About Me


I am a curriculum developer at Michigan State University where my teaching focuses on how to teach science to non-scientists, my administrative time focuses on helping faculty improve student learning through technology, and my scholarship focuses on the overlap of art, science, education, and technology.  Some questions I wrestle with are…

  1. How to leverage technology and pedagogical theory in communicating and improving learning in scientific disciplines?
  2. How are the artistic and scientific endeavor similar, different, and synergistic?

2005:  Ph.D. in Organismic & Evolutionary Biology and Entomology, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.   Dissertation: Evolution of Virulence in a Fungal Pathogen: the host/pathogen relationship in Lymantria dispar and Entomophaga maimaiga.

1997:  M.S. in Entomology, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

1997:  M.S. in Organismic & Evolutionary Biology, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  Thesis: Effects of Pre-Exposure to Pheromone on the Behavior of Male Pectinophora gossypiella (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae) in a Wind Tunnel.

1994:  B.A. in Biology with minor in Art.  Denison University, Granville, OH.  Thesis: Active Learning and Biological Pedagogy

Thomas, S.R. & Libarkin,  J.C. (In preparation). Forget the expert, ASK A NOVICE: The role of the viewer in climate change communication.

Thomas, S.R. & Libarkin, J. C. (In preparation). Visual salience in climate change imagery is in the eye of the beholder.

Drost, R., Casteel, M., Libarkin, J., Thomas, S.R., Meister, M. (2016). Severe weather warning communication: Factors impacting audience attention and retention of information during tornado warnings.  Weather, Climate and Society, 8(4), 361-372.

Thomas, S.R., Knott, J.L., & Libarkin, J.C. (2015). The Foundations of Science MOOC: One institution’s approach to building community and free-choice learning resources. In MOOC case book: Case studies in MOOC design, development, and implementation. (Ed.) Corbell, J.R., Corbell, M.E., & Khan, B.H. Linus Books, Ronkonkoma, NY.

Libarkin, J.C., Thomas, S.R., and Ording, G. (2015). Factor Analysis of Drawings: Application to College Student Models of the Greenhouse Effect. International Journal of Science Education.

LaDue, N.D., Libarkin, J.C., & Thomas, S.R. (2015).  Visual representations on high school biology, chemistry, earth science, and physics assessments.  Journal of Science Education and Technology, 1-17

Quillin, K & Thomas, S.R. (2015). Drawing-to-Learn: A framework for using drawings to promote model-based reasoning in biology. CBE-Life Sciences Education 14, 1-16.

McCallum, C., Thomas, S., & Libarkin, J. (2013). The alphamooc: Building a massive open online course one graduate student at a time. eLearning Papers, 33, 1-9.

Jardeleza, S., Cognato, A., Gottfried, M., Kimbirauskas, R., Libarkin, J., Olson, R., Ording, G., Owen, J., Rasmussen, P., Stoltzfus, J., & Thomas, S. Summer (2013). The Value of Community Building: One Center’s Story of How the AAC&U VALUE Rubrics Provided Common Ground. Liberal Education– Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) Press; 99(3).

Ruetenik, G., Steffke, C., Thomas, S.R., & Libarkin, J. (2011).  Analyzing Visual Representations of Climate Change: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, 43(5), 571.

Thomas, S.R. and Elkinton, J.S (2004). Pathogenicity and virulence. Invert. Pathol., 85, 146-151.

Closing the feedback loop: Using student evaluation forms to discover accessibility issues. December, 2016. Thomas, S.R., Henley, C., McGreal, C., Bukovac-Phelps, J., and Marcyk, E. Presentation at the Making Learning Accessible Conference, East Lansing, MI.

Moving from Accessibility to Universal Design for Learning: A Paradigm Shift from Fear to Hope. December, 2016. Thomas, S.R. Presentation at the Making Learning Accessible Conference, East Lansing, MI.

Technology and Teaching: Tips for technology use that improves teaching and learning. August, 2016. Thomas, S.R. Workshop for new faculty at MSU sponsored by Office for Faculty & Organizational Development.

Building from the ground up: How to create curriculum that is flexible, accessible, and editable. February, 2016. Thomas, S.R. Workshop for the STEM Teaching Essentials Seminar Series.

Instruct 2020 Visual Curriculum and opportunities for engaging assessments.  November, 2015. Yates, C., McDaniels, M., Thomas, S.R., and Libarkin, J. Presentation for the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) 40th Annual Conference, San Francisco, CA.

S.T.E.M. to S.T.E.A.M.:  Adding drawing to the science classroom.  October, 2015.  Thomas, S.R.  Presentation for Maricopa Community College’s Arts and the Creative Campus Workshop.

Model, meet Classroom.  Classroom, meet Model.  Introducing models to the classroom using technology.  October, 2015.  Thomas, S.R. Presentation for the S.T.E.M. Teaching Essentials Workshop.

