Peer-Led Team Learning in a Cell/Molecular Biology Course

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Title of Abstract: Peer-Led Team Learning in a Cell/Molecular Biology Course

Name of Author: Kenneth Belanger
Author Company or Institution: Colgate University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.)
Keywords: peer led learning, assessment, molecular biology, discussion

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The goals of our peer-led team learning (PLTL) efforts are to provide beginning biology students with the skills to engage in complex problem-solving, to help them integrate material from across our introductory cell and molecular biology course, and to help them see the advantages of collaborative learning. An additional goal is to provide leadership opportunities for talented, invested advanced students that help them become better learners and teachers.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: We have integrated weekly, optional peer-led team learning (PLTL) sessions into our introductory cell and molecular biology course. In each PLTL session, groups of 4 - 8 students meet and, under the guidance of a peer who has taken the course previously and received training in group leadership, discuss complex biological problems that relate to course material but are not covered in other aspects of the course.

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 have given post-course assessments to students that inquire about perceived learning gains, interactions with peer leaders, and group dynamics. We also take attendance and examine the differences in exams scores and overall course grade between participants and non-participants.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Students participating in our peer-led team learning have reported gains in problem-solving ability, better integration of complex information, and greater comfort in working in groups. They also have scored significantly better on exams than students who do not participate.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Our sessions are optional and some students lag in attendance late in the semester, despite self-reporting the benefits of the PLTL sessions. We have not found a way to deal with the lower priority some students place on these sessions relative to other activities.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We have reported our findings to our department and have presented them at a faculty meeting and in a summer teaching and learning discussion group. We plan to eventually publish our outcomes in an education journal.

Acknowledgements: These results are the outcome of a collaboration across the Department of Biology at Colgate. The success of this program is also due to the investment of Karyn Belanger and Joe Amato in Colgate's Center for Learning, Teaching, and Research.