Pedagogy Development

Prof. Schaffer’s freshmen-level Introduction to Biomedical Engineering course uses a novel instructional method, adapted from the work of Prof. Eric Mazur (Physics, Harvard Univ.), where the lecture is centered around conceptual questions that go to the heart of frequently encountered student misunderstandings. About every ten minutes during the lecture a multiple-choice conceptual question is asked, and the students respond using electronic “clickers.” The students then turn to their neighbors and discuss their individual answers, trying to convince others that their answer is correct. The students then vote the consensus answer of their group. With a well-designed question, i.e. one that addresses a common misconception, just under half the students answer correctly individually, but over 90% answer correctly after discussing the problem with other students. Free-answer questions are also used, with students first writing a solution on their own, then comparing notes with their neighbors, and finally volunteering (or being called upon!) to share the consensus answer of their group with the class. This emphasis on concept-oriented, peer-based learning has proved highly-effective in our freshmen-level course, resulting in students gaining real conceptual understanding of sophisticated topics in Biomedical Engineering.

  BME 4440, Science Policy Bootcamp: Concept to Conclusion

As scientific and technological discoveries continue to change our world and society at a rapid pace, it has become imperative that our policymaking approach be informed by science. From energy policy to climate change, from health care to bioterrorism, from science education to technology innovation it has become critical to have professional scientists and engineers actively engaged in the policymaking process. However, a fundamental issue facing today’s government is the fact that too few scientists have experience with the inner workings of public policymaking and too few policymakers have significant science or engineering knowledge. This large gap between the two fields needs to be bridged if we are to have a society where science influences the course we take.

This course, Science Policy Bootcamp: Concept to Conclusion, aims to fill this void. Scientists and engineers in this course will learn about the policymaking process through active research and advocacy work. Some class time will be devoted to broadening student perspectives on science policy through lectures by Cornell faculty and visiting government officials, group discussions of reading assignments, and other activities. The primary activity of the course, however, will be a real policy-making exercise that builds over the course of the full semester. Working in small groups students will identify a key science policy issue, thoroughly research the issue, formulate a detailed plan to address the issue, and implement their plan for solving the problem toward the end of the term. Examples may include producing technical reports and analysis, drafting legislation, commenting on Federal or State rulemaking, writing legal briefs to support legal action, launching public outreach campaigns, or raising press awareness of an issue. There will be opportunities to meet with local, state, and federal lawmakers and government officials to try to advance policy ideas, including visits to Albany, NY or Washington, DC.

This three-credit course, offered in the Fall, is open to juniors, seniors, and graduate students in any science, engineering, or mathematics discipline and enrollment will be limited to about 20 students.

  BME 7130 Core Concepts in Disease

Most diseases emerge due to a relative small number of biological processes, including infection, inflammation, neo- plasia, genetic mutation, protein misfolding, and metabolic disregulation. In Core Concepts in Disease, students will learn about disease-state biology by focusing on these broad disease pathways. The didactic component of the course will consist of several modules, each focused on one broad class of disease mechanism, and will include both a discus- sion of the underlying biology of the disease pathway as well as examples of specific diseases that involve those mechanisms and existing or potential treatment strategies. This course will complement the training in fundamental normal-state biology students are already receiving by providing a mechanism-centered view of disease development.

Three credits.
Open to Ph.D. students, others require permission
Offered Spring semester
Tuesday and Thursday, 10:10 to 11:25

