Lisa K Elfring

Lisa K Elfring

Associate Vice Provost, Office of Instruction/Assessment
Associate Specialist, Biology Education
Associate Professor, BIO5 Institute
Primary Department
(520) 621-1671

Work Summary

Work Summary

There are over 30,000 undergraduates on our campus, and the skills and knowledge they gain here will shape their future careers and their lives. My work focuses on helping faculty members to reach their potential as teachers, and working to support them in the critical work they do.

Research Interest

Research Interest

Lisa Elfring is an Associate Specialist in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and currently serves as Associate Vice Provost for Instruction and Assessment. In this administrative role, she leads the Office of Instruction and Assessment (OIA), which supports teaching and learning across campus. The office supports technology-enabled teaching (D2L, Panopto, Adobe Connect, VoiceThread); provides professional development and courses on evidence-based teaching for all UA instructors; produces media products (web pages, videos) that support instructors in their teaching; helps departments to carry out assessment of learning outcomes; and helps to connect instructors across departmental and college boundaries. Dr. Elfring is currently involved in two teaching-related research projects. In one, she and her collaborators are investigating a model to train instructors in large, collaborative STEM classes to utilize a team of graduate and undergraduates to improve student learning. In the other, the team is investigating the effects on students on creating and improving models in biological systems, in the context of an Introductory Biology lab course. Both projects are funded by awards from the National Science Foundation. Dr. Elfring's teaching experiences range from large courses in introductory cell/molecular biology and cell biology, to courses focusing on helping undergraduate students to prepare for doing laboratory research. Her research interests are integrated with her teaching role. She is interested in process of systemic change in educational systems, and particularly in how the university can promote the adoption, use, and assessment of research-based teaching strategies across the entire range of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses. In biology education, she has been involved in research on how students come to make sense of the key biological concept that genes code for RNAs which (mostly) encode proteins to form the structural and catalytic molecules of the cell, a process that is termed the central dogma of molecular biology. She and her collaborators were involved in efforts to introduce more quantitative problem-solving work in the Introductory Biology course and across the undergraduate life-sciences curriculum. Her undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral training is in molecular, cell, and developmental biology; she has done research using humans, mice, and fruit flies as experimental systems to investigate embryonic development and cancer. Keywords: Biology education, Faculty professional development


Brizuela, B. J., Elfring, L., Ballard, J., Tamkun, J. W., & Kennison, J. A. (1994). Genetic analysis of the brahma gene of Drosophila melanogaster and polytene chromosome subdivisions 72AB. Genetics, 137(3), 803-813.

PMID: 7916308;PMCID: PMC1206040;Abstract:

The brahma gene is required for activation of the homeotic genes of the Antennapedia and bithorax complexes in Drosophila. We have isolated and characterized 21 mutations in brahma. We show that both maternal and zygotic functions of brahma are required during embryogenesis. In addition, the severe abnormalities caused by loss of maternal brahma expression show that the homeotic genes are not the only targets for brahma activation. The complex pattern of interallelic complementation for the 21 brahma alleles suggests that brahma may act as a multimer. In addition to mutations in brahma, we have isolated mutations in four other essential genes within polytene chromosome subdivisions 72AB. Based on a compilation of similar studies that include about 24% of the genome, we estimate that about 3600 genes in Drosophila can inutate to cause recessive lethality, with fewer than 900 additional genes essential only for gametogenesis. We have identified three more transcripts than lethal complementation groups in 72AB. One transcript in 72AB is the product of the essential arflike gene and encodes a member of the ARF subfamily of small GTP-binding proteins. Two other transcripts are probably the products of a single gene whose protein products are similar to the catalytic subunits of cAMP-dependent protein kinases.

Baldwin, T. O., Elfring, L., & Offerdahl, E. (2008). Ph.D. in Biochemistry (Education)!. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 36(4), 251-252.
Elfring, L. K., Axton, J. M., Fenger, D. D., Page, A. W., Carminati, J. L., & Orr-Weaver, T. L. (1997). Drosophila PLUTONIUM protein is a specialized cell cycle regulator required at the onset of embryogenesis. Molecular Biology of the Cell, 8(4), 583-593.

