Faculty of Plant Biology

Basic Information

Miller Plant Sciences, Rm 3520

My focus is teaching, and I'm currently the primary instructor for Principles of Biology I (BIOL 1107). I advocate for active learning in the classroom and work extensively with the Peer Learning Assistant (PLA) program on campus.

Research Interests:

My research is in biology education, where the goal is to collect and analyze data for the purpose of improving student learning. My interests include:


Student Use of Procedural Knowledge in the Life Sciences


Procedural (algorithmic) knowledge is defined as knowledge of skills, methods, and criteria used to determine when to employ them. In contrast, conceptual knowledge refers to knowledge of the relationships among ideas. Although procedural knowledge is important for developing expertise in disciplines, such knowledge without conceptual understanding is detrimental. One example of this scenario is students using formulas to plug-and-chug answers, without recognizing concepts underlying the algorithms. Although a common strategy of students in chemistry and physics, I’m interested in determining the extent to which students rely on procedural knowledge in life sciences and the extent to which typical assessments in biology encourage this strategy.


Student Understanding of Phylogenetic Trees


My research in this area has demonstrated that students have difficulties interpreting phylogenetic trees, which are analytical tools and visual representations used in evolutionary biology. This work has also shown that students perform significantly better on interpretation and construction tasks when phylogenetic trees are drawn in the bracket rather than diagonal style. The next step in this investigation is to determine why students disproportionately struggle with diagonal phylogenetic trees and examine variables other than style, such as orientation and scaling.

Selected Publications:

Dees J, Freiermuth D*, and Momsen J (2017). Effects of Phylogenetic Tree Style on Student Comprehension in an Introductory Biology Course. American Biology Teacher 79, 729–737.

Dees J and Momsen J (2016). Student Construction of Phylogenetic Trees in an Introductory Biology Course. Evolution: Education and Outreach 9, Article 3.

Dees J, Momsen J, Niemi J, and Montplaisir L (2014). Student Interpretations of Phylogenetic Trees in an Introductory Biology Course. CBE–Life Sciences Education 13, 666–676.


PhD: Zoology and STEM Education, 2017, North Dakota State University: Fargo, North Dakota


Articles Featuring Jonathan A. Dees

Friday, March 30, 2018 - 1:16pm

Open educational resources (OER) are low-cost or free tools that can help students meet the learning goals of courses while simultaneously reducing the cost of education. More of these tools become available every year, but the quality and flexibility of OER materials vary dramatically. Dr.