we found that a frog's size was positively correlated with the size of its preferred prey, indicating that the feeding niche of the frogs changed with size. In the second experiment, we used an experimental design in which we held the initial mass of "focal" frogs constant, but varied the initial mass of their competitors. We found a significant quadratic effect of the average mass of competitors: focal frog growth was lowest when raised with similar-sized competitors, and highest when raised with competitors that were larger or smaller. Our results demonstrate that growth rates increase (i.e., competitive intensity decreases) when individuals are less similar to other members of the population and exhibit less overlap in resource use. Thus, changes in the amount of phenotypic variation in a population may ultimately affect population-level processes, such as population growth rate and extinction risk.
    No preview · Article · Jul 2011 · Oecologia
  • R. J. Denver · J. Middlemis-Maher
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    ABSTRACT: Developmental plasticity is the property of a given genotype to produce different phenotypes in response to the environmental conditions experienced during development. Chordates have two basic modes of development, direct and indirect. Direct development (mode of humans) was derived evolutionarily from indirect development (mode of many amphibians), the major difference being the presence of a larval stage with indirect development; larvae undergo metamorphosis to the juvenile adult. In amphibians, environmental conditions experienced during the larval stage can lead to extreme plasticity in behaviour, morphology and the timing of metamorphosis and can cause variation in adult phenotypic expression (carry-over effects, or developmental programming). Hormones of the neuroendocrine stress axis play pivotal roles in mediating environmental effects on animal development. Stress hormones, produced in response to a deteriorating larval habitat, accelerate amphibian metamorphosis; in mammals, stress hormones hasten the onset of parturition and play an important role in pre-term birth caused by intra-uterine stress. While stress hormones can promote survival in a deteriorating larval or intra-uterine habitat, costs may be incurred, such as reduced growth and size at metamorphosis or birth. Furthermore, exposure to elevated stress hormones during the tadpole or foetal stage can cause permanent neurological changes, leading to altered physiology and behaviour later in life. The actions of stress hormones in animal development are evolutionarily conserved, and therefore amphibians can serve as important model organisms for research on the mechanisms of developmental plasticity.
    No preview · Article · Sep 2010

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