Featured Course: Bioethics

Henrietta Lacks

One of the books covered in
this course is The Immortal Life
of Henrietta Lacks

How is one to make sense of the ethical issues related to biology and the medical sciences? That is a question that Dr. Alice Gibb, NAU professor, asks her students to consider in Bioethics, a biology class for undergraduates in any major or discipline.

The course's 10 modules cover a broad spectrum of issues - from individual complicity in crimes committed by the state (Judgment at Nuremberg) to the morality of harvesting cells without the subject's permission (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks).

Current Listing: Spring 2012

Teaching Philosophy

I have been teaching since I was an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College, an institution with a strong emphasis on teaching and mentorship. I believe that research institutions have an obligation to provide students with an excellent education. Therefore, I am constantly working to improve my teaching skills. Teaching at the university level is most effective when the “seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education” are employed. According to these principles, students should be given:

Face to Face Classes

In my face-to-face, lecture-based classes (e.g., Human Physiology, Animal Physiology), I include learner-centered and group activities in my lectures, and I use technology to demonstrate biological principles and facilitate teacher-student communication. In-class exercises and group activities encourage students to work together, and allow students to discover basic biological principles using deductive reasoning and independent research. For example, when teaching students about muscle, I have students work in small groups to “design” muscle cells for both endurance running ("slow" muscle) and sprinting ("fast" muscle). Students retain information they have learned in this manner much better than material they attempt to memorize based on lecture notes or reading from the textbook. I use class web pages to post information (the syllabus, assignments, etc.), presentations, and links to other resources (demonstrations, animations, topical articles). I also use technology to reinforce concepts we cover in class: demonstrations, computer animations, etc. These techniques allow students with different learning abilities to access the information in a way that "makes sense" to them. I also provide students with frequent opportunities to communicate with me about the class material.

Web Classes

In my web class for non-biology majors, Scientific Concepts in Human Biology, I use technology to facilitate best practices in a similar manner. Although the students who take web classes are typically distance students, they are able to use the learning management system (Bb Learn) to communicate with me on a daily basis (via the mail program) and attend my virtual office hours (via a chat room). Students in web classes are assigned to discussion groups, where they communicate with one another (via a message board program) to discuss topical issues in biology that I have assigned them. Students are given a variety of types of assignments for this class: on-line demonstrations, reading assignments, home-based simple experiments, opinion essays based on web research, practice tests, and multiple choice tests (which are graded immediately upon submission). Using this framework, students are allowed a variety of ways with which to interact with the class material; this allows students from diverse backgrounds to succeed in the class. In addition, I am in constant communication with the students and I can collect assignments and post feedback quickly.

Active Learning and Experimentation

I also emphasize the importance of experimental work as a component of active learning for biology students. To this end, I have revised the laboratory associated with one of the classes I teach regularly (Animal Physiology) and have implemented a new policy where this laboratory is required for all students who take the class (it had been optional). I have incorporated techniques and technologies that I use in my own research (for example, high-speed imaging of behavior and physiology) into the laboratory, and obtained extra-departmental money to support the upgrades and revisions necessary to implement these changes. Because I feel that experiment-based learning is the best way for students to understand science, I even require students in my web-based, non-majors class to conduct simple, in-home experiments (for example, to determine how heart beat changes with exercise) as part of their coursework.

Research Opportunities

Undoubtedly the best way that undergraduates can learn about biology is to be involved in primary research. Working in a laboratory gives students on-the-job training and insight into how science works as a process. Therefore, I actively recruit undergraduate students to work with me in my laboratory on research projects in ecological and evolutionary physiology. I also participate as a mentor in several programs that support the involvement of students from under-represented groups in laboratory research. Their work in a research laboratory testing scientific hypotheses provides these students with the best possible active learning experience they could have in biology. In addition, I value my students as my intellectual partners and collaborators. In many ways, I feel that my role as a mentor in my laboratory is my greatest contribution to science.

Dr. Alice Gibb


Office: Wettaw 214
Office Phone: (928) 523-1524
Lab: Wettaw 204
Lab Phone: (928) 523-2831

Postdoc: CSU Fullerton '97-'99
PhD: UC Irvine '97
BA: Mount Holyoke '89
Northern Arizona University, Biology Department, P.O. Box 5640, Flagstaff, AZ 86011