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Exercises In Cell Biology for the Undergraduate Laboratory

A Project of the American Society for Cell Biology Education Committee 1992

Compiler: Judith Snyder

Editor: Mary Lee S. Ledbetter

Editor's Introduction
This collection of laboratory exercises represents the efforts of a number of members of the American Society for Cell Biology. It arose from discussions of the current crisis in science education in general, and in particular the declining interest in and preparation for careers in scientific research among American undergraduates. Recent studies have pointed to laboratory experience as central in motivating undergraduate students to continue their scientific education. Though the most successful experiences are those in which the student actually conducts independent research under the supervision of a faculty mentor, more formal "investigative" exercises are also effective in engaging student interest.

Very few resources are available to faculty members attempting to implement such an approach in their own laboratory teaching, particularly in areas beyond their own research expertise. Most commercial textbooks designed for undergraduate use in a comprehensive introductory cell biology course emphasize descriptive approaches and a "cookbook" style, so that the student may encounter the material rather passively. Particularly in cell biology, an additional difficulty is the dependence of modern experimental approaches on advanced instrumentation and expensive reagents, both beyond the means of many undergraduate programs, if they are to be available to more than a handful of students. Nevertheless, examples can be found of imaginative exercises designed with the goal of engaging the student in active consideration of fundamentally important cell biological principles, and capable of being accomplished even under the constraints of time, money, and faculty expertise that prevail in undergraduate settings.

An informal network over the years has promoted sharing of such ideas among like-minded faculty members. The Education Committee felt that the enterprise would be served by attempting to formalize the process and to provide a means of distribution of effective ideas. The Committee therefore solicited contributions from the membership through an announcement in the Newsletter and by requests to those known to be on the grapevine. These are among the early contributions. They have been edited into a common format that includes pedagogical material (literature references, introductory material, procedures, questions for the students to consider, suggestions for handling numerical data, ideas for supplementary work) as well as practical points (time required, lists of needed equipment and supplies, recipes, trouble- shooting, general level of student background assumed.) Each exercise is the work of the named author. The text has been examined closely by the editor and others, and changes made with the authors' approval, but the author is the one with experience using the procedures in a teaching setting, and inquiries should be directed to him or her.

As a group the exercises are not intended to provide a comprehensive introduction to the field of cell biology. Indeed the distribution of topics is clearly skewed toward certain areas, as reflects the interests of those contributing. All do, however, demonstrate significant cell biological principles, modern quantitative and analytical approaches, or unusual experimental systems. Frequently effective teaching exercises are adapted from published sources and from the unpublished work of colleagues. We have made a serious effort to acknowledge such sources, but inevitably the line between the original and the borrowed may become obscured. Thus any copyright that pertains to this collection rests with the authors. The collection itself should be considered more a "circulating library" than a formal publication.

We hope that as time passes, the collection will be expanded and modified to reflect the experience of users and to include new ideas both of those directly involved in undergraduate education and of others who may think of ways to demonstrate to undergraduates principles important in their research. Through such efforts we all will benefit. The standard format for such submissions is the one used in these exercises. Please send them to me or to the National Office of the ASCB. To make the collection as accessible as possible, it is therefore being made available at cost in several formats: photocopy, diskette (either 5.25" or 3.5", formatted for several common word processors) and E-mail. To obtain a copy, contact the National Office with details of the format you need.

I am pleased to acknowledge the help of the following reviewers of this collection in its draft stage: Carole Browne (Wake Forest University), Andrew Dudley (Genentech), Kay Greene (Regis College), Deborah Kaska (University of California at Santa Barbara), Dawn Larson (University of Guelph), Tom MacRae (Dalhousie University), George Shiflet (Wofford College), and Ron Tombes (Clemson University). David Kirk (Washington University) and Roger Sloboda (Dartmouth College) of the ASCB Education Committee also contributed helpful suggestions.

Mary Lee S. Ledbetter
Worcester, Massachusetts
June 1992

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