In spring of 2018, we initiated a pilot postdoc training experience in curriculum design and student-centered teaching. The biology department at our university had identified a need for new summer senior-level courses and therefore welcomed our partnership. We utilized Kern’s model for curriculum design , with an emphasis on backwards design principles [5, 6], to create both the new postdoc training experience and a new undergraduate biology course designed and taught by the postdocs, summarized in Table 1. The postdocs therefore functioned alternately as learners, teachers, and co-creators [7, 8].
The postdocs and education mentor met weekly to design the curriculum. The emphasis of these meetings was always backwards design and careful alignment of all assessments, session objectives, materials, and teaching methods to course goals. The team set aggressive deadlines for drafting and finalizing design phases, with the education mentor providing extensive feedback initially and the postdocs providing increasing amounts of peer feedback during the process. Once the course goals and objectives were clearly defined, the final assessment was designed: the undergraduates would individually give an oral presentation about a new primary literature research paper and respond to instructor questions. This ambitious target provided clarity on what the course would need to accomplish, both in terms of content and process. Other primary literature articles were chosen to have specific sections slowly analyzed during the course in a scaffolded progression. Team-based learning (TBL)  and Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT)  were chosen as the primary tools based on the published evidence of their effectiveness in helping students reach higher level cognitive skills [11, 12]. The mentor provided a mini-workshop on TBL, the template utilized for creating medical student TBLs at the UUSOM, and examples of JiTT. Session objectives were finalized; lesson plans, pre-session homework, and specific pre-session learning objectives were created. The learning management system (Canvas) site was designed for clarity and ease of use by students, with each session module set up identically. To help with JiTT, each pre-session assignment included prompts for students to submit questions about what confused them and what they found most interesting in the pre-work.
Following this intensive design phase, the postdocs taught the 5-week, 6-h per week, 2-credit course entitled Understanding Peer-Reviewed Literature: Focus on Mitochondrial Metabolism. Four senior Biology majors registered for the course. The education mentor observed an early class session and facilitated a discussion with the postdocs afterwards. After each session, the postdocs critically reflected about their experiences and identified potential ways to improve before the next session. Postdocs also provided peer feedback to each other after each session.
Kirkpatrick’s framework for curriculum evaluation was used to evaluate the success of both the postdoc training experience and their biology course (see Table 2). While no formal certificate is provided to postdocs completing this experience, the mentor provided detailed letters of evaluation for the postdocs.