Issue Driven Learning (IDL) in a Non-Major Biology Course.

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Title of Abstract: Issue Driven Learning (IDL) in a Non-Major Biology Course.

Name of Author: Ulrike Muller
Author Company or Institution: California State University Fresno
Author Title: Associate Professor
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s), Non-major
Approaches: Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: student peer review writing assignment real-life context science literacy non-major

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Susan Elrod, California State University Fresno

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: We aimed to improve student performance in a high-enrolment, high-failure General Education course for biology non-major students without increasing faculty work load, while maintaining course content or rigor. We aimed to develop sustainable strategies suitable for a multi-instructor class with part-time and graduate-student instructors. The goal was to create a course that not only improves student performance but also better meets the needs of non-majors students, many of whom come from underserved minorities, by developing core academic skills. In particular, we aimed at improving science literacy, critical thinking and written communication skills and core competencies, such as the ability to understand the relationship between science and society. We also aimed to redesign a mandatory 1000-word writing assignment that faculty are required to evaluate twice, in a first and in a final draft stage. This task consumed considerable time given the low faculty to student ratio (1:50-100), and grading was inconsistent within and between sections.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The redesign replaced a traditional watered-down version of an introductory majors’ course with an issue-driven learning experience that cultivates scientific literacy and addresses five of the six ‘Vision and Change’ core competencies that are relevant to non-scientists (core competencies 1,2,4-6). The course has a lecture and a lab component, and both contributed to the high failure rate (pre-redesign: lab 25%, course: 33% DFW; post-redesign: lab: 8%; course: 14% DFW). The main redesign strategies were to: (1) increase student engagement through issue-driven learning; (2) increase student competence through building academic and life skills: (3) increase student ownership of their education through student-peer feedback and student-centered learning. The main redesign elements were: (1) diversifying students assessment tools (pre-redesign: 70-80% of grade is from exams; post-redesign: 50%) by weighing written reports more heavily and introducing new components (in-lecture clicker quizzes, oral presentations, online homework, blogs); (2) aligning assessments with course objectives by assigning point values to assignments requiring communication skills, information and science literacy skills, and critical thinking skills; (3) creating engagement and ownership - lectures no longer front-load biology content but bring in biology to discuss locally relevant issues (asthma, nutrition, water management); labs use student peer feedback and peer review to assess student assignments.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: To assess changes in student attitude towards science and science courses, we used a pre/post-course survey developed for non-major biology courses by the University of Oregon. To assess changes in student competence, we used an assessment rubric of student learning outcomes. We focused our evaluation initially on the writing requirement. No rubric-based assessment was used before the redesign and instructors reported informally that the written reports were generally too poorly written to demonstrate the ability to discuss “ethical and societal issues of scientific inquiry.” To assess changes in student performance we used grade distribution. To inform redesign of the writing assignment, we used extensive feedback from lab instructors in weekly meetings, in particular feedback on the student peer review process.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Course outcomes. Multiple positive outcomes included: course DFW rates were halved from 33% to 14%; 85% of students’ work demonstrated achievement of GE learning outcomes on the GE assessment rubric; 80% of students reported increased scientific literacy skills; instructors reported reduced grading work load; lab grades no longer required curving at the end of the semester to achieve a grade distribution consistent across instructors. The failure (DFW) rates dropped most for Hispanic students from 42 to 13%. Faculty development. The successful redesign is serving as a launch point for a redesign of introductory courses for biology majors and has spawned increased interest among STEM faculty to initiate further redesigns along similar lines (issue-driven learning and student peer review). The peer review element required extensive coaching of the instructors and multiple redesign steps in order to gain buy-in from the students and to ensure fair and effective grading. The current peer-review mode is akin to the peer review of scientific manuscripts, with the students acting as reviewers and the instructor, acting as the editor, receiving multiple peer reviews (typically six per student report) to help the instructor assign a grade to each report. Development of a new teaching tool. We developed a student peer review protocol that enables instructors to use peer reviews to grade faster, more fairly, and more consistently and that avoids the need for ‘curving’ course grades at the end of the semester to remove possible inconsistencies between the 20-22 lab instructors. The student peer-review elements developed during this redesign have been implemented in two upper-division majors’ courses. The peer review element developed within this course redesign has been shared with faculty across the campus at a faculty development workshop in summer 2013 and has attracted considerable faculty interest as well useful input for further improvements.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The main challenge to sustainability is the need to keep innovating the content. We need to develop additional course modules both for lecture and for the writing assignment. So far we have developed three issue-based lecture modules (infection, nutrition, natural resource management), which leaves lecture instructors no choice but to teach these three. We want to develop a menu of at least six modules that instructors can choose from to build their course. We currently have five writing assignment modules, but one module is no longer addressing current issues. We need to develop strategies to sustain the continual development of new modules both for lecture and for lab. We also need to move the peer review procedure from paper to an electronic form to cut down on the amount of paper trail generated by the writing assignment, and to even further speed up and simplify grading.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We have presented our results at the WASC Academic Resource Conference (ARC) April 18-20, 2012. We have also presented our strategies at a CSU Fresno faculty development workshop in June 2013 and a national meeting on course redesign at the APLU in Washington, DC in May 2013. We are currently preparing a manuscript to be submitted to an educational journal in fall 2013.

Acknowledgements: This redesign was funded by Title V and supported by the provost of Fresno State.