Connect Classroom Learning with Real World Applications

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Title of Abstract: Connect Classroom Learning with Real World Applications

Name of Author: Xiao-Ning Zhang
Author Company or Institution: St. Bonaventure University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Biotechnology, Plant Development and Physiology
Course Levels: Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: Research-based laboratory Design Interdisciplinary Collaboration Peer Teaching Peer Plant Development and Physiology Molecular Cell Biology

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Paula Kenneson, Saint Bonaventure University

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The goals of this project are: 1) to test the feasibility of using real research projects in teaching labs; 2) to bridge the gap between knowledge lectured in the classroom and applications of the knowledge; 3) to train undergraduate students to become scientific learners and critical thinkers. 4) to train undergraduate students to speak of biology research to the general public. The intended outcomes are : 1) A set of teaching materials including detailed pedagogies, lab manuals, syllabi including learning goals and outcome assessment tools, and corresponding rubrics to support student learning; 2) A collection of quantifiable data for statistical analysis as well as qualitative measurements of student learning and the dissemination of the information in the teaching and learning community.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: These goals have been tested in two different courses: Bio406 Plant Development and Physiology (lecture and lab) in 2011 and 2013 and BioL466 Cell Molecular and Biology Lab in 2012. In Bio406, we used a three-prong approach: lecture, discussion and laboratory being interconnected, equally important and supportive to each other to promote active learning. The lecture content was extracted from ‘Teaching Tools’ published on The Plant Cell. Information from textbook and current literature was added when necessary. In the lab portion of this course, newly identified Arabidopsis mutants were used as the common cue throughout the semester to let students characterize mutant plants throughout the life cycle. By doing this, students applied the new knowledge from the concurrent lecture and see how different lab techniques could be put together to answer a general experimental question - how are new mutants different from the wild type? At the end, students summarized their results from different tests and came to their own conclusions. All students paired up to practice as Teaching Assistants to lead different lab sections and to generate summary figures. During the discussion, students worked in groups to solve problems that deepened their learning. These problems are focused on understanding literature, experimental design and real world applications. In BioL466, the effort was focused on how to tailor the research project to a manageable level for a weekly 3-hr meeting time. Students worked in groups to test instructor-provided hypotheses. They learned techniques required for molecular cloning, protein expression and various tests for protein-protein interactions. Based on findings, each student proposed a new hypothesis for future research. We also provided writing exercises and guidance on public speaking presentation to enable students to become proficient in presenting their research to a variety of audiences.

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 common evaluation tools for both courses were standard lab report or lab summary, poster presentation and research proposal. For Bio406, exams were used to evaluate basic knowledge from lecture and critical thinking on science questions; term papers were used to connect textbook learning with real world phenomena and to practice scientific writing; lab leader evaluation to assess the effectiveness of 'peer teaching peer'; literature presentations were used to measure the understanding of science being presented and to measure public speaking and student feedback was used to assess student interests and the feasibility of using real research project in teaching labs. Both labs suggested that although not all research experiments are practical for teaching labs, it is definitely feasible if a project can be broken down into several small tasks and each task can be accomplished in a three hours.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: There were 16 students in 2011, 11 students in 2012 and 12 students in 2013 who have enrolled in either Plant Development and Physiology or Molecular Cell Biology when this change project was delivered. Involving students in the change project stimulates their interests more effectively and builds a bridge to minimize the gap between abstract knowledge from lecture and their applications. The change project allowed students to become a part of something much bigger than what they have done. In doing so, they have applied their learning scientifically and become critical thinkers. They are also more likely to seek for research opportunities in the future. It turned out to be a better way for teaching and learning. Some of these students just entered medical schools, while others are still at SBU. Their performance will be followed up in 5 years. Through this continuing effect, the Department of Biology started to be more open to change in promoting active learning among students. The instructor for freshman biology lab has agreed to use one of my research experiments in her lab course to test mutant responses to environmental conditions. Not only did this project open the dialogue about the scholarship of teaching and learning but also implemented co-teaching and collaboration in the Biology classes between the authors and their respective schools. For the first time, a faculty member from School of Education (Dr. Kenneson) and a faculty member from Department of Biology in School of Arts and Sciences (Dr. Zhang) started a collaboration to enrich the impact of this change project. The change project and its impact on students were introduced successfully to current donors of the university in May 2013. Publicizing this change project at the university level is in the plan and will be carried out in fall 2013.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: A major difficulty that prevents the change to continue is time. Implementing research-based teaching labs requires significantly more hours of dedication. Under the current teaching load requirement, it was very stressful. Ongoing discussions on campus are to find ways to address issues on teaching load hoping more time being allocated toward research-related activities. There have also been several university-wide conversations on scholarship in teaching and learning. I anticipate this new learning community will promote the dialog and facilitate for change in other courses on campus. Another challenge we encountered is the resistance to change from some students. Since these course designs are very different from all other biology lab courses that students have been used to for years, it is difficult for some students to embrace this new idea quickly. We had to explain repeatedly why we do this, how it is related to the big picture and what qualities are expected in order to prepare for the future. We hope that when more biology courses are on board with new designs, this climate will change.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Preliminary lab activities of this project has been presented as a poster “Characterization of the Arabidopsis sr45-1;oif-ler mutant in BIOL406: Plant Development and Physiology Laboratory” at Plant Biology Meeting in August 2011. A more systematic design of the course has been presented as a poster “Aligning biology lab planning, instructional design and common core college and career readiness writing standards to increase student learning” at PKAL Upstate New York Regional Network Meeting in April 2013. This poster led to an open dialog with local major universities, University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology, and will continue in the near future. The results from BioL466 were presented as a poster at the Gorden conference - Plant Molecular Biology in July 2012. The idea, strategies and data of this project will be presented to the university community in fall 2013. The continued collaboration between the Biology Department and the School of Education will also add to future research in the success of the Common Core College and Career Readiness Standards in preparing high school students to meet the challenges of university level study and research.

Acknowledgements: This project is supported by the National Science Foundation (0950158) and Keenan Award at St. Bonaventure University.