Making Small Changes to Big Courses

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Title of Abstract: Making Small Changes to Big Courses

Name of Author: Lori Kayes
Author Company or Institution: Oregon State University
Author Title: Course Coordinator
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: General Biology
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Adding to the literature on how people learn, Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development, Mixed Approach
Keywords: Socioscientific issues motivation alignment active learning learning outcomes

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Krissi Hewitt, Oregon State University Robert Mason, Oregon State University

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: In our Principles of Biology for Majors at Oregon State University (OSU), we have been implementing elements of the Vision and Change (V&C) over the last year. This course is a year-long series with almost 1200 students per quarter. Our goal is to redevelop the entire series to be more aligned with the V&C and thus increase our student’s learning, engagement, and long-term retention of materials. The goals and intended outcomes in progress include 1) the development of course learning outcomes that are aligned with the V&C core concepts and competencies; 2) assessment of the current lecture learning outcomes to determine where they are or are not aligned with V&C; 3) incorporating clickers and on-line homework into the large lecture classroom to encourage student engagement, active learning, peer teaching and provide multiple types of assessment; and 4) the development of a laboratory curriculum that is driven by educational theory and incorporates a socio-scientific issues-based approach.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: 1) We redesigned the learning outcomes based on what is already occurring in course to more fully align with V&C. 2) A GTA visited lectures and developed learning outcomes for each lecture based on what is currently being taught in the lecture. Our next step will be to assess the alignment of these outcomes with the V&C and look for ways to augment and streamline the curriculum in conjunction with the NW Biosciences Consortium. 3) Due to modeling of clicker technology in our labs, lecture instructors quickly became interested in using them in lecture. As new instructors come on board, we encourage them to use the clickers and our campus provides training and classroom support. The course coordinator manages and designs all of the on-line homework assignments. 4) The socio-scientific issues-based approach to undergraduate biology education not only adheres to the core concepts, competencies, and pedagogical approaches outlined in V&C, but also focuses on the development of biologically literate citizens capable of informed decision-making. The laboratory activities include active learning discussion and reflection sessions that focus on global and local social problems that intersect with science (i.e. GMOs, etc). They are also being built on the idea that students should be engaged in authentic activities that reflect the current state of biological research. A science education graduate student who focuses on university biology education is conducting this curriculum redesign and educational research study. In addition to the development of laboratory curriculum, extensive support was provided for GTAs to increase likelihood of the curriculum being implemented as it was intended.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: 1 -2) We are developing a course assessment based on the concepts and competencies in the V & C in conjunction with the NW Biosciences Consortium to determine if alignment assists students in meeting these outcomes (intended). 3) We evaluated student exam scores to see if there was an improvement after adding on-line homework and clickers. 4) In order to assess the effectiveness of this laboratory curriculum, a mixed methods research study is being conducted that compares laboratory sections that participate in the socioscientific issues-based curriculum (520 students) with the sections that participate in the current curriculum in place (520 students). Specifically, we are investigating the motivating aspects of the classroom environment and students’ motivation to inform themselves about socioscientific issues. The research study will be part of the graduate student’s dissertation and published in peer-reviewed journals that contribute to the state of knowledge on science education.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: 1-2) We have seen an increase in interest on the part of the faculty in what the V&C is and why it is important. The faculty, also, appear to appreciate the effort that is being made to help the students make learning gains in this course and in upper division courses. We hope to better prepare students for upper division courses so that they are able to more easily transition from our course to others. 3) Students have shown great appreciation for the addition of multiple forms of assessment. We anticipate that we will be helping them develop better study skills over time by incorporating these types of activities into our classes. 4) While we are still evaluating the impacts of these efforts on GTAs, we involved 28 GTAs in the laboratory curriculum research study as participants, giving them an opportunity to better understand both education research and different pedagogical strategies for effective instruction. Data on the impacts of the reformed laboratory curriculum on student motivation, attitudes and biological literacy is currently being analyzed.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The largest barriers we have faced are typical of this type of undertaking, including time, resources, and buy-in from faculty, students and graduate students. 1-2) It is difficult to make changes to learning outcomes in a series that is already in progress with such a large number of students. We have found that working on small steps makes it possible to move towards a complete redesign of the series while offering a quality experience for current students. 3) There are challenges with technology required to utilize the on-line homework and clickers. Finally, for all of the first three goals, there is some reticence on the part of the long-time faculty to change the way and what they teach but seeing improvements in learning has encouraged their participation. These barriers are balanced by some advantages that we feel may be unique to the OSU Biology Program. We have a very supportive administration and are situated in a small unit dedicated to teaching biology. This condensed faculty, primarily focused on teaching, gives us a lot of momentum to change and to improve the curriculum. We also have a very dedicated group of GTAs that have helped with the curriculum development. Utilizing graduate students has also allowed us to involve researchers in Science and Math Education who bring knowledge about student learning and educational research design to ensure the effectiveness of our efforts. 4) Implementation of new laboratory curriculum by GTAs, some with very little teaching experience, has proven to be challenging at times. The focus of the curriculum on active discussion of sensitive topics was new for most GTAs. In order to increase the competency of the GTAs in these areas, they were prepped weekly and given support throughout the term. We plan to make more supportive documents and training sessions in the future, so they feel confident in teaching the curriculum. The students in the course were occasionally upset about various topics or how discussions we

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We plan to disseminate this information through a number of outlets. A recently awarded grant to expand the NW Biosciences Consortium will allow for dissemination of materials (such as learning outcomes, assessments, and laboratory activities) developed for use in introductory biology curriculum within the PNW and the rest of the biological sciences teaching community. The research study will be part of the graduate student’s dissertation and published in peer-reviewed journals that contribute to the state of knowledge on science education.

Acknowledgements: GTAs, students and faculty in the BI21x series