Joe Dauer

Joe Dauer

  • Contact Information
  • My Story
  • Publications
  • Background
  • Interests
  • Grants
  • Advising
  • Courses Taught

Contact Information

TitleLife Sciences Education
Faculty RankAssociate Professor
Address516 South Hardin Hall
3310 Holdrege Street
Lincoln NE
  • office: 402-318-7363
  • fax: 402-472-2946
VitaeDownload file


My Story

Hello, my name is Joe Dauer and I am an assistant professor of life science education in the School of Natural Resources. As a life sciences education researcher, I focus on how undergraduate students learn biology.

My life sciences education research is grounded in my background in ecology. My graduate research at Penn State University was on long-distance seed dispersal of herbicide-resistant weeds in agricultural systems. I continued research on invasive species population dynamics at Oregon State University and Michigan State University. I also completed postdoctoral research at Michigan State University studying undergraduate student conceptual model construction in undergraduate biology.

My life sciences research broadly rests at the intersection of biology (genetics, ecology, and evolution), education, and cognitive psychology. At UNL, my work focuses on how students learn to organize biological concepts using systems thinking. I focus on how students organize and store knowledge because this will determine how they are able to access that knowledge when asked to apply it in novel scenarios. When students store knowledge in discrete units (like knowing a definition of a word), they are limited in the ways they can apply that knowledge compared to another student that has a network of concepts. This is the core of 'chunking'. Experts in an area, create larger and larger 'chunks' of knowledge such that they have multiple access points to a concept. Novices, like many undergraduate students new to learning life sciences, have much smaller 'chunks' and need help in how to strategically add more knowledge and, most importantly, how to connect the knowledge pieces together.

Joe Dauer teaching a Life Science Class

I am currently working on two research themes:

1. Computational Modeling

I am collaborating with Tomas Helikar (UNL) to develop, deploy, and research how students learn to model complex biological systems ( We have developed learning modules related to cellular respiration, gene regulation, cell cycling, glucose homeostasis, and food web dynamics. On the research side, my lab compares students that build versus investigate models, examines the social nature of model construction, investigates how students relate data and models, and determines the alternative concepts represented in students' models. We are very interested in the process of modeling and how to improve the students' modeling competency as they prepare for careers in life sciences.

2. Ecological Systems.

I also conduct research on student reasoning of ecological systems. I have conducted research on student reasoning about food web dynamics and sexual selection. I am particularly interested in how students integrate quantitative reasoning into their ecological understanding of systems. Since biology in the 21st Century is largely related to quantitative modeling, I want to better understand how students develop mastery of both disciplines as they advance through their undergraduate curriculum.

In addition to being a life sciences researcher, I am an educator. I am often found preparing to teach Introductory Biology and Ecology courses where I integrate my research findings into my pedagogical approach.

