Quantitative and Computational Skill in Biology Curriculum

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Title of Abstract: Quantitative and Computational Skill in Biology Curriculum

Name of Author: Denise Garcia
Author Company or Institution: California State University, San Marcos
Author Title: Associate Dean
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum
Approaches: Assessment, Material Development
Keywords: Quantitative Computational Biology Curriculum Pedagogy

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Charles De Leone, California State University, San Marcos Marie Thomas, California State University, San Marcos Keith Trujillo, California State University, San Marcos Victor Rocha, California State University, San Marcos Richard Bray, California State University, San Marcos

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Our project was based on the philosophy that Quantitative and Computational (Q&C) skills are best mastered when they are used repeatedly in different areas of biological and behavioral sciences. Our plan makes Q&C a common thread that is woven throughout the undergraduate curriculum. Specific Aims: 1. Implement a modern, interdisciplinary Q&C curriculum that prepares undergraduate science majors for the challenges and careers in the 21st century. 2. Empower all science majors to be scientific problem solvers through the use of appropriate Q&C knowledge and skills. 3. Ensure smooth articulation of Q&C enhanced lower-division science and math courses between the local community colleges and CSUSM. 4. Enhance the Q&C sophistication of MARC scholars in their coursework and research. 5. Foster interdisciplinary teaching and research projects among math, computer science and science faculty. 6. Disseminate successful curricular changes.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: During the five years of the project, we have enhanced the Q&C contents of 23 existing courses in Math and Science and we have developed seven new courses specifically related to quantitative and computational biology. The sequence of course modification and development began with first-year courses required of all science majors and has progress to more advanced courses in subsequent years, which had cumulative enrollments of over 3000 students since fall 2008. For example, physic courses now have been modified to meet the needs of our biologists and they now take Physics 205 and 206, physics for biologists. Mathematics courses now have many interesting biological applications and incorporate web-based diagnostics and tutorials; biology and chemistry courses incorporate many more mathematics and computer skills. Through this project, these courses have integrated quantitative and computational methods found in other parts of the biology curriculum. During years three, four and five, we modified or developed upper division courses. This includes the development of a biophysics course designed for both physicists and biologists and courses in bioinformatics and biological modeling. In addition, during year three we decided that to unify all of these skill, we needed a general Computing for Biologists course that was subsequently developed and offered.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Our continued strategy for evaluation is to take ‘snapshots’ of Q&C skills and knowledge at three different stages in a student’s undergraduate experience: entering freshmen, rising juniors, and graduating seniors. Our initial Q&C assessment initially involved a battery of three instruments but they did not adequately assess the curriculum-wide changes we are making. We are using web-based Knowledge Surveys designed to evaluate the degree of confidence that students have in addressing the Q&C elements we are integrating into the curriculum.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: One of the most significant outcomes of the Q&C grant has been to enhance communication and collaboration among faculty in all math and science departments. This has now included communication and collaboration among faculty at local community colleges. This ongoing effort is being accomplished through periodic meetings, seminars and informal gatherings. We have also established a Q&C wikipage where faculty shared details of all of their Q&C course changes. This arrangement promotes the integration and coordination of Q&C enhancements across courses and disciplines and enables faculty modifying subsequent courses to build upon on Q&C skills acquired in previous, Q&C-enhanced prerequisite courses. We are beginning to analyze these collaborations using social networking analysis. We also held a workshop that attracted 56 faculty from CSUSM and the local Community Colleges to discuss our curricular changes. This included a guest speaker from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis. By the end of the grant, approximately 1500 majors/year will benefit from the Q&C enhancements that have been institutionalized across the curriculum.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Our challenges include: 1. Thoroughly integrating Q&C skills and knowledge into the biology and related curricula requires substantial commitment and time. This can be achieved only when adequate resources are provided. 2. Deep collaboration among faculty across departments and courses has been crucial to success. We have been accomplishing this through frequent meetings and posting all changes on our Q&C Wiki. This ‘softening’ of departmental boundaries is one of the greatest achievements of the project, leading to other collaborative efforts. Again however, this can be achieved only when adequate resources are provided. 3. Introducing advanced Q&C topics in upper division courses requires that students begin with an adequate Q&C background. Satisfaction of prerequisite courses does not guarantee preparedness. To this end, we have developed an interactive web page where students can go at the beginning of each course for assistance with prerequisite knowledge in each course. 4. Program-wide assessment is a challenge because currently available tools do not cover Q&C skills needed for biologists.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We are currently working on two journal articles on the outcomes of our curricular development and the outcomes of the social networking analysis. We also plan to disseminate this information using talks and posters at national meetings.

Acknowledgements: This project was funded by NIH -MARC Curriculum Improvement Implementation - Phase II grant number:5 T36 GM078002-03