Exploring the ‘Why’ & the ‘How’ of Accessibility. April, 2015.  Goodrich, D., Evans, N., and Thomas, S.R.  Presentation at the 8th Annual Emerging Technologies for Online Learning International Symposium.

In the eye of the beholder:  Cultural influences on interpretation of visual representations. Thomas, S.R., Phillot, A. , and Cunningham, C. March, 2015.  Presentation and poster for the Biology Leadership Conference, Austin, TX.

sTem: How to capitalize on technology in the teaching of science.  Thomas, S.R.  January, 2015.  Presentation for Northern Michigan University’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

Student Drawings and Textbook Visuals in Science Education. Thomas, S.R.  January, 2015.  Presentation for Biology Department at Northern Michigan University.

Arts and Sciences: Creativity and Integration.  Thomas, S.R.  January, 2015.  Presentation for K-12 Teachers in the MSU Arts Integration Workshop.

<img src=“scared.gif”alt=“This is what professors look like when discussing accessibility”>.  December, 2014.  Thomas, S.R.  Presentation for MSU WebDev Forum.  Michigan State University.

Technology & Teaching:  Lambs, horses, and kittens…what Kentucky truisms can tell us about teaching with technology.  November, 2014.  Thomas, S.R.  Presentation for MSU Capital Campaign.  Michigan State University.

Technology in the Classroom:  A Blessing or a Burden?  November, 2014.  Graetz, K. & Thomas, S.R.  Webinar panel for Tophat.

New tools for a new era:  Teaching with technology.  May, 2014.  Thomas, S.R.  Presentation for Graduate Student Workshop.  Michigan State University.

Create a Sci-O-Saur.  April, 2014.  Thomas, S.R. & Adams, B.  K-12 activity at the MSU Science Festival using QR codes and augmented reality.  Michigan State University.

Animation techniques for the non-artist for use in blended and online courses.  March, 2014.  Thomas, S.R.  Presentation for MSU Technology Brown Bag.  Michigan State University.

Student drawings and visual model-based reasoning.  March, 2014.  Quillin, K. & Thomas, S.R.  Faculty Workshop for the Biology Leadership Conference.

Teaching a MOOC:  Massive Opportunity or Catastrophe?  March, 2014.  Thomas, S.R.  Presentation for Office of Medical Education Research and Development.

Developing for mass scale:  Tools to support adaptive MOOC environments.  March, 2013.  Schopieray, S., Adams, B., Thomas, S.R., & Libarkin,  J.C.  Poster for Educause Conference

TourGuide:  Engaging students with place based Mobile Learning.  November, 2012. Schopieray, S., Thomas, S.R., and Walker, T.  Presentation for Great Lakes Place-based Education Conference.  Michigan State University.

Applying the literature on how students learn to create visual curricula. November, 2012. Kortz, K.M., Smay, J.J., and Thomas, S.R.  Poster for the Geological Society of America Conference.

Best Practices in Visualizing Science.  Invited presentation for the Michigan Association of Laboratory Science Educators (MALSE).  October, 2012. Libarkin, J.C., and Thomas, S.R.  Michigan State University.

New Tools for a New Era:  Teaching with Technology.  October, 2012. MSU STEM Faculty Workshop.  Michigan State University.  Thomas, S.R.

Exploring patterns in nature through art.  Thomas, S.R.  March, 2012.  K-12 Workshop for the MSU Science Festival. Michigan State University.

The Comic Book:  Mild-Mannered Amusement by Day, Educational Superhero by Night.  April, 2012.Thomas, S.R.  TEDx Lansing.  Lansing, MI.: http://youtu.be/HAzkhiQSON0

The Role of Visuals in the Teaching of Science.  March, 2012. Frontiers in Science Workshop for secondary science educators.  Thomas, S.R.  Michigan State University.

Using Technology in the Classroom. March, 2012. Thomas, S.R.  Workshop for Faculty and Organizational Development Office’s Lilly Fellows Program.  Michigan State University.

Using Technology in the Classroom. February, 2012.  Thomas, S.R. and Graves-Wolf, L. Workshop for Faculty and Organizational Development Office’s Adam’s Academy, Michigan State University.

Connecting theory to location in an online class:  Overview of online Ecology, ZOL 355. January, 2012. Thomas, S.R.  Presentation for Libraries, Computing and Technology Seminars on Research and Instructional Technology for Faculty. Michigan State University.

Bringing the Museum to Students using the TourGuide mobile application. October, 2011. Thomas, S.R. CollectionsWeb Education Workshop.

Analyzing visual representations of the carbon cycle:  A picture worth a thousand misconceptions?  August, 2011. Long, T.M., Coleman, Z.B., Dauer, J.,  Hartley, L., Kostelnik, K., Momsen, J., and Thomas, S.R.  Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research Poster.

Earth Science Graphics: What students are expected to do with scientists’ representations.   October, 2011.   LaDue, N., Thomas, S.R., and Libarkin, J.C.  Geological Society of America poster.

