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Eyes Toward Tomorrow Program Enhancing Collaboration, Connections, and Community Using Bioinspired Design


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The goal of our i4’s Toward Tomorrow Program is to enrich the future workforce with STEM by providing students with an early, inspirational, interdisciplinary experience fostering inclusive excellence. We attempt to open the eyes of students who never realized how much their voice is urgently needed by providing an opportunity for involvement, imagination, invention, and innovation. Students see how what they are learning, designing, and building matters to their own life, community, and society. Our program embodies convergence by obliterating artificially created, disciplinary boundaries to go far beyond STEM or even STEAM by including artists, designers, social scientists, and entrepreneurs collaborating in diverse teams using scientific discoveries to create inventions that could shape our future. Our program connects two recent revolutions by amplifying Bioinspired Design with the Maker Movement and its democratizing effects empowering anyone to innovate and change the world. Our course is founded in original discovery. We explain the process of biological discovery and the importance of scaling, constraints, and complexity in selecting systems for bioinspired design. By spotlighting scientific writing and publishing, students become more science literate, learn how to decompose a biology research paper, extract the principles, and then propose a novel design by analogy. Using careful, early scaffolding of individual design efforts, students build the confidence to interact in teams. Team building exercises increase self-efficacy and reveal the advantages of a diverse set of minds. Final team video and poster project designs are presented in a public showcase. Our program forms a student-centered creative action community comprised of a large-scale course, student-led classes, and a student-created university organization. The program structure facilitates a community of learners that shifts the students' role from passive knowledge recipients to active co-constructors of knowledge being responsible for their own learning, discovery, and inventions. Students build their own shared database of discoveries, classes, organizations, research openings, internships, and public service options. Students find next step opportunities so they can see future careers. Description of our program here provides the necessary context for our future publications on assessment that examine 21st century skills, persistence in STEM, and creativity.
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Integrative and Comparative Biology
Integrative and Comparative Biology, volume 00, number 0, pp. 1–15 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
Eyes Toward Tomorrow Program Enhancing Collaboration,
Connections, and Community Using Bioinspired Design
Robert J. Full*,1,H.A.Bhatti
, P. Jennings*, R. Ruopp*, T. Jafar*, J. Matsui*, L.A. Flores
and M. Estrada
Department of Integrative Biology, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA; Graduate Group in
Science and Mathematics Education (SESAME), University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA; Department
of Social and Behavioral Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA
From the symposium “Biology Beyond the Classroom: Experiential Learning through Authentic Research, Design and
Community Engagement” presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology Annual
Meeting and Exhibition Final Program and Abstracts. Washington, DC. January 3–February 28.
Synopsis The goal of our Eyes Toward Tomorrow Program is to enrich the future workforce with STEM by providing
students with an early, inspirational, interdisciplinary experience fostering inclusive excellence. We attempt to open the eyes
of students who never realized how much their voice is urgently needed by providing an opportunity for involvement,
imagination, invention, and innovation. Students see how what they are learning, designing, and building matters to their own
life, community, and society. Our program embodies convergence by obliterating articially created, disciplinary boundaries
to go far beyond STEM or even STEAM by including artists, designers, social scientists, and entrepreneurs collaborating in
diverse teams using scientic discoveries to create inventions that could shape our future. Our program connects two recent
revolutions by amplifying Bioinspired Design with the Maker Movement and its democratizing eects empowering anyone to
innovate and change the world. Our course is founded in original discovery. We explain the process of biological discovery and
the importance of scaling, constraints, and complexity in selecting systems for bioinspired design. By spotlighting scientic
writing and publishing, students become more science literate, learn how to decompose a biology research paper, extract the
principles, and then propose a novel design by analogy. Using careful, early scaolding of individual design eorts, students
build the condence to interact in teams. Team building exercises increase self-ecacy and reveal the advantages of a diverse
set of minds. Final team video and poster project designs are presented in a public showcase. Our program forms a student-
centered creative action community comprised of a large-scale course, student-led classes, and a student-created university
organization. The program structure facilitates a community of learners that shifts the students’ role from passive knowledge
recipients to active co-constructors of knowledge being responsible for their own learning, discovery, and inventions. Students
build their own shared database of discoveries, classes, organizations, research openings, internships, and public service options.
Students nd next step opportunities so they can see future careers. Description of our program here provides the necessary
context for our future publications on assessment that examine 21st century skills, persistence in STEM, and creativity.
"Workers of the future will learn to deeply cultivate
and exploit creativity, collaborative activity, abstract
and systems thinking, complex communication and the
ability to thrive in diverse environments” (The Pew
Research Center; Rainie and Anderson 2017). Learning
these skills demands the reimagining of an undergrad-
uate curriculum. In 2013, an AAAS report warned that
research is at a tipping point transitioning from ultra-
specialization and highly prescribed problems to one in
which integrative and collaborative approaches are re-
quired to solve complex challenges. The Committee on
Advance Access publication August 30, 2021
The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. This is an Open
Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which
permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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2R. J. Full iD et al.
Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research recommended
that “undergraduate students should seek interdisci-
plinary experiences, such as courses at the interfaces
of traditional disciplines that address basic research
problems, interdisciplinary courses that address societal
problems, and research experiences that span more
than one traditional discipline. . .” (NAS 2004). The
report on Enhancing the Eectiveness of Team Science
(NRC 2015)addsthat,“Therearefewopportunities
ence as a social and intellectual process of shared
knowledge creation. . . At the undergraduate level,
students majoring in science and the related STEM
disciplines take courses dominated by lectures and
short laboratory activities that often leave them with
major misconceptions about important disciplinary
concepts and relationships”. NAS (2015,2017)reports
strongly encourage integrating interdisciplinary course-
based discovery experiences into the undergraduate
curriculum. Institutional change is needed to “expand
education paradigms to model transdisciplinary ap-
proaches for convergence” (NRC 2014). “Convergence
is an approach to problem solving that cuts across
disciplinary boundaries. It integrates knowledge, tools,
and ways of thinking from life and health sciences,
physical, mathematical, and computational sciences,
engineering disciplines, and beyond to form a compre-
hensive synthetic framework for tackling scientic and
societal challenges that exist at the interfaces of multiple
elds”. More recently, a convergence workshop (NAS
2019) suggested that “early student exposure to conver-
gence experiences, especially as undergraduates, could
productively inuence later interests and interactions
with the academic system.
