|Rebecca S. Burton, PhD|
Dept. of Biology
I really enjoy designing learning experiences that help students to
teach themselves, with me as a guide rather than a lecturer. My goal is
to help my students go beyond mastering certain concepts, to developing
strategies for analyzing and solving problems in any area. As a member
of the Problem Solving Competence Department, I have an
to work on this with colleagues from many disciplines.
My involvement with the Alverno Latin American Studies Initiative allowed me to travel to Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay in the summer of 2004. In 2005, I was fortunate to China with my colleagues from the Alverno Asian Studies Initiative. In 2006 I travelled to Costa Rica with colleagues and students. These projects and my own travels to Russia, Tanzania, and Rwanda have helped me to infuse my courses with a more international perspective.
During my postdoctoral fellowship I studied seasonal changes in body mass, metabolism, and immunocompetence of dusky-footed woodrats (N. fuscipes) at Sedgwick Reserve. Some of my colleagues at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis extended this research and analyzed den characteristics and use patterns. This has enabled us to make recommendations about placement of artificial dens during relocation efforts involving endangered subspecies of dusky-footed woodrats (N. fuscipes riparia). I also also conducted a survey of the mammals of Sedgwick.
In addition, I was part of a team that was experimenting with management strategies to encourage native plants found on California's serpentine refuges to reinvade the alluvial soil, which is now covered with introduced grasses. These days I'm developing our own prairie site here on the Alverno campus.
Of my research papers, my favorite was based on an experiment to examine the effect of immune challenge on hibernation in Turkish hamsters (Mesocricetus brandti). It appears that the hamsters spend more time in torpor if they are exposed to a novel antigen during the hibernation season. This mechanism may allow them to defend themselves against pathogens, which can't proliferate at low temperatures.
I'm currently researching factors that influence undergraduate students' ability to learn from biology textbooks. Is it the use of technical terms? Is it the length of words and sentences, as many reading indices assume? Are the factors different for college biology than for other kinds of reading material? These are the questions that really interest me right now.