Celebrating Innovation in Teaching: Erin Vasudevan

Here at ADInstruments, we are proud to support innovative educators who are going above and beyond to provide engaging, interactive teaching experiences to their students. One way in which we recognize these educators is through our Macknight Early Career Innovative Educator Award, awarded annually at the Experimental Biology Conference.

This award recognizes an APS member who is incorporating innovative teaching techniques and effectively utilizing technology for the engagement of students in physiology education.

With EB 2021 upon us, we wanted to highlight and congratulate last year’s 2020 Macknight Award winner - Erin Vasudevan!


Erin Vasudevan | Macknight Early Career Innovative Educator Award winner


Erin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Stony Brook University, New York, where she started her career investigating the neural control of moments in humans, as well as how individuals learn new movements.

Erin's interest in this field stemmed from a memorable moment in her undergraduate course. She explains, ‘I had just finished a class on the neural control of movement, and I remember walking across the quad being completely fascinated with what my legs were doing. I especially enjoyed learning about reflexes and central pattern generators. As a person who struggles with coordination, these automatic mechanisms are what keep me upright much of the time!’ 

However, in addition to her biomedical research program, Erin is also involved in teaching undergraduate neurobiology, as well as carrying out her own pedagogical studies. 

Erin tells us, 'My pedagogical research involves looking at the impact of writing-to-learn activities on student learning in large-enrollment classes. Over the past few years, my focus has shifted more towards pedagogic research and away from my biomedical research, but I joke that both areas of research are really just about learning!’

Incorporating technology into the classroom - The 'EEG To-Go' Lab

Erin was awarded the Macknight award for her innovative ‘EEG To-Go’ mobile lab activity, which employs the use of simple EEG demonstrations on human subjects to teach basic neuroscience concepts and expose students all over campus to research in neuroscience.

Erin explains, ‘The beauty of EEG is that it sounds and looks impressive, but it is actually quite easy (and safe) to set up a 5-10 minute experiment that gives consistent and reliable results. In other words, it has a high “wow” factor! The students get very excited about seeing their own brain waves.’

‘For example, a three-electrode montage is sufficient to detect changes in EEG frequency and amplitude associated with simple activities like the subject opening and closing his/her eyes.’ 

One of the main goals in designing this lab was to target first-generation college students and transfer students who may not know about opportunities to get involved with research. 

Engaging undergraduate students in neuroscience research

One way Erin and her fellow educators expose undergraduate students to different research options is by incorporating commonly used research techniques and technology into their labs. This gives the students a ‘taste’ of what they might expect if they were to pursue a career in research.

Erin doesn't necessarily think of herself as a trendsetter for technological innovation in teaching, but instead makes use of the tools that are available at Stony Brook University, to prevent students from having to pay for more technology.

Erin explains ‘We use several ADInstruments PowerLab Data Acquisition units in our teaching labs, with our lab computers running LabChart. We use the physiology education kits with a variety of sensors and leads, including the cup electrodes we use for EEG recordings. The system is  incredibly versatile, and we use it in nearly every lab we run to record from a variety of preparations, ranging from fruit flies to humans.’

Pursuing a passion for teaching

When asked what she loves most about her work, Erin replied, ‘I know this is so cliche, but it’s the students that motivate me to go to work each day. I am proud of working for a public university that serves diverse students. Stony Brook has been named as a leading school for promoting upward mobility by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. I am humbled to be even a tiny cog in a bigger system that helps students better themselves and better the lives of their families. '

As someone who is actively involved in their student's learning and has a passion for improving the lives of others - we asked Erin to share her top piece of advice for someone starting out in their teaching career...

'Find a mentor -- ideally several mentors. Teaching is hard and emotional work. It can be incredibly draining and incredibly rewarding. You need people who you can run ideas past, share successes and failures with, and go to when you need to discuss anything that happened in class. I have several people who I go to. I will often just knock on their doors when I finish teaching and need to unload. I know that I take up a lot of their time, yet they rarely turn me away (and when they do, it is for a good reason). I am incredibly grateful to them and I could not imagine doing this job without them. Big shout-outs specifically to Drs. Bill Collins and Maurice Kernan.' 

Congratulations again Erin, from all of us here at ADInstruments - we have no doubt we will be hearing more about your achievements in the research and educational fields in the near future!

John Durocher - 2021 Macknight Early Career Innovative Educator Award Winner

We would also like to make a special mention to John Durocher, winner of this year's Macknight Early Career Innovative Educator Award. John is an Associate Professor of Health Studies at Purdue University Northwest, who incorporates a wide variety of physiological equipment into his lessons to engage his students in their learning. We look forward to sharing more about his award-winning teaching with you soon!

Looking to incorporate hands-on learning into your physiology labs?
Here are three step-by-step experiments to get you started!

Experimental Biology - 2021

The annual Experimental Biology (EB) meeting brings together scientists and educators from all fields of life science and biomedical research to exchange ideas and insights and to showcase the absolute best in research and education. This year, the conference is being held virtually, from April 27 – 30, 2021. 

As part of our strategic partnership with the APS, we are proud to sponsor a series of awards (like the Macknight Early Career Innovative Educator Award) at EB, to help support physiological researchers and educators so that they may continue to make great strides in innovation and discovery. For more information about these awards and the EB 2021 conference, please visit our event page