Bioinspired design meets the maker
An NRC report (2008)entitled"InspiredbyBiology:
From Molecules to Materials to Machines” concluded
that bioinspired design is a strategy that has the
potential to improve citizens wellbeing and the nations’
economic competitiveness. The approach uses prin-
ciples discovered from biological systems to develop
innovative materials, devices, structures, and systems.
In President Obama’s 2009 address to the NAS, he
urged scientists to move out of the laboratory and
into society to start a national movement to inspire
and enable young people “to be makers of things”.
Hatch (2014) stated that “The real power of this
revolution is its democratizing eects. Now, almost
anyone can innovate. Now almost anyone can make.
Now, with the tools available at a makerspace, anyone
can change the world”. Researchers of “makication”
in education (Cohen et al. 2016;Hansen et al. 2020)
“point out that the promise of the maker movement
rests in its uniquely diverse communities with the
encouragement of divergent mindsets that engage in
multidisciplinary approaches to solve problems that are
personally meaningful with potential to enrich meaning
note “trouble with the notion of makerspaces as an
implicit panacea to equity and access issues in STEM”
(Barton et al. 2017) unless we include “a broader
range of identities, practices and environments” that
represents “a bold step toward equity in education
(Vossoughi et al. 2016). Therefore, we must explore
areas of connected, interest-powered, and communal
utility value learning (Brown et al. 2015a,2015b)inthe
context of culturally sustaining pedagogy (Paris 2012).
Eyes Toward Tomorrow Program
We combine the power of interdisciplinary approaches
and the maker revolution in our Eyes Toward To-
morrow Program, grounded in scientic discovery
and bioinspired design taking place in our educa-
tional makerspace (i.e., The Jacobs Institute of Design
Innovation). We attempt to open the eyes of those
who never realized how much their voice is urgently
needed by providing an opportunity for involvement,
imagination, invention, and innovationinastudent-
centered creative action community. The center-piece
of the community is our Bioinspired Design course
that is part of U.C. Berkeley’s College of Letters and
Science’s breadth requirement and serves 180 students
per semester (Fig. 1A, B). Demographics show we
have 60% female students with nearly 50% of the
class in their rst or second year. The course has
no prerequisites and receives institutional matching
funds for graduate student instructors and supplies.
majors, including molecular and cell biology, public
health, integrative biology, data science, bioengineer-
ing, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering
and computer science, art, architecture, chemistry,
sociology, psychology, political science, and business.
Students who take our large-scale course are encour-
aged to teach their own course (DeCal class; Fig.
1C) and join a student-created, student-led, and uni-
versity recognized organization—Berkeley’s BioDesign
Community—Bio-D (Fig. 1D).IntheDeCalclass,
students teach their own class with a dierent emphasis
such as enhanced industry networking, K-12 outreach,
longer-term design projects, or team participation in
national competitions. Student instructors have access
to all the resources oered by the university to faculty-
taught courses (Fig. 1C). Regardless of whether students
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Student-led creative action community 3
Fig. 1 Eyes Toward Tomorrow Program communities. Bioinspired Design course includes (A) Classroom community (two 1-h lectures
per week, demonstrations using personal response system where teams share connections) and (B) Design laboratory community (one
1-h design session per week with access and training to all makerspace equipment). (C)Student-led classes (DeCal; 1-h lecture per
week with project-based designs, demonstrations, and makerspace training), and (D)Student-created organization (weekly meetings,
projects, guest speakers, design workshops, design-a-thons, eld trips, collaborative activities, and competitions.)
have taken either of our courses, they can join our
Bio-D organization as participating members or elected
ocers (Fig. 1D). The Bio-D community enables an
even greater diversity of students to benet by inviting
interactions with other campus organizations in engi-
neering, art, architecture, and business. These synergies
lead students to explore previously unimagined paths
by then taking our large-scale course or student-led
Our program is the pedagogical realization of the
PolyPEDAL Laboratory’s interdisciplinary research ap-
proach to bioinspired design. It represents a natural
next step in sharing our vision with a large, diverse
undergraduate population after founding our inter-
disciplinary Center for Bioinspiration inEducation
and Research at Berkeley (CiBER). CiBER previously
oered a 20-student, upper division, discovery-based
learning laboratory that resulted in authentic research
(Full et al. 2015). We contend that research and teaching
are inseparable communities. Our program strives
to inspire the next generation to expand the sphere
of interdisciplinary creativity far beyond biology and
The NAS (2021) report declared that “Scientic
thinking and understanding are essential for all people
navigating the world, not just for scientists and other
STEM professionals”. To develop a more creative and
inclusive STEM-enhanced workforce, and to leverage
diverse representation as a distinct competitive advan-
tage in today’s age of innovation (NAE 2015;AlShebli
2018;Hofstra et al. 2020), we propose seven aims where
rAim 1: Understand scientic discovery using bioin-
spired design;
rAim 2: Create inventions with societal relevance
through design assignments and laboratories;
using a series of team-building exercises;
rAim 4: Connect to communities to see career paths
by building a shared database of discoveries, classes,
organizations, role models, and next step programs,
while teaching their own course, and leading or
joining a student-created organization;
rAim 5: Participate beyond our campus by adapting
our curriculum and materials using outreach and
broad dissemination venues;
rAim 6: Own the program through feedback using
surveys and formal assessments to which we re-
rAim 7: Develop 21st century skills that include
critical thinking, creativity and innovation, com-
munication and collaboration, and interdisciplinary
thinking (Trilling and Fadel 2009).
