Implementing V & C in Introductory Biology Using a New Text

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Title of Abstract: Implementing V & C in Introductory Biology Using a New Text

Name of Author: Chris Paradise
Author Company or Institution: Davidson College
Author Title: Associate Professor of Biology
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: General Biology
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: Introductory biology, core concepts, critical thinking, assessment, introductory biology textbook

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): A. Malcolm Campbell, Davidson College Laurie J. Heyer, Davidson College Mark J. Barsoum, Davidson College Patrick J. Sellers, Davidson College

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Our goals are to improve introductory biology education by writing a textbook that uses as its foundation the core recommendations of Vision and Change. The textbook, written by three of the authors, two of them biologists and one a mathematician, is called Integrating Concepts in Biology (ICB). National recommendations of V & C include a focus on core concepts and core competencies, which include quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, the ability to apply the process of science and understanding of the link between science and society. Our intended outcomes are the textbook and ancillary materials that can be used by anyone teaching undergraduate introductory biology and empowers students to learn major biological concepts and strong analytical skills.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: ICB provides students with original data allowing them to learn the process of science by interpreting data that leads to new knowledge. The text follows first principles of learning: students learn best when they construct their own knowledge and when new material is related to what they already know. Our approach emphasizes interpretation of data from primary literature and the utility of mathematics in biology, while de-emphasizing memorization. This redesign divides biology into five big ideas (information, evolution, cells, emergent properties, homeostasis) similar to the Vision and Change core concepts. Each Big Idea is addressed at five levels of organization (molecules, cells, organisms, populations, ecological systems). We have used ICB for three years and have documented learning gains and attitudinal changes. Our classroom has been converted from a place where students memorized facts in the absence of data to a place where the scientific process provides the context and substance of teacher-student interaction.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: We compared our course outcomes with two sections that used a traditional textbook and were taught by different instructors (Barsoum et al., 2013). Class time was fairly traditional and thus similar to the other two sections. Our class time was spent discussing the interpretation of data presented in the text, reinforcing what the students had already read and analyzed. We hypothesized our students would: 1) score at least as well as the traditional students on core content questions; 2) perform better on data interpretation questions; and 3) show significant changes in their perception of biology as a scientific discipline. Content and data interpretation questions were administered to all sections of introductory biology, and student perceptions were assessed pre- and post-semester. Our students performed significantly better on the data interpretation assessment than those in the traditional sections (p = 0.046) and demonstrated no significant difference in performance on the factual content assessment (p = 0.737). Our students exhibited significant improvement in their ability to interpret experimental data over the course of the semester (p = 0.015), while traditional students did not (p = 0.320). Pre- and post-semester assessment of disciplinary perceptions and self-appraisal indicate that our students acquired a more accurate perception of biology as a discipline and may have developed a more realistic evaluation of their scientific abilities than did the control

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: We have evidence from student evaluations that many students appreciated the approach and our textbook. They indicate that the focus on the process of science, the honing of critical thinking and quantitative reasoning skills and the method of knowledge construction were highly beneficial to them. We have been teaching from this text for three years and have reached about 100 students at Davidson College. Faculty at other institutions will be class testing our text this coming year and teachers across the country are anticipating the publication of our text. We therefore predict a large future impact on top of the modest impact we have had thus far.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Some of the experiments and data we used in the text were more challenging than we anticipated, and the level of detail offered in the textbook sometimes distracted from the fundamental, core concept on which we wanted students to focus. We are in the process of reorganizing and streamlining the textbook to eliminate distractors, focus the text on the core integrating concepts. Improved modular organization of ICB will allow other instructors to select and arrange chapters to suit their curriculum and teaching assignments.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We will continue with our assessments and publish papers in education journals as appropriate. More importantly, we will publish ICB as an e-text. The e-text will be customizable by users. We will provide examples of syllabi for a variety of different scenarios to accommodate the most common divisions of introductory biology. The modular organization of ICB will allow instructors to select and order chapters to suit their curriculum and teaching assignments. We will provide PowerPoint slides of the figures, which will be annotated in a step-by-step fashion to facilitate class discussion or a standard lecture format. We will provide an electronic instructors’ guide that will contain answers to all Integrating Questions that appear in the text, and links to reliable sources for further reading on each topic. The level of difficulty and pre-requisite knowledge for each BME will be provided so instructors can emphasize material in accordance with their students’ mathematical training and ability. We have produced electronic files (e.g., Excel) for hands-on student exploration of graphs and datasets with animations and interactive tutorials for the BMEs. We will have a test bank of questions consistent with the desired learning objectives but are easy to grade (e.g., multiple choice). Students will be asked to support their answers to questions by choosing the correct images from a ‘data gallery’ and then determine how each figure supports their answer.

Acknowledgements: An HHMI grant to Davidson College provided funding for release time. We thank Davidson College for a Curriculum Assessment grant to continue assessment efforts. We thank anonymous reviewers for their assistance.