Image design: An analysis of efforts to improve communication of key concepts.   October, 2011.   Clark, S.,  Thomas S.R., Haas, B.J., and Libarkin J.C.  Geological Society of America poster.

Quantifying Visual Representations of Climate Change.  October, 2011.   Ruetenik, G. Steffke, C. Thomas, S.R., and Libarkin, J.C. Geological Society of America poster.

Use of visual elements improves student attitudes towards online science courses.   July, 2011.   Thomas, S.R.  Gordon Research Conference on Visualization in Science and Education.

Exploring students’ use of key principles in ecology.  August, 2010.  Schramm, J., Bremigan, M. Thomas, S.R., Hunt, S., and Anderson, A.  Ecological Society of America presentation.

Online Course Development and Illustration. April, 2010.  Thomas, S.R.  The Center for Research in College Science Teaching and Learning, MSU.

Clarifying Principles and Models in Undergraduate Ecology. The Center for Research in College Science Teaching and Learning, MSU.  April, 2010.  Schramm, J., Bremigan, M., and Thomas, S.R., Hunt, S., and Anderson, A.

Principles and Models as a Key to Understanding Ecology.  March, 2010.  Schramm, J., Bremigan, M., and Thomas, S.R., Hunt, S., and Anderson, A.  MSU Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Symposium.

Exploring Students’ Use of Key Principles in Ecology.  August, 2010. Schramm, J., Bremigan, M., and Thomas, S.R., Hunt, S., and Anderson, A.  Ecological Society of America meeting.

Creating Low-tech Animations for Online Classes.  May, 2009.  Thomas, S.R.  Michigan State University Faculty Technology Showcase.

Appealing to Visual Learners.  October, 2008.  Thomas, S.R.  The Virtual University Design and Technology’s breakfast series.  Michigan State University.

Fun is Fundamental: The use of comics to increase instructor presence in online courses.  May, 2008.  Thomas, S.R.  ANGEL Users Conference. Cincinnati, OH.

STEM Connections: Kids, Teachers, and Scientists Working Together to Explore the Environment. May, 2003.  Thomas, S.R.  National Science Teacher’s Association Convention. Philadelphia, PA.

Co-Produced 42 videos on drawing to learn in biology for Pearson:

Collaborated College of Arts and Letters on the development of the Mobile Application TourGuide:


Co-curated Michigan State Museum exhibit POW-erful Design: Adaptations as inspiration for technology.  You can explore the exhibit virtually using this Gigapan:


Principal Investigator on Michigan State University Museum grant to create video games for touch screen kiosks to teach basic concepts of evolution in informal settings:

Created animations explaining basics of ecology for the Zoology Department at Michigan State University:

Designed creative commons exercise on the scientific method for the Center for Integrative Studies in General Science at Michigan State University:


Redesign of Plate tectonics image for Clark, S. (in preparation for the Journal of Geological Education).

Illustration for Northcutt, K.V. & Lonstein, J.S. (2011).  Neuroanatomical projections of the species specific tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive cells of the male prairie vole bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and medial amygdala. Brain, Behavior & Evolution, 77:176-192.

Illustration for Zehr, J.L., Todd, B.J., Schulz, K.M., McCarthy, M.M., & Sisk ,C.L. (2006). Dendritic pruning of the medial amygdala during pubertal development of the male Syrian hamster.  The Journal of Neurobiology, 66(6):578-90.

Illustration for Turf Insects (Vittum, P.J. chapter author). In: Encyclopedia of Insects (2003). Carde R.T. & Resh, V.H. (Eds.), Academic Press.

Illustrations for Turfgrass Insects of the United States and Canada, 3rd edition (1999).  Vittum, P.J., Villani. M.G., & Tashiro, H. (Eds.), Cornell University Press.

Illustrated monograph, The Crayfishes (Decapoda:Cambaridae) of West Virginia. (1995).  Jezerinac, R.F., Stocker, G.W. and Tarter, D.C. Ohio Biological Survey Bull. X(1)NS.

My research, mostly done in collaboration, is focused on visual communication of science.  One of Julie Libarkin’s and my projects looks at how expertise affects how people represent the the greenhouse effect. Below I have posted two images, the one on the left is the scientific model of the greenhouse effect and the one on the right shows other models that emerged from the more than 200 representations we analyzed using factor analysis.

GHE correct model GHE Drawing Models

What we find is that even experts can have a hard time drawing a representation that is scientifically accurate and does not lead to misconceptions.  For instance, how should one represent the atmosphere?  If a professor draws the atmosphere as a single line it can lead to a common misconception of students that confuses the greenhouse effect with holes in the ozone.

Other projects include…

  • Use of drawings for evaluation of what people know or as a tool for learning
  • Redesign of images to improve communication and learning of science
  • Use of mobile devices to connect information to location…a type of flipped museum model
  • Use of video games to communicate concepts of evolution in informal settings
  • Use of comics in reducing subject anxiety in non-science majors taking science classes