Aim 1: Understand scientic discovery
using bioinspired design
We aim to share the process of discovering nature’s
principles by designing course activities that advance
students’ science literacy. NAS (2021) reports “scientic
literacy elevates the quality of decision making in
almost every aspect of daily life” and “understanding
science and the practice of scientic thinking are
essential components of a fully functioning democracy”.
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4R. J. Full iD et al.
Fig. 2 Bioinspired Design course. Time period over the semester shown from start (bottom) to nish (top). Lectures. (A) Two sections of
lectures are delivered. (B) Lecture titles. (C) Scaffolded assignments that progress from individual (gray boxes) to team (tan boxes) and
from guided topic to student or team selected. (D) Specic individual or team activity. (E) Outcome aims for each set of activities.
literate citizens who know how and where reliable
information originates. Therefore, the foundation of
our program resides in original discovery. We use the
researcher’s frame to situate student learning to best
understand the scientic process (Lave and Wenger
1991). We begin our lectures with those focusing on the
Bioinspired Design Process (Fig. 2A, B).
Bioinspired design process
To provide the biological foundation necessary to
eectively extract and translate principles, we give a
series of lectures that focus on biological discovery,
biodesign, bioconstraints, bioscaling, biocomplexity,
and bioselection (Fig. 2A, B; see supplement S1 for the
concepts highlighted in each lecture).
We want students to experience bioinspired design
through the lens of original discovery where they
“become” the researcher and sense the excitement of
discovering something no human has ever known
before. We use a solution-driven approach where
inspiration begins with a biological discovery, extracts
the fundamental principle, and then creates an analogy
to use this principle to solve a human problem (Helms
et al. 2009).
We comp l e ment ou r B i o Discov e r y l e c t u re with
design laboratory discussions focusing on scientic
journals, the dierences between primary, secondary,
and tertiary sources, unreliable sources, search engines
and strategies, the anatomy of a scientic publication,
and the manuscript and grant review process. This
analysis and simplication of the scientic communi-
are exposed to the foundations of the scientic process.
Even more critical, it may be the last time, especially for
non-STEM majors.
We dispel the myths and stereotypes that science is
a boring career, primarily conducted in isolation and
process involving curiosity, creativity, exploration, and
discovery, gathering and interpreting data, with ener-
gizing communities oering feedback and new ideas
for collaboration, and maintaining the possibility of
contributing to revolutionary societal benets and
outcomes (Understanding Science 2021). We share nar-
ratives about the discovery process, what it is really like
to tackle grand challenges, collaborate with colleagues,
enjoy social interactions, fail at times, but truly realize
that one never knows where curiosity-based research
will lead. The most signicant breakthroughs come
from studies one least expects. To inspire, motivate, and
connect with students, we use stories of real scientists
and their discoveries from diverse elds (Avraamidou
and Osborne 2009;Padian 2018).
In our BioDesign lecture, we provide students the
tools to use a solution-driven, bottom-up approach
to extract biological principles for translation from
original biological discoveries. Our approach directly
addresses previously stated obstacles most often ob-
served in engineering and design courses (Grae et
al. 2020,2021;Lenau et al. 2018;Nagel et al. 2019).
“In practice, it has been acknowledged that challenges
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Student-led creative action community 5
exist for designers and engineers in accessing and in-
terpreting principles in life sciences through academic
literature” (Rovalo et al. 2020). We developed a simple
method, Discovery Decomposition,tounderstanda
scientic publication (see Supplement S2). Using a
ow chart format, we see students with no science
scientic papers by mapping what was known, done,
measured, and discovered, to come away with the
biological principle they can use for design. Our simple
Analogy Check process ensures students identify the
similarities and dierences present in the organism
compared to their proposed design related to structure,
size, operating environment, mechanism, specication,
performance, and constraints (see Supplement S2).
The remaining foundational lectures of the bioin-
spired design process (Fig. 2A, B, bottom) are further
developed in Supplement S1. In the BioConstraints lec-
ture, we show students the concepts needed to navigate
the results of evolution. Many students, engineers, and
bioinspired design courses assume nature’s creatures are
optimally designed by evolution and should be copied
detailing how evolution is not engineering and directly
debunk intelligent design. In BioScaling,wereveal
eective analogies. In BioComplexity,wedemonstrate
the value of mathematical and physical models that
collapse biological dimensions. In BioSelection,we
advise on how to select a system or organism for
Case studies of bioinspired design
After the foundational lectures, students are eager
to see the process applied to specic case studies
of interest (Fig. 2A, B, top). Students demand con-
nections meaningful to them beyond those typically
discussed in biology or biomimetics (Chamany et
al. 2008;Canning et al. 2018;Priniski et al. 2018).
Students attracted to engineering see new career
opportunities for environmental monitoring, hazard
detection, and search-and-rescue from our BioMotion
lectures on running, ying, and swimming animals
that lead to the next generation of mobile robots.
Those passionate about health and medicine see
never imagined career trajectories in our BioPros-
thetics lecture, which features cochlear and retinal
implants, exo-suits allowing people with paraplegia to
walk again, and brain-machine interfaces permitting
those with quadriplegia to move robot arms to feed
themselves. Environmentally conscious students are
inspired by the biodegradable and sustainable materials
shown in our guest lectures on BioGreenChem and
BioArchitecture. Students who love art but did not
envision how a STEM-enriched career path could allow
them to realize their dreams see examples in our BioAn-
imation lecture. We tell stories of how we helped Pixar
and DreamWorks make children’s movies using biolog-
ical principles of motion applied to computer visualiza-
tion through big data science and articial intelligence.