Selected Publications

Clark, C., Helikar, T., Dauer, J. (2020). Simulating a computational biological model, rather than reading, elicits changes in brain activity consistent with complex reasoning. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 19, ar45. Online
Dauer, J., Roller, H., King, G., Kjose, M., Galt, N., Helikar, T. 2019. Changes in students’ mental models from computational modeling of gene regulatory networks. International Journal of STEM Education, 6(1), 38.Online
King, G., Roller, H., Galt, N., Helikar, T., Dauer, J. 2019. Modelling Activities Integrating Construction and Simulation Supported Explanatory and Evaluative Reasoning. International Journal of Science Education 41(13): 1764-1786.Online
Mayes, R., Rittschof, K., Dauer, J., Gallant, B. 2019. Quantitative Modelling Biology Undergraduate Assessment. Letters in Biomathematics.Online
Bergan-Roller, H., Galt, N., Chizinski, C., Helikar, T., Dauer, J. (2018). Simulated computational model lesson improves systems thinking in biology students. Simulated computational model lesson improves systems thinking in biology students.
Crowther, A., Roller, H., Galt, N., Appleby, L., Dauer, J., Helikar, T. 2018. Discovering Prokaryotic Gene Regulation by Building and Investigating the lac Operon. CourseSource.Online
Crowther, A., Roller, H., Galt, N., Dauer, J., Helikar, T. (2018). Discovering Prokaryotic Gene Regulation with Simulations of the trp Operon. CourseSource.
Dauer, J., King, G., Roller, H., Galt, N., Helikar, T. (2018). Creating a space for students to theorize about model evaluation. National Association for Research in Science Teaching.
Roller, H., Galt, N., Helikar, T., Dauer, J. Content and organization of student knowledge of cellular respiration in undergraduates. Journal of Biological Education.
Dauer, J., Hulting, A., Carlson, D., Harden, J., Mankin, L., Mallory-Smith, C. (2017). Gene flow from single and stacked herbicide-resistant rice: modeling occurrence of multiple herbicide-resistant red rice. Pest Management Science, 74(2), 348-355.Online
Roller, H., Galt, N., Dauer, J., Helikar, T. (2017). Discovering Cellular Respiration with Computational Modeling and Simulation. CourseSource.Online
Sabel, J., Dauer, J., Forbes, C. (2017). Introductory Biology Students' Use of Enhanced Answer Keys and Reflection Questions to Engage in Metacognition and Enhance Understanding. CBE--Life Sciences Education, 16(3), 2-12.Online
Dauer, J.T., Dauer, J.M. 2016. A framework for understanding the characteristics of complexity in biology. International Journal of STEM Education. 3(13).Online
Dauer, J.T. and T.M. Long. 2015. Long-term conceptual retrieval by college biology majors following model-based instruction. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 52(8):1188-1206.Online
Kowal, B., Schreier, T., Dauer, J., Helikar, T. (2015). Programmatic access to Cell Collective models via a REST API. Biosystems, 139, 12-16.Online
Jongejans, E., Skarpaas, O., Ferrari, M., Long, E., Dauer, J., Schwarz, C., Rauschert, E., Jabbour, R., Mortensen, D., Isard, S., Lieb, D., Hulting, A., Shea, K. (2014). A unifying gravity framework for dispersal. Theoretical Ecology, 8(2), 207-223
Long, T. M., Dauer, J., Kostelnik, K. M., Momsen, J. L., Wyse, S. A., Ebert-May, D. (2014). Designing Instruction to Foster Ecoliteracy Skills in Undergraduate Biology Education. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 12(2), 138-139.
Dauer, J.T. and E. Jongejans. 2013. Elucidating the population dynamics of Japanese knotweed using integral projection models. PLoS ONE 8:e75181.Online
Dauer, J.T., Momsen, J.L., Bray-Speth, E., Makohon-Moore, S., and T.M. Long. 2013. Analysis of Student-Constructed Models of Complex Biological Systems. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 50(6):639-659.






TitleAwarded byYear Awarded
Friends and Family AwardOffice of Student Affairs, Teaching Council, Parents Association | University of Nebraska-Lincoln2021
Holling Family Awards for Teaching Excellence , Senior Faculty University of Nebraska-Lincoln2020
Faculty Fellow for Student SuccessUniversity of Nebraska-Lincoln2018


Professional Organizations

American Association for the Advancement of Science
Ecological Society of America
Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research




SNR Program Areas

  • Applied Ecology

Areas of Interest/Expertise

  • Science Literacy
  • Undergraduate Learning in Biology
  • Visualizations
  • Cognition
  • Pedagogy


Currently this page only displays grants that were awarded on 1/1/ 2009 to the present. If a grant was awarded prior to 1/1/ 2009 and is still active, it will not be displayed on this page.

Grant TitleQuantitative Modeling in Undergraduate Biology Courses: Teaching Approaches and Student Outcomes
Starting Date10/01/2020


Ending Date09/30/2023
Funding Level$299,511.00
Funding AgencyNational Science Foundation


Grant TitleECR DBER DCI: Describing the Neurobehavioral Effects of Modeling-Based Instruction in Undergraduate Life Science Education
Starting Date09/01/2020


Ending Date09/30/2023
Funding Level$313,898.00
Funding AgencyNational Science Foundation



Graduate Programs

Master of Applied Science

Master of Science in Natural Resource Sciences
including specializations in

  • Applied Ecology
  • Human Dimensions

Doctorate of Philosophy in Natural Resource Sciences
including specializations in

  • Applied Ecology

Courses Taught

Course NumberCourse TitleFall Even YearsFall Odd YearsSpring Even YearsSpring Odd YearsSummer SessionCross Listing
LIFE 121Fundamentals of Biology IIXXX
NRES 220Principles of EcologyXXXXX
NRES 222Ecology LaboratoryXXXX