PMID: 9247640;PMCID: PMC276111;Abstract:

Unfertilized eggs and fertilized embryos from Drosophila mothers mutant for the plutonium (plu) gene contain giant polyploid nuclei resulting from unregulated S-phase. The PLU protein, a 19-kDa ankyrin repeat protein, is present in oocytes and early embryos but is not detectable after the completion of the initial rapid S-M cycles of the embryo. The persistence of the protein during the early embryonic divisions is consistent with a direct role in linking S-phase and M-phase. When ectopically expressed in the eye disc, PLU did not perturb the cell cycle, suggesting that PLU regulates S- phase only in early embryonic development. The pan gu (png) and giant nuclei (gnu) genes also affect the S-phase in the unfertilized egg and early embryo. We show that functional png is needed for the presence of PLU protein. By analyzing png mutations of differing severity, we find that the extent of the png mutant phenotype inversely reflects the level of PLU protein. Our data suggest that PLU protein is required at the time of egg activation and the completion of meiosis.

Hester, S., Buxner, S., Elfring, L., & Nagy, L. (2014). Integrating quantitative thinking into an introductory biology course improves students' mathematical reasoning in biological contexts. CBE Life Sciences Education, 13(1), 54-64.


Recent calls for improving undergraduate biology education have emphasized the importance of students learning to apply quantitative skills to biological problems. Motivated by students' apparent inability to transfer their existing quantitative skills to biological contexts, we designed and taught an introductory molecular and cell biology course in which we integrated application of prerequisite mathematical skills with biology content and reasoning throughout all aspects of the course. In this paper, we describe the principles of our course design and present illustrative examples of course materials integrating mathematics and biology. We also designed an outcome assessment made up of items testing students' understanding of biology concepts and their ability to apply mathematical skills in biological contexts and administered it as a pre/postcourse test to students in the experimental section and other sections of the same course. Precourse results confirmed students' inability to spontaneously transfer their prerequisite mathematics skills to biological problems. Pre/postcourse outcome assessment comparisons showed that, compared with students in other sections, students in the experimental section made greater gains on integrated math/biology items. They also made comparable gains on biology items, indicating that integrating quantitative skills into an introductory biology course does not have a deleterious effect on students' biology learning. © 2014 S. Hester et al.

Elfring, L. K., Deuring, R., Mccallum, C. M., Peterson, C. L., & Tamkun, J. W. (1994). Identification and characterization of Drosophila relatives of the yeast transcriptional activator SNF2/SWI2. Molecular and Cellular Biology, 14(4), 2225-2234.

PMID: 7908117;PMCID: PMC358589;Abstract:

The Drosophila brahma (brm) gene encodes an activator of homeotic genes that is highly related to the yeast transcriptional activator SWI2 (SNF2), a potential helicase. To determine whether brm is a functional homolog of SWI2 or merely a member of a family of SWI2-related genes, we searched for additional Drosophila genes related to SWI2 and examined their function in yeast cells. In addition to brm, we identified one other Drosophila relative of SWI2: the closely related ISWI gene. The 1,027-residue ISWI protein contains the DNA-dependent ATPase domain characteristic of the SWI2 protein family but lacks the three other domains common to brm and SWI2. In contrast, the ISWI protein is highly related (70% identical) to the human hSNF2L protein over its entire length, suggesting that they may be functional homologs. The DNA-dependent ATPase domains of brm and SWI2, but not ISWI, are functionally interchangeable; a chimeric SWI2-brm protein partially rescued the slow growth of swi2- cells and supported transcriptional activation mediated by the glucocorticoid receptor in vivo in yeast cells. These findings indicate that brm is the closest Drosophila relative of SWI2 and suggest that brm and SWI2 play similar roles in transcriptional activation.