Aim 2: Create inventions with societal
relevance through design assignments
and laboratories
Students best learn through a constructivist approach
that promotes active learning (Papert 1999;Freeman
et al. 2014;Theobald et al. 2020). In our course, this
is accomplished by making conceptual designs and
prototypes inspired by biology. We provide an opportu-
nity for self-generated, utility-value tasks (Canning and
Harackiewicz 2015;Priniski et al. 2018)tohelpstudents
see how what they are learning, designing, and building
matters to their own life, community, and society. These
tasks challenge students to reect upon the course ma-
terial through the development and invention of their
own bioinspired designs. Underscoring each design are
connections to widespread societal benets, leading to
societally-relevant designs. By ensuring that learning
truly matters, our program fosters a sense of science
activism amongst students, including nonmajors who,
along with their STEM major counterparts, will make
up a future citizenry that must be able to apply scientic
knowledge and practices to make informed decisions
as a part of their duties in a democratic society. Thus,
we view learning within our program as not being
conned to STEM, but “STEM-enriched”, applicable to
areas within and outside of STEM.
To accomplish this aim, we oer a series of scaolded
discussions with design laboratory sessions each week
to directly complement our lectures (Fig. 2D). We begin
the approach and foster connection by encouraging
students to select a personally-meaningful discovery
for inspiration (Fig. 2C, bottom). We follow individual
assignments with team building activities (Fig. 2C,
middle) and exercises where we assign published
discoveries to guide group designs. After inspiriting
collaboration, teams select discoveries to inspire a
novel invention that they present in brief video and
poster formats at our public, end-of-semester Design
Showcase (Fig. 2C, D, top).
Scaffolding individual strengths to aid in
the discovery to design path
using low point value formative assessment (Maksic
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6R. J. Full iD et al.
and Smiljana 2021). We provide individual assignments
using the bioinspired design process to increase student
creativity and condence, while convincing them that
they have an essential voice in the upcoming team
design assignments. Students build upon lecture ex-
amples of how to extract a principle from a scientic
paper (i.e., Discovery Decomposition) and propose a
novel design (i.e., Analogy Check) by using our second
assigned publication on the discovery of gecko adhesion
(Autumn et al. 2002) as an individual homework
assignment (Supplement S2). All students submit their
paper breakdown but are free to create a novel design by
completing the Analogy Check. In the next individual
homework assignment, we reduce the scaolding by
allowing students to complete a primary literature
search for a scientic paper that most interests them,
extract the principle discovered, and propose a novel
design. Discussion section time is allotted to support
these assignments by rst dedicating a session to
searching scientic literature. The next two sessions
focus on the scientic process of discovery, including
research question origination, experimental design,
scientic publication, the peer review process, and
creating and giving scientic meeting presentations.
Graduate student instructors directly mentor students,
respond to questions, and grade each individual design
with encouraging written responses to build self-
ecacy before the undergraduates undertake team
design projects.
Guided topic, team design projects
After individual design projects, we form teams and
lead students through teaming activities and collab-
oration training (see Aim 3). We oer two guided
topic, design laboratories—Gecko Synthetic Adhesives
and Insect Inspired Robots (Fig. 2D).First,weextend
using gecko adhesion publications by asking teams
to create a synthetic gecko-inspired adhesive using a
polymer mold and then test its properties in a series
of experiments (Supplement S3). In the next laboratory
novel conceptual design using their adhesive. To ensure
that biologists, engineers, architects, artists, business
majors and more all can contribute to a design, we
encourage combinations of three media for design
representation. Teams can select from: (1) mock-up
construction material provided (i.e., construction toys,
Styrofoam, cardboard, construction/craft material with
tools), (2) computer simulation, blueprint, or artistic
sketches (e.g., Photoshop, SketchUp, Maya, Blender,
2D/3D CAD tools, Solidworks, Autocad, or Adobe
Illustrator); and/or (3) prototype building using our
Makerspace facilities (e.g., laser cutters, 3D printers,
CNC routers for woodworking, sewing, or sculpting).
These activities are made possible through a partner-
ship with a campus makerspace. Each student receives a
maker pass, hands-on safety training, and free hands-on
training on all makerspace equipment in our institute
(i.e., Jacobs Institute of Design Innovation). All teams
use a combination of approaches and submit both
a report and their design for assessment. Examples
of gecko adhesion-related trial designs included a
stroke rehabilitation device with easy grip, a puncture-
proof organ gripper for surgical transplants, shower
sandals for the elderly, a diabetes pump attachment
with easy on and o, and an attachable grab bar
project, students use lectures on terrestrial BioMotion,
BioControl, and BioMaterials to aid in the construction
of an insect exoskeleton-inspired origami legged robot
called DASH (Supplement S4). The robot comes in a
with a provided electronics board, allowing students
to drive the robot using a bluetooth-connected mobile
app. Students then characterize the robot’s performance
across a series of testing experiments. Again, teams use
all construction approaches to modify their robot for
a novel trial design. Examples of trial designs include
a mobile agricultural soil monitoring robot, DEToxES
(Dynamic Environmental Toxins Elimination Sensing)
robot, a humanitarian demining robot, a disinfecting
robot for hospitals, and a “St. Bernard” robot for search-
and-rescue and disaster relief.
Team selected design projects
After students have completed individual and team
design projects, they are suciently prepared to com-
plete the nal course project (Fig. 2D, top; Supplement
S5). Teams have three weeks to select a benchmark
biology publication, gain approval from instructors,
extract the biological principle discovered (i.e., do
a Discovery Decomposition), translate the principle
create a feasibility prototype, and produce a 5-min
video and poster explaining the scientic publication,
the challenges of translation, and a commercial pitch
for their proposed product possessing societal benet.
