Isabelle Barrette-NgIsabelle Barrette-Ng is the new head of the UWindsor Department of Integrative Biology.

Expert in online learning to head Department of Integrative Biology

3M National Teaching Fellow and University of Calgary Teaching Scholar Isabelle Barrette-Ng is the new head of the University of Windsor’s Department of Integrative Biology (iBio).

Starting such a position without the physical camaraderie because of social distancing is tough, says Dr. Barrette-Ng, but she brings with her a passion for teaching and for finding new ways to keep students engaged by creating unique and meaningful learning experiences — especially online.

“Even in large undergraduate classes, we want to take students beyond straight memorization so they can apply what they know, so they can go out into the community and use their new skills to make a difference,” she says.

Barrette-Ng has designed and written code for specialized science apps that help engage students in large classes of 400 to 600 students in genetics, cell biology, biochemistry, and biology courses for non-majors.

As instructors are scrambling to create quality online learning material during the pandemic, she says she has been inundated with emails from professors around the globe wanting her code so they can integrate her computer simulations and interactive software into their courses.

These are apps that allow students, mostly with a biochem focus, to do titrations, or run a column to purify proteins from a mixture,” says Barrette-Ng. “It is cool to see the interest from people around the world who are all asking the question — what am I going to do with labs?”

She says it is incredibly challenging to replicate labs for students who will not be able to attend in person, but there is more faculty can do to enhance the remote learning experience.

The biologist joins the Faculty of Science after 14 years teaching in the University of Calgary’s Department of Biological Sciences, a career that includes five teaching excellence awards.

She will launch her specialized advanced graduate science education course at UWindsor in Fall 2020.  Graduate students develop evidence-based teaching practices, are paired with a faculty mentor, and given the opportunity to redesign and teach a unit of an actual undergraduate course.

Dean of science Chris Houser says hiring such an accomplished teaching and learning expert is a significant gain for UWindsor. He says her focus on improving students’ communication skills blends nicely with the goals of the Faculty of Science.

“Isabelle understands the learning outcomes required from our graduate programs and wants to prepare our students to be successful, whether they pursue an academic career or go in a completely different direction,” says Dr. Houser “And with classes staying online in the fall, having a pioneer in creating scientific online learning tools is a major asset.”

Barrette-Ng also brings an expertise in protein engineering and bioinformatics. Find more information in a profile on the website of the Department of Integrative Biology. The unit was created in July 2019 with the Department of Biomedical Sciences as a result of the division of the former Department of Biological Sciences.

—Sara Elliott