  BME 7130 syllabus 2010

  BME 5875 Frontiers in Biomedical Research for Teachers

The goal of BME 5875 is to help middle and high school science teachers increase their knowledge in key topics of relevance for biomedical science and for them to gain a sense of how new scientific knowledge is generated. This new knowledge and understanding of science topics and the process of science will then enable these teachers to provide better classroom instruction to their students. Readings, lectures, and discussions will provide science knowledge in a variety of topics over the six-week summer program. The topics covered in BME 5875 will focus on issues related to human health, al-lowing teachers to bring a real-world relevance to their classroom discussions and to show students how the science they are learning connects to the treatment of disease. Topics will also be interdisciplinary, providing a link between the traditional courses in physics, chemistry, and biology that are taught in mid-dle and high school. The level will be high enough to provide a solid understanding of the relevant sci-ence concepts, but will also aim to link to ideas taught in middle and high school science classes. Possible examples include: chemical release kinetics for design of drug delivery devices; optical principles for monitoring of tissue oxygenation; high resolution microscopy to image cancer cells; and mechanical properties of gels for the engineering of replacement tissues. One of the main goals of this course is to help teachers gain a first-hand appreciation of how new science knowledge is generated in the lab. Teachers will work with their partnered graduate fellow partner and a BME faculty member on a research project and report on their results to each other and to BME faculty and students. By actively participating in scientific research, teachers will learn more about the ways new scientific ideas are created as well as gain additional expertise in a particular area of biomedical science. This experience will give the teachers a “story” they can take back to their classroom to help students un-derstand what scientists do and how new scientific ideas arise.

Course directors:
Chris B. Schaffer
Shivaun Archer

Three credits.
Offered Summer 2009 – 2013
Open only to teacher participants in the CLIMB program

  BME 5875 2009 Syllabus

  BME 4110 Science and Technology Approaches to Problems in Human Health

BME 4110 will provide an in-depth look at diseases that impact human health along with current scientific research and engineering that is aimed at addressing these problems. Faculty from the Weill Cornell Medical College will come to the Cornell campus to discuss the health problems they are currently unable to treat as well as they would like.

For each disease discussed, faculty from Cornell University and Weill will talk about current research aimed at better understanding disease process, developing new treatment strategies, and ultimately improving patient outcomes. Six to eight topics will be explored in depth over the course of the term. This course will be particularly appropriate for students considering medical school or careers in biomedical science and engineering. Possible human health topics include: cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease, infectious disease, stroke, orthopedic disease and osteoarthritis, trauma and shock, diabetes, congenital disease, autoimmune disease and allergies, psychiatric disorders, environmental toxins and water quality.

The research discussed will embrace a wide range of disciplines and approaches ranging from basic science-oriented work like genetics and immunology to technology-driven approaches like nanotechnology and biomedical engineering. By providing in-depth “snapshots”of current problems in human health and the research aimed at overcoming these problems students will gain an understanding of both the incredible progress that has been made in biomedical research as well as the considerable challenges that lie ahead.

In addition to the lectures, opportunities for informal interactions with the faculty teaching the course (those from both Weill Cornell Medical College and Cornell University) will be available, including small question and answer sessions, additional seminars, as well as lunches with the faculty.

Course directors:
Chris B. Schaffer, Biomedical Engineering Department, Cornell University (2007 – 20011)
Nozomi Nishimura, Biomedical Engineering Department, Cornell University (2012 – present)
Michael G. Kaplitt, Neurological Surgery Department, Weill Cornell Medical College

Three credits.
Offered Fall semesters
Tuesday and Thursday from 1:25 to 2:40 pm.
Open to juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Sophomores require permission of the instructor to register.

  BME 4110 Syllabus from 2009
  BME 4110 Syllabus from 2008
  BME411 syllabus from 2007

  ENGRI 1310 (BME 1310) Introduction to Biomedical Engineering

Modern biology and medicine is undergoing a revolution as quantitative principles of measurement, analysis, and design are introduced to help solve a variety of scientific and medical problems. This course will provide an introduction to the power of such a quantitative approach for biomedical research. The use of quantitative principles will be illustrated through case studies of contemporary scientific and engineering problems in molecular biology, cellular biology, mammalian physiology, and biomedical instrument design. Emphasis will be placed on the advantages of a multidisciplinary approach and the need to understand a problem from both a biological and an engineering perspective. Background material will be taught as needed for each case study, including the necessary biology, mathematics, and physical science. Learning in this course will be very collaborative, with students discussing challenging aspects of the material with each other and the instructors during the lectures and labs. Reports for the laboratory portion of the course will be completed in teams, and collaboration on the homework is encourage.

Taught by Schaffer from Spring 2006 to 2010.


Learning optics to understand scientific discovery

The world we live in is surrounded by light. Everyday light enables us to go about our daily routines. However there is more to light than meets the eye. We have developed activities for grade-school and middle-school student that teach basic principles of light and optics. More importantly, these activities teach the process of science through inquiry-driven activities. We use a kit developed by the Optical Society of America to teach a basic understanding of light and optical principles, including making images and microscopes. We also have student conduct experiments that introduce the concept of telecommunications, a subject that has and will continue to significantly affect the world, in an effort to make science seem more relevant. The goal of this course is to get students excited and interested in a concept that has limitless applications and how something we are exposed to everyday is being used to study some of today’s most pressing problems.

  CLIMB program

Chris Schaffer is a Co-PI on an exciting graduate student outreach project in the Biomedical Engineering department at Cornell called CLIMB: Cornell Learning Initiative in Medicine and Bioengineering. This program is funded through the GK-12 initiative from the National Science Foundation. The program capitalizes on the strength of Cornell University’s biomedical engineering graduate fellows in interdisciplinary research as well as the education experience of local science teachers to create and implement new interdisciplinary curricular materials for middle and high-school science classes. The principle aim of this program is to help graduate fellows make the critical transition from student to scientist by asking them to identify the conceptual underpinnings of their field in order to develop outreach materials related to their research. Graduate fellows then teach these underlying concepts to teachers and students, thereby helping the fellows to develop the science communication skills that are essential for their future as interdisciplinary researchers and citizen/scientists. At the core of the program is the “collaborative curriculum development” project: Graduate fellows will work with a teacher and faculty advisor during a six-week summer program on the development of innovative, inquiry-driven science education activities related to the fellow’s research, which will then be implemented in underserved rural and urban schools during the following year. In addition to graduate fellows becoming more conceptually-oriented scientific thinkers with better science communication skills, the participating teachers will improve their science knowledge and receive help implementing best-practice science teaching methods, while students will receive enhanced science education. In particular, the inquiry-driven activities will let students experience science not as an abstract collection of facts from separate fields, but as a process for discovery that integrates knowledge across disciplines, thereby increasing student understanding of and interest in science.

Middle school students observe how light is guided by a stream of flowing water as a means to understand fiberoptic based guiding of light and transport of information. NSF GK-12 fellow and Schaffer lab member, John Nguyen, designed and implemented these educational activities.

  2008 Curie Program

The lab served as project advisors for the Cornell University College of Engineering’s Curie Program in summer, 2008. This week-long event brought 30 high-school girls that were interested in engineering to Cornell to learn more about engineering applications through daily lectures and through an intense lab research-oriented project that met daily for six hours, which was run by our lab. The student projects focused on the use of optical techniques to characterize blood flow and oxygenation in tissue, providing students with an exposure to optics, to medically-relevant physiology, and giving them a sense of the importance of high-quality medical diagnostics. The students were broken into teams of five, with each team using a different optical technique to measure blood perfusion parameters. After helping the students achieve a basic understanding of a particular optical imaging method, we had them use this method to measure changes in blood oxygenation or flow in their own fingers in experiments of their own design. For example, students looked at how oxygenation changes when blood flow is reduced by a blood pressure cuff and at how blood flow changes when the skin is heated, or cooled, or lightly abraded. While we strove to ensure that students formed testable hypothesis and took systematic data to check their ideas, we did not prescribe the experiments they do, making this a very inquiry-driven experience. These inquiry-driven laboratory exercises provided students with an introduction to quantitative analysis of data and an understanding of the material properties that determine color and the basic optics of imaging. In addition, they learned the basic physiology of the circulatory system and of oxygen delivery and utilization by tissue. In informal discussions, we also discussed disease states, such as peripheral limb ischemia and post-surgical monitoring, where the techniques used by the students would be useful in medical care. At the end of the week, students gave short talks on their results. The exploratory, inquiry-driven nature of the laboratory exercises, coupled with the emphasis on quantification and hypothesis testing showed students how the scientific process works and gave them a sense of science as a dynamic process for discovery, not just a collection of static facts and figures.

Flor Cianchetti (3rd from left), a Ph.D. student in the group, working with 2008 Curie Scholars on laser speckle based imaging of blood flow.