Aligning the Earlham Biology Major with V&C Recommendation

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Title of Abstract: Aligning the Earlham Biology Major with V&C Recommendation

Name of Author: Amy Mulnix
Author Company or Institution: Earlham College
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Faculty Development
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: core courses senior comprehensive assessment competencies consensus

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Jose I. Pareja, Earlham College

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Our overall goal is to make teaching and assessment of competencies, including some in Table 2.1, more robust in the required courses in our major. Those areas on which the department agreed to focus are: quantitative reasoning; information literacy; the ability to evaluate, apply and synthesize scientific information; and oral and written communication. Our intended outcome is that successful completion of the core courses and of the senior capstone experience each indicates that students have achieved defined levels of competence. Those levels are internally agreed upon among department members and are consistent with externally published descriptions of competence levels for college (e.g., V&C Table 2.1 or AACU VALUE rubrics).

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: We are: I. Modifying our core courses (4 taken in the 1st and 2nd years) re: the competencies. 1) Our ideal is that a C indicates a basic competency level (as well as knowledge content). 2) We are increasing the amount of scaffolding and the number of points for and quality of formative assessments. 3) We have increased and diversified summative assessments. 4) We are collaboratively developing rubrics for use in assessments. II. Examining and modifying our senior comprehensive experience - which includes 1) a student-led seminar using the research literature and culminating in a group oral presentation and individually written integrative summaries of that literature, 2) written examinations, and 3) an oral conversation with an external examiner. 1) We are adjusting our examination questions to better reflect the competencies. 2) We have inserted more formative feedback points in the senior seminar component (e.g.) previewing the oral presentations. 3) We have been rewriting instructions and descriptions for students and for external examiners so that the oral exam better reflects our intentions. III. Faculty are updating their knowledge and subsequent use of emerging learning principles through on- and off-campus workshops, departmental discussions, team-teaching, consultant visits, professional development, attendance at national meetings, preparation for accreditation, response to college level expectations (e.g. departmental review, curricular mapping) and preparation of publications. An institutional requirement for curricular mapping and an institutional focus on quantitative reasoning were key in accomplishing our change goals. IIII. We are more intentional about collecting and reviewing evidence (e.g., external examiner comments, surveys of seniors). We are more deliberate in our discussions of those documents and the changes we may effect in response.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Evaluation of our change efforts includes reports to the administration, preparation of accreditation documents, consultant visits, publications and grant writing. We ask examiners for our oral comprehensive exam to give us a written document on their assessment of our students and program. We have become more intentional in closing the assessment loop by examining student performance in the senior capstone in light of our intended outcomes. We regularly modify the senior comprehensive experience in light of those discussions. We do a better job of detailing our expectations for course success in terms of the competencies and better coordinate competency development in the first two years of the major. We determine student success in part through collaboratively developed rubrics used to grade the products of assignments (e.g., exams, scientific writing, posters, web-sites, oral interviews, etc.). As with the capstone, published best practices have informed the rubrics. These rubrics are typically based on discussions among faculty, what we have done historically, and looking at other rubrics available on the web. We are doing data collection across years for some assignments. As part of our NSF TUES grant we have collected baseline survey data in several courses and next year will assess the effects of module implementation on student performance and experience. We use institutional data (e.g. performance on quantitative skill tests) and wish to expand this.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Students at Earlham have always had rich experiences with faculty but our changes have meant those points of contact have increased, diversified and become richer. Students have a better sense of what success looks like. Their learning has been enhanced/expanded (e.g. they are better writers or oral presenters). Faculty are both invigorated by the new kinds of interactions with students, and overwhelmed. The department has had to figure out how to have difficult conversations and still remain functional as a unit. Our regular discussions keep the issues alive and each of us tinkering with our practices as a result. Institutionally, the biology department is among the leaders engaged in reform of undergraduate teaching and learning.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The challenges we have encountered were largely expected. As an institution that uses consensus in its decision making process, we expected interpersonal differences to be present and we have experience working with those. We have encountered some student dissatisfaction, often based on the fact that we are covering less content or that we are asking them to do more work. These issues are feeding into how we institutionally define the amount of credit hours a course is given. We do not have a strong institutional assessment program and this has been problematic.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Members of the department have: 1) presented on assignments within courses and on capstone experience at regional and international meetings, 2) been consultants to other colleges on V&C, 3) contributed documents at the PULSE website, 4) published letters to the editor (see below), 5) been selected for presentation/workshop at the AAAS meeting in 2014, and 6) as part of an NSF TUES grant we are preparing course modules that can be easily adopted by other institutions (as part of core and elective courses). Mulnix, A. 2012. Using Learning Principle in Faculty Development Workshops (letter to the editor). Cell Biology Education. Winter, 2012. Mulnix, A. and Vandergrift, E. 2013. A tipping point in STEM education reform. Journal of College Science Teaching (in press).

Acknowledgements: All members of the Earlham Biology Department past and present.