Final design projects have included a exible cast
to reduce muscle atrophy based on the skeleton of
seahorses, fresh-water capture devices based on a
system for throat cancer patients based on a songbird’s
syrinx, and a compliant novel suturing device derived
from porcupine spines. Final designs projects are
presented to the public in a Design Showcase hosted
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Student-led creative action community 7
at our Jacobs institute and online after the last week
of classes. We oer support for teams interested in
competing in national and international bioinspired
design contests the next semester. Follow-up eorts are
formalized in our student-led classes and/or commu-
nity (Fig. 1C, D; see Aim 6).
Aim 3: Learn teaming where each voice
is valued
Eective teaming is a critical skill for creativity in
science and innovation in our future workforce (NRC
2015). We place students into teams and provide team
training in design sessions. We use our online module
building and feedback activities, and teach how to
develop a collaborative plan to coordinate nal design
Team composition
We compose teams of ve students based on their
responses to a survey that captures their disciplinary
backgrounds and expertise. From the survey data, we
make an eort to balance area of interest (biology,
engineering, design, architecture, and business), level
(freshmen to seniors), and design experience (skills,
tools, and classes) in every team (Supplement S6). We
do not use students’ ethnicity, gender, economic back-
ground, or other sociodemographics when composing a
team, but plan to explore how these demographics may
relate to team dynamics and performance. The teams
Team training
We inv i t e e ach stud e n t to creat e a s h ared Social
Mixer Slide (analogous to an “About Me” slide) to
facilitate team dynamics. These slides include oppor-
tunities to express personal creativity through items
like seles, a 1-min video introduction, and a 3-
word/image description, along with technical data like
major, year of graduation, future goals, experience
with design/presentation, and which BioSystem and
design challenge most interests them. We then make a
discussion section. A major advantage is that both the
course and discussion section instructors get to know
the student sooner and more eectively than through
typical rst-day introductions.
Fortunately, we have a campus group that has
researched (Lau et al. 2012) and created a “Teaming
step program supplemented by three brief and easy-to-
follow, videos that include “Why learn teaming”, “How
can our team succeed”, and “How can our team excel”.
We review teaming advice in a design laboratory and
then make teaming videos available online. A critical
component of eective teamwork is reection, dened
as a group’s ability to share team objectives, strategies,
and processes collectively, and then adapt accordingly.
We hope to devote more structured development of
team dialogue and inclusive feedback in the future,
including activities where team members listen actively
to learn. For instance, we encourage team members
to avoid binary listening and judgment (i.e., yes/no
feedback) and instead learn to ask, “how might this be
possible?” Rather than disagreeing outright, students
try to imagine, “what could that allow us to do?” Instead
of judging whether something is a perfect t, they ask,
“how can that contribute?” Rather than see something
as good or bad, students ask, “what avenues could that
idea advance?” Moreover, instead of judging things as
realistic or unrealistic, students try to imagine, “what
active listening are seldom taught or promoted through
dedicated teaming.
Teaming activities encourage
collaboration and self-efcacy
within the context of a biological phenomenon. In this
rst teaming activity, students consider how dispersal
of seeds is crucial for the survival of plant species
(Supplement S7). Plants that rely on seed dispersal
need to maximize their ability to disperse seeds relative
to their anatomy and size constraints. Greater height
of the seedhead increases the probability of dispersal,
but also increases the probability of stem collapse—
an example of the trade-os organisms face. With
this biological framing in mind, we challenge teams
to build the tallest freestanding plant measured from
the tabletop surface to the top of the “seedhead”
(i.e., a marshmallow) using as many or as few of
the stem structures (spaghetti sticks) and as much
or as little of the string/tape as they prefer in only
18 min (Wujec 2010). We follow-up the challenge
with team discussions regarding strategies, emergent
roles, individual workload, and how to increase team
eectiveness in the future. We end the exercise by asking
students to reect on what they did well as a team and
what they could improve upon to communicate more
As teams become more familiar with one another, we
task them with a 3D printing activity meant to promote
students’ self-ecacy (Supplement S8). We developed
this activity based on student feedback recommending
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8R. J. Full iD et al.
an early makerspace experience during pilot versions
of the course. Inspired by these requests and utilizing
an open-source design, each student 3D prints a nger
of a prosthetic hand designed for children aected
by symbrachydactyly. Each student submits a sele
holding their printed nger in front of the 3D printer.
Each printed nger is then used in a collaborative,
team-based assembly of all parts of the 3D printed
prosthetic hand, resulting in a fully functional nal
product. Student survey data showed a widespread
unfamiliarity with both makerspace activities and 3D
printing before engaging in the course activity. After
completing the activity, survey data showed students
were more comfortable using makerspace equipment,
more interested in learning about other makerspace
equipment, and demonstrated a general sentiment that
3D printing a prosthetic nger was not atechnically
dicult exercise. Students felt a sense of inclusion
and belonging to a technological community (Bhatti
et al. 2021). Both the seed dispersal activity and
eective teaming early in the course, ensuring that the
subsequent team design projects are not the rst time
teammates engage with one another.
Teaming process for design
Each team creates a Collaborative Plan (Supplement
S9) for their nal design project that leverages diversity
to best dene their individual and group goals, roles,
processes, and relationships. Teams submit a scientic
publication for inspiration, get approval from the
graduate student instructors, get feedback on their
original collaborative plan, and then submit a revised
Collaborative Plan because eective collaboration must
be iterative (Lau et al. 2012). To facilitate communi-
cation among team members and the class, we use
our course management system (i.e., Canvas), which
includes an online discussion forum. We give each team
additional online space for sharing design ideas (i.e.,
collaborative Box folders). All 36 teams present their
at Jacobs Institute and online (i.e., Adobe Behance—
the world’s largest creative network for showcasing and
discovering creative work).
Aim 4: Connect to communities to see
career paths
We have developed a structure fostering a commu-
passive knowledge recipient to active co-constructor
of knowledge responsible for their own learning (Fig.
