Biology Education Reform at Arizona State University

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Title of Abstract: Biology Education Reform at Arizona State University

Name of Author: Binaben Vanmali
Author Company or Institution: Arizona State University
Author Title: Instructional Professional
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Faculty Development
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: Active learning Evidence-based reform Assessment Faculty development TA Training

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Miles Orchinik, Arizona State University

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: ASU offers a distinctive challenge as the largest undergraduate campus in the US and a diverse student body. Close to 25% of the 3000 students in the School of Life Sciences (SOLS) are in the highly selective Barrett Honors College, and a similar number have Colorado Index scores in the at risk-category (<105); 30% of SOLS students are non-Asian American ethnic minorities and one-third are first generation college students. Our goals are to educate scientifically-literate citizens and a new generation of researchers, teachers and clinicians through: * Enhancing conceptual learning, competencies, and engagement among SOLS undergraduates * Increasing persistence in life sciences, particularly of minority students * Training graduate and undergraduate teaching/learning assistants via courses, workshops, and continuing feedback * Providing faculty with professional development, resources, and staffing to scaffold their reform efforts. Investments key to our educational successes with this large and diverse student population include: * A new interactive, student-centered, Active Learning Classroom (ALC) to enhance large courses: students share touchscreen PCs and access a robust network infrastructure, giving students and faculty access to Just-in-Time information and enables activities based on simulations, models, etc. * Implementation of an Innovative TA (ITA) program that provides an immediate boost in active learning in the classroom, facilitates long-term changes in faculty teaching and develops future faculty members who will excel at teaching as well as research * ITAs and all incoming graduate students now complete a Scientific Teaching course that introduces them to learning theories and collegiate science teaching with a focus on active learning strategies * We hired support staff (an instructional technologist and an education specialist) to encourage and assist faculty members in the transition to student-centered learning and meaningful assessments.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: We have modified teaching practices and curriculum to enhance conceptual learning, engagement and retention by: * Launching a redesigned introductory biology sequence in Fall 2013. The flipped courses are built around conceptual learning outcomes and competencies consistent with those outlined in Vision & Change. Course content is organized around questions that revisit core concepts during the year. One lecture session per week is replaced with activities in the ALC, and labs incorporate more open-ended inquiry. More information transfer occurs through multimedia resources so that lecture is used to confront misconceptions and challenge students to apply course-related concepts to real-world issues. The course uses adaptive testing for frequent assessment and feedback to both students and instructors. Students in the first semester co-enroll with their lab section in first-year composition emphasizing scientific writing and the nature of science; our goal is to increase the number of trained TAs until all incoming students have this opportunity. Students will also take Statistics for Biosciences, which overlaps content with intro biology. This supports the development of quantitative and analytical competencies. * Encouraging faculty members who teach large, upper-division courses to substitute one lecture per week with activities in the ALC (with help from ITAs). To date, nine courses within SOLS have adopted active learning with ITA support. Faculty will continue refining courses as increased student learning gains encourage innovation. * Using the ITA program to further emphasize the importance of science communication and promote a understanding of the relationship between science and society at large. These outcomes are introduced in intro biology but are also explicit in upper-division courses. For example, students in Biology and Society work in teams with ITAs to take PLoS Biology articles and interpret them for 6th grade students and teachers.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Innovations are important, but assessing effectiveness and sharing good ideas that work are just as important. Because of ASU’s diversity coupled with scale, our successes could assist with reform at many different types of campuses. Hence, we are committed to collecting the full spectrum of data on our reforms, in both qualitative and quantitative form. Qualitative data collection will focus on assessing quality of instruction, learning experiences for students and perceptions of biology by using interviews, students’ written work, and surveys. Quantitative data collection will focus on overall effectiveness of reform efforts as well as students’ learning gains. These will be assessed using surveys, students’ grades and performance on assessments and assignments, comparison of student performance in traditional versus reform courses, etc. We have installed video and recording equipment in the ALC, with the intention of using it to provide feedback to classroom instructors and for data collection.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: It is too early to assess major impacts, although some data on the effectiveness of the Scientific Teaching course will be published soon. We anticipate increased student learning in our three new intro biology courses; the greater academic success and social connectedness will lead to increased persistence and graduation of future life scientists. We expect our Innovative TAs, trained through the Scientific Teaching course, to contribute to the quality of our courses and be better prepared when they go on to faculty positions. The response of our faculty to the availability of ITAs and the ALC has been positive, and the simple act of reflecting on teaching is likely to improve teaching practices. The 60% turnout for our day-long faculty retreat on undergraduate education reform reflected the faculty enthusiasm for the call to action in Vision and Change.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Although not unexpected, it is clear that providing Innovative TAs, an active learning space and technical support is not sufficient to produce success in implementing evidence-based teaching practices. We are developing workshops for faculty members who use ITAs or the ALC. We were surprised to discover that the amount of learning in the Scientific Teaching courses was inversely related to the amount of TA experience the graduate students had. We now require all incoming grad students to take the Scientific Teaching course. For example, SOLS faculty continue to struggle with the challenge of how to engage and retain students with inadequate secondary preparation. Beginning in Fall 2013, incoming majors students with poor quantitative reasoning skills will enroll in a new course, Biological Thinking, prior to taking majors biology. The course is a transformed, flipped and student-centered version of the non-majors intro biology course, with 2 meetings per week in the ALC. The class focuses on developing basic competencies rather than acquiring content knowledge and employs pedagogical principles similar to those of the new majors intro courses, including adaptive learning support; authentic research components in the labs; and integration with freshman composition.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We will share our innovations and related research via professional conferences such as Vision and Change, National Association for Research in Science Teaching and Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research. We will also publish our findings in peer-reviewed journals and are planning to create a science education webpage within the SOLS site, which will be publicly available.

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Brian Smith, Director of SOLS, and Scot Schoenborn, Assistant Director of Academic Services in SOLS. We would also like to thank SOLS undergraduates for the program fees which have supported our reform attempts. We would also like to acknowledge current and past members of the Curriculum Reform Committee and others involved with reform, including: Valerie Stout, Michael Angilletta, Christian Wright, Kegan Remington, Boyd Armor, Manoush Farzin, Kimberly Michel, Christopher Dimond, Jonathan Jackson, Mark Ullett, Alison Sutherland, Kevin McGraw, Julie Luft, Christofer Bang, Tsafrir Mor, Kathy Hill, and Brian Verelli.