A 15 Year Curriculum Wide Program Change

Return to search results | New search

Title of Abstract: A 15 Year Curriculum Wide Program Change

Name of Author: Brad Elder
Author Company or Institution: Doane College
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Curriculum Wide
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Faculty Development
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: program development, workload, research, communication, competencies

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Barb Clement, Doane College Tessa Durham Brooks, Doane College Erin Doyle, Doane College Ramesh Laungani, Doane College Kate Marley, Doane College

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: In 1998, the Doane College Biology faculty identified experimental design, execution, analysis and communication as key competencies essential for students across biological fields. To develop these competencies, Biology faculty established a strategic plan requiring all majors to complete an intensive three-semester independent research capstone experience. To maximize sustainability, benchmarks for faculty course-load reductions were set resulting in changes to the department offerings. The program was implemented in 1999, with the first cohort of students completing their research in 2002-2003. In its current form, third-year students, in collaboration with faculty mentors, develop written project proposals that are presented orally to their peers. In their fourth year, students conduct their proposed research, collect and analyze data and present their findings at local, regional or national meetings. Students also write up their findings in a formal thesis. Nine years later, approximately 250 students have completed independent capstone research projects. In 2007 the introductory curriculum was modified, including developing laboratory experiences with inquiry projects involving increasingly open-ended questions. In the three semester introductory sequence these experiences were designed to emphasize skill development in hypothesis generation, experimental design, experimentation, statistical analysis, and preparation of written, oral and poster presentations. In 2012-2013, we are again re-designing the introductory curriculum. After students complete the research-intensive first semester, they will continue with two introductory courses which are more concept-based rather than content-based structure. The concepts emphasized in these courses align with the core concepts outlined in Vision & Change, so that the first course will be Energy of Life: Cells to Ecosystems and the second will be Information of Life: Genetics to Evolution.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Our main goal was to develop a more integrated program across the curriculum that would include research, experimental design, analysis and communication as well as develop core competencies. This required a group effort within the Department, within the Division and with Administration. To be successfully implemented we had to reduce teaching load and bring credit for lab hours in line with the national average.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: The evaluation of our program originally centered around a departmentally developed exam which targeted content. We then switch to ‘the major field test’ offered by ETS. We have been unhappy with that and are now using the EDAT and are in the process of developing a core competency testing tool. Variations on a common rubric for evaluating written communication are used in both introductory and upper level classes, and through graduation to gauge the effectiveness of teaching and learning strategies which aim to develop the core competencies encompassing the ability to communicate and collaborate with other disciplines. The common rubric also helps students see the continuity in skill development across the curriculum.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: The success of the program has motivated other departments to add research components to their majors, and faculty course loads have been adjusted campus-wide in order to accommodate student research. Aspects of the planning, implementation and review processes involved were key to facilitating the evolution of the curriculum to its current form. Clear benefits and difficulties have emerged from the requirement of such a comprehensive research requirement and the extensive use of inquiry-based teaching and learning throughout the curriculum. In particular, implementation of these revisions required an evolution of perspective on the part of faculty to move beyond the content vs. concept debate and on the part of the administration to recognize mentoring students in research as teaching at its most direct and intimate. This has prompted a college wide discussion of the tenure process and what it means to teach.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Implementation of our curricular revisions will present new challenges, particularly in identifying appropriate texts, in preparing faculty to teach across biological disciplines. It will require continued collaboration in the department to address global concepts and competencies in upper-level courses. The revisions also present exciting possibilities for building on the vibrant, interdisciplinary research climate we are currently enjoying as a science division and to further develop students who are more skilled in tackling the complex problems they will face as professionals.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: In 2009 the Biology Department presented at The Association of College & University Biology Educators (ACUBE) meeting at Rockhurst. As the next phase of curriculum changes are going into place this academic year, we expect to make additional presentations in the next few years.

Acknowledgements: This curriculum modification has been an ongoing process lasting more than 15 years. There are far too many people to acknowledge but the seeds for adding senior research to the curriculum were planted more than 15 years ago by Dr. Robert Wikel and Dr. Robert Muckel.