1C, D; Dingyloudi and Strijbos 2020). To this end,
students build a shared database of discoveries, classes,
organizations, role models, next step programs, teach
a course by designing their own curriculum, and
join a student-created organization. Our program is
best described as a student-centered creative ac-
tion community.Ouraimistohavestudentssee
new career paths outside of academia, participate
in research, public service, community organizations,
internships, entrepreneurship, and industry to be-
come members of communities of practice (Wenger
Connections by a student-created,
custom database
paths to future careers, student teams create a shared
database of Connections. A Connection is a URL that
points to a website (Fig. 3A; Supplement S10). URL cat-
publications of biological discoveries and bioinspired
designs; (2) research laboratories, centers, institutes,
foundations, and companies where discoveries are
made and translated; (3) investigators demonstrating
diverse paths to success; (4) organizations to join such
as professional and URM research societies, clubs,
support groups, and competitions; (5) relevant courses
to take on campus and online; and (6) labs to conduct
undergraduate research, potential graduate and medical
degree programs, and business internships. Bioinspired
Design is a eld so well-suited to generate a connections
changing interdisciplinary elds. Novel principles are
discovered daily in concert with new designs. The rate
of doubling for bioinspired design journal publications
and conference papers is every 2–3 years compared
to 13 years for most scientic elds (Lepora et al.
2013). Students submit Connections stimulated by the
eld of bioinspired design that allow them to see both
immediate and long-term opportunities toward career
paths far beyond the eld (Fig. 3B). Students become
energized by sharing general categories of engagement,
participation, and career paths meaningful to them.
Teams su b m it a Connection b e f ore each lectu r e u sing
an online form that requires a URL, the Connection
category selected, and team number (Fig. 3A). After
reviewing all submitted Connections, we encourage the
public and class-wide dissemination of ideas. At the
beginning of a lecture, three design teams enthusiasti-
cally share their Connections. Additionally, individual
students have one week to scan the team Connec-
tions and select those of personal interest through a
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Student-led creative action community 9
Fig. 3 Student-created shared database of Connections (URLs). (A) Example connections include the Category, detail description, the URL,
and the Team number submitting. Example Format: Team #24: Organization, Local: Categories of Connections
shared from our communities where students see paths to future careers. Colored boxes represent different Connection categories.
“Like” button embedded into each Connection entry.
This simple exercise allows students to nd inspiring,
crowd-sourced career directions based on submissions
by the classroom community-at-large (Freeman 2012;
Fig. 3B).
Connections by a student-led class
Students today demand a voice in the direction of
STEM to avoid being conned to paths set by previous
generations. Given exponential rates of societal, tech-
nological, and environmental change, it is no longer
sucient to provide students with only foundational
content knowledge to address current global problems.
opportunity to dene their futures (Dorph et al. 2016).
We must showcase the advantages that arise from
Democratic Education at Cal or DeCal) of student-
run courses allowing students to create and facilitate
their own small classes (Fig. 1C). DeCal classes are
recognized university classes run by students with a
faculty sponsor. Students oer two versions of the
student-led bioinspired design DeCal course. The rst
version focuses on more foundational material for those
who were unable to take the large-scale Bioinspired
Design course. Student instructors who have taken
the large-scale class set their own syllabus, empha-
sis, lectures, such as bioethics, design projects, and
events. Additionally, student instructors use the class
to pilot new team and design exercises for which
they see value (e.g., 3D printed child’s prosthetic
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10 R. J. Full iD et al.
hand). The second version enables students to build
upon their design work from previous classes. They
move their design to protype stage, approach needed
researchers, and then consider incubators and start-
ups. Amazingly, through this student-led structure, one
team reached the nals in the International BioDesign
Challenge with a project on a hornet’s silk to develop
a biodegradable, thermoelectric, and thermoregulatory
textile that can be used to power emergency shelters.
The team used the NSF I-corps program and applied
it to accelerator programs (e.g., YCombinator and
Connections by a student-led,
community organization
To provide a sense of community and belonging to
our extended campus community, students founded
a registered student organization, Berkeley Biodesign
Community—BioD, (Fig. 1D) in association with our
Leadership, Engagement, Advising, and Development
Center (LEAD Center). The community can access
and event, facilities, and insurance support. Students
wrote a constitution and selected a President, Projects
Coordinator, Secretary, and Education, Events, Out-
reach, and Finance Coordinators. Members join from
the Bioinspired Design class, the DeCal classes, other
campus organizations, and from the diverse campus
community. The community organization creates novel
design projects, provides makerspace training, holds
design workshops, orchestrates design-a-thons, and
student organizations, and recruits underrepresented
students. Students have new opportunities to connect
with U.C. Berkeley’s public service oce, undergrad-
uate research, career center, internships, and our en-
trepreneurship and innovation centers. We want to
emphasize that our program is not limited to the
foundational, large-scale course. After our foundational
course ends, the engagement opportunities do not.
Students can continue involvement by participating
in our student-led classes and organizations, all of
which lead to a sense of belonging in a creative action
Aim 5: Participation beyond our own
Through dissemination eorts, students beyond U.C.
Berkeley’s campus are participating by way of other
universities, symposia and professional development
sessions, and K-12 Summer Camps.
Sharing bioinspired design lectures,
laboratories, assignments, and
We plan to continue to share our program materials
with other universities and colleges. We have devel-
oped a complete online master manual containing all
aspects of the syllabus, announcements, assignments,
lecture slides, personal response system questions,
demonstrations, laboratory handouts and materials,
discussion presentations, teaming materials, surveys,
and all assessment exams, rubrics, and self-reports.
Thus far, colleagues have developed similar bioinspired
design programs utilizing our dissemination materials
at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, the University of
Sharing by symposia and professional
development sessions
We share our program through symposia presenta-
tions associated with biological professional societies
(e.g., the Society of Integrative and Comparative Bi-
ology), education and social science societies (e.g.,
Understanding Interventions; Flores et al. 2021), and
professional development sessions at underrepresented
student research societies (e.g., Annual Biomedical Re-
search Conference for Minority Students; Full 2019,and
the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics
and Native Americans in Science).
