Laboratory: Actin is the most abundant protein in our bodies. It is found in all our muscles, forming part of the machinery that converts the chemical energy from food into the mechanical energy of movement. But actin does more than just work in muscles; it is also found in every cell in our bodies, forming a network of filaments called the cytoskeleton that is a structural support for the cells.
The expertise in the Dawson lab is aimed at understanding the fundamental roles of actin on two fronts:
- How the structure of the actin protein dictates its function.
- How alterations in the actin protein is related to disease development.
The key function of the actin protein in cells is its ability to form polymers called filamentous actin (F-actin). In research supported by the Natural Science and Engineering Council of Canada, we are finding ways of making short filamentous actin complexes for biochemical and structural characterization.
Sixteen known variants of the human cardiac actin gene ACTC have been identified in patients with hypertrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy. In research funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, we are studying why mutations in the ACTC gene would lead to disease so that we can help fix the problem.
Education: Learning outcomes (LOs) are statements of what a learner is expected to know, understand and be able to demonstrate at the end of a learning experience. Every course in the B.Sc. is required to have learning outcomes. My research is focused on understanding how learning outcomes can be best put to practice in courses and how they can be measured so that students know if they have achieved the outcomes of courses and of their program and so that instructors can improve their courses to better achieve those outcomes.
In the past, we have developed a learning outcomes framework and analyzed almost 1,600 different quiz and exam questions to determine their Bloom’s taxonomy level and which course learning outcome(s) they are assessing. This framework is currently being embedded into our learning management system so that information from assessments can be reported out. We have used this framework in a pilot study for BIOC*2580 where we have almost a half-million data points from all of the online quizzes over three years.
More recently, we have developed a definition of Critical Thinking that can be applied across disciplines. This Critical Thinking definition will now be applied to the generation of authentic signature assessments through a series of courses in the B.Sc. that will permit the measurement of Critical Thinking skill development. A central piece to this plan is providing the information back to students so they can monitor their own development and show it to potential employers who are looking for Critical Thinking as an essential skill.
I am a member of the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences (CSMB), and the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE).