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Jennifer Stanford, PhD, Selected as STIRS Scholar

March 10, 2014 —  

Jennifer Stanford, PhDDrexel biologist Jennifer Stanford, PhD, was one of 13 scholars nationwide to be selected as part of the first group of Scientific Thinking and Integrative Reasoning Skills Scholars by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Developed in 2012, the STIRS initiative aims to improve undergraduate students’ problem-solving and decision-making skills by asking them to, very simply put, “prove it.”

Take, for example, determining the link between cell phone usage and cancer—a notion Stanford raises in her Basics of Cancer course for non-biology majors.

“This is a topic that is of interest to students,” she explains, “yet, most do not have clear information to support their opinions at the beginning of the course.”

Stanford’s objective is to train her students to evaluate scientific information—articles, information from the lay media, etc.—and come to an informed conclusion.

“Understanding how to evaluate information effectively,” she says, “is an essential skill that allows people to make sound decisions.”

And as the STIRS program emphasizes, evidence-based decision making and scientific reasoning aren’t just skills for the sciences—they’re fundamentally important to every area of study.

As a STIRS Scholar, Stanford will help spread these critical skills by developing educational resources and assessment strategies to be used by universities across the country.

She’s also been tasked with creating a case study that can be used in the classroom to reinforce concepts and improve students’ critical thinking skills. The case could cover any number of topics, but must be relevant and of interest to students and instructors in all types of liberal arts fields.

Stanford’s case study—Cell Phones and Cancer: Evaluating the Evidence to Assess Potential Correlation—will build on her introductory Basics of Cancer course.

“Once the case studies are developed by the STIRS Scholars,” Stanford says, “the plan is to test them at a variety of institutions, peer review the resources and disseminate them for use by others beginning in December. Tracking and monitoring use is something that we will be developing as part of the first cohort of STIRS Scholars.”

Jennifer Stanford, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology whose research interests focus on evaluating and improving biological science curricula and approaches to training students in higher education. She is specifically interested in assessing educational approaches to identify the most efficient ways to meet a variety of student learning needs in higher education.

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