Outreach — K-12 summer camps
Partnering with our public education research center
(i.e., Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science), we oer
a week-long Bioinspired Design summer camp for
local and international high school students. Using
the science learning activation approach (Dorph et al.
2016), students receive an introduction to bioinspired
design while participating in teaming exercises (e.g.,
seed dispersal activity, 3D printing child’s prosthetic
hand), team design activities (e.g., gecko adhesive and
origami robot), tours of U.C. Berkeley’s research muse-
ums, botanical garden, and makerspace design institute,
and complete each day with a reection/discussion. On
the last day, student teams create their own bioinspired
design and present them to the class.
Aim 6: Own the program through
We act on the valuable feedback we gain from using
class evaluations, class assessments of activities, and
student skills and outcomes assessments. This feedback
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Student-led creative action community 11
Fig. 4 Bioinspired design class evaluations (left-hand column),student assessments (middle column), and class assessments (right-hand
column). Assessment data are collected through a series of surveys (self-reports).
is critical to informing our instruction and advances our
pedagogy (Fig. 4).
Student evaluations
Lecture — every student raises their hand for
every lecture
We imagined a large-scale STEM classroom in which
every student raises their hand for every lecture, a
classroom in which students’ voices matter and are
heard. To this end, we implemented an activity in
which students view the lecture in-person or online
and answer two included questions. Students completed
a “Reection Question” in which they record a single
concept and/or principle that was new to them and
caught their interest. They explain it as a text submis-
sion assignment. From this, we learn about students
interests and whether they understood key concepts.
Such an approach facilitates formative assessment and
the opportunity for instructional adjustments. More
tion" in which they ask one question they have about
or re-explanation to one that goes beyond the material
to explore its ramications. We track questions from
every student for each lecture in a database. The
questions are then sorted by discussion section so that
activities and be discussed amongst all students in the
section. Moreover, the responses give the instructor
unprecedented insight into the thinking of a student.
This personal connection is especially useful prior to
any one-on-one meeting during oce hours or if an
instructor wants to learn more about a student who may
be struggling.
Midterm “Exam” — show what you know
Students’ exams cover material from the lectures,
readings, and discussions (Supplement S11). Exams are
not the typical timed, proctored evaluations. To reduce
stress and promote more equitable evaluation practices
exams have a 14-day window for completion. We
publication from a range of biology journal suggestions
and then decompose the paper’s discovery, use an
analogy check to suggest an invention, and name a
start-up company. We use situated learning (Lave and
Wenger 1991) by telling students that they are part
of a design team that includes a biologist, engineer,
designer, and a start-up company with entrepreneurs
and business managers. We ask them to take the role
of the author of the biology paper. We have them
answer the teams questions based on the publication
selected, proposed design invention, and bioinspired
design process lectures (Fig. 2A, B, bottom). We ask
them to explain one relevant concept or principle from
what you know” exam, not what you forgot. Our
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12 R. J. Full iD et al.
method encourages students to apply class principles
to an authentic discovery in a creative context that
interests them most.
Individual and team design assignments
Students and teams are evaluated with rubrics for as-
signment completion. Supportive qualitative feedback
(Sadler 1989;Mulliner and Tucker 2017)isgivenby
graduate student instructors to increase self-ecacy,
especially for the initial individual assignments where
students are learning the bioinspired design process.
Students receive detailed comments on each submitted
assignment, rather than just a quantitative score. In
addition, we assess each project using a creativity rubric
Connections submissions
Students submit both team and individual submissions
once a week (Fig. 3A). We have three teams present
their Connection at the beginning of class to encourage
others to look at and “Like” it. We see how often
connections lead to project ideas. We use student
feedback of their interests to improve all aspects of the
program. In the future, we plan to better organize and
oer avenues to follow-up on connection opportunities
by developing a Connections Hub.
Final design projects
Student teams submit a nal project invention, poster,
and 5-min video. One month before nal submissions,
teams select a research paper containing a benchmark
biological discovery and upload it for approval from
the instructional sta. Teams do a Discovery Decom-
position and Analogy Check (See Supplement S2).
Teams propose and then create a novel bioinspired
design using photographs, diagrams/blue-prints, CAD
drawings, simulations and/or videos, craft supplies, and
3D-printed and laser cut pieces (Supplement S5). Teams
are asked to describe the next steps if they follow
up on their design, who they would collaborate with,
what critical pieces of information are needed, and the
likely major roadblocks. Teams include possible societal
impact (e.g., health, tness, sports and entertainment,
environment, safety, security, education, connections to
others or communities, assisting underserved, disabled
populations, or underdeveloped countries). Teams con-
clude their poster and video with a pitch to a govern-
ment organization, venture capitalists, an established
company, or propose steps to creating their own start-
up. Teams present their poster and video at a Design
Showcase open to the public and online. We evaluate
the projects using rubrics for completion, eort, quality,
and include a comprehensive assessment of creativity
which has been presented at a meeting (Flores et al.
2021) and is being prepared for publication.
Assessment of class activities
We ask graduate instructors and sta for self-reports of
improvements and new ideas at the semester’s end. We
provide students the opportunity to assess the lectures,
the design laboratories, and their teaming experience
and teammates (Supplements S12–15). We ask students
what was most and least eective. We value their voice
and request specic ideas for improvement. We make
every eort to have students own the course through
our actions taken based on their self-reports. Perhaps
our most notable example thus far was addressing
a major challenge where students did not feel that
they belonged to a technological community because
introductory student-led class (DeCal), we piloted each
student 3D printing a nger of a prosthetic hand
designed for children (see Teaming Activities, Aim
3). After gathering feedback from the pilot activity,
we made modications and introduced the exercise
this requested change, assessment showed a profound
increase in belonging and connection (Bhatti et al.
Assessment of student skills and
One large-scale course goal focuses on the development
of 21st century skills (see Aim 7). We have conducted
a pre-, post-survey for 21st century skills for the last
ve years (Supplement S16). We present a preliminary
analysis of the 21st century skills self-reports here (Sup-
plement S17). The second major course goal focuses
on assessing persistence in the scientic community.
We have completed pre-, post-surveys for persistence
(integration) over the last three years (Supplement S16).
To assess intentions to persist in a STEM career, we
examined science identity, science self-ecacy, science
community values, stress, stereotype threat, well-being
(based on Estrada et al. 2011), and a new STEM
enriched scale created for this course. We share the
psychosocial variables survey here (Supplement S16),
but will publish the complete analysis in a future paper.
Our third goal is to assess the eect of diversity on
team project creativity. Thus far, we have presented an
abstract with preliminary data (Flores et al. 2021)and
will follow with a publication.
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Student-led creative action community 13
Programmatic assessment of student-led
classes and organizations
We are developing programmatic assessment of all the
Creative Action Community components. We started
by giving surveys in the student-led class and organiza-
tion. Unfortunately, the disruptions associated with the
pandemic slowed this process immeasurably.
Aim 7: Develop 21st century skills
Numerous 21st century skills have been proposed
as critical education outcomes (Care 2018;Trill ing
and Fadel 2009;NRC 2012). These include critical
thinking and problem solving, creativity and innova-
tion, collaboration, teamwork, and leadership, cross-
cultural understanding, communications, information,
and media literacy, computing and technology literacy,
and career learning of self-reliance (Tr illi ng and F adel
2009). Our program attempts to address many of these
skills, but here we assess the skills we consider critical
to succeeding in our course and remaining applicable
to all transformative STEM courses; scientic discovery
and the translation process, interdisciplinary thinking,
and interdisciplinary collaboration.
Assessing 21st century skills
The foundation for our formal assessment tools is the
BEAR Assessment System (BAS) created by Wilson
(2005). BAS is an integrated approach to developing
assessments that provides meaningful interpretations of
student work relative to the cognitive and developmen-
tal goals of a curriculum (Wilson and Sloan 2000). The
2005) that include a construct map, items design,
outcome space, and measurement model (Supplement
S16; Fig. 1S). The rst building block (Construct Map)
concretely identies variables, described as capabilities,
approaches, attitudes, and skills that can be observed
to assess whether students are meeting goals. We
assign ve levels of development or success to a given
Construct—from Novice to Expert. We specify the data
necessary to demonstrate each level of success for three
main areas of our 21st century skills construct. We
created the second building block (Item Response) in
rubrics translating responses from our surveys (ratings
on Likert-type items) into quantitative data or scores.
Our fourth building block relates the survey scores to
our development levels (measurement or interpreta-
tional model). We analyzed the responses to the survey
items using item response theory (IRT) guided by the
Construct Map (Hambleton et al. 1991). An IRT partial
credit model was applied to the survey data to give
statistical evidence that the assessment was reliable and
the steps in the response scale (e.g., strongly disagree
to strongly agree) were ordered (Wrig ht and M aste rs
Results from 21st century skill
From 2016 to 2020, we administered a 26-item Likert-
type pre/post course survey as a self-reported mea-
sure of students’ 21st century skills (Supplement S17),
resulting in 514 pre- and 432 post-survey responses.
Our preliminary analysis of pre/post changes in raw
Likert scores showed increases in “agreeability” for all
items, including those mapped to the highest levels
of the construct map (i.e., items that we considered
“hardest” to agree with). Thus, the mean score for
each item on the survey increased from pre to post,
resulting in a positive delta value for each item. Students
showed growth in all skills and subdimensions of our
21st century skills construct every year after completing
the course. Considering the limitations of analyzing raw
scores on self-reported Likert instruments (Chimi and
Russell 2009), we plan to present a more in-depth IRT
analysis of these data in a future publication.
Author’s contributions
R.J.F., H.A.B, and P.J. contributed to the writing
of the manuscript. R.J.F, J.M., and P.J. developed
the course/discussion approaches and materials. R.J.F,
H.A.B, R.R., P.J., and T.J. implemented and facilitated
the student-led class and community. H.A.B, R.R., and
T.J. developed team activities. R.J.F, H.A.B, L.F., J.M.,
and M.E. developed the assessment.
We thank all the students who have participated in
Student Instructors Nate Hunt,Marc Badger,Shilpa
Naik,Ben McInroe,Nick Burnett,Lawrence Wang,
Andrew Saintsing,Shawn Shirazi,Benjamin Werbner,
Fatima Hidalgo,Leah Lee,Michael Abbott,and Erik
Sathe.Special thanks to undergraduate students leaders
Tia LaMore,Aaron Kirby,Michelle Temby,Sonia
Raghuram,Nathan Bentolila,Yizhen Zhang,Jumanah
Alsawaf,Preston Buck,Maggie George,Julia Solano,
and Lina Jemili. The program could not have been
developed without extraordinary sta support from
Thomas Libby,Jill Marchant,Drew McPherson, and
Alix Schwartz.
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14 R. J. Full iD et al.
This work was supported by the Howard Hughes
Medical Institute Award [GT1047 to R.J.F.].
Supplementary data
Supplementary data available at ICB online.
Data availability
The data underlying this article are available in the
article and Supplementary Appendix.
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... Nature is a fantastic entry-point for teaching [7]; almost everyone has an intuitive sense for animal behavior and locomotion from watching anything from movies to pets, pigeons, squirrels and other ubiquitous wildlife, even without realizing it. What is often needed is simply a way to think about what is already subconsciously known. ...
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Conference Paper
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