Science-based Entrepreneurship in Introductory Biology

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Title of Abstract: Science-based Entrepreneurship in Introductory Biology

Name of Author: Brad Goodner
Author Company or Institution: Hiram College
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: General Biology
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Assessment, Entrepreneurial connections, Material Development
Keywords: Entrepreneurship Popular Science Books Flipped Classroom Introductory Biology Metagenomics

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Sandy Madar, Hiram College Jenn Clark, Hiram College

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Our latest efforts to reform the biology curriculum at Hiram College focuses on our introductory biology course. We chose to work on this course because it is where we traditionally have the highest attrition rate within the major, and because we have invested a great deal of time in the past decade revamping our program by incorporating original research experiences for all biology majors into later courses. It was our goal to better prepare students for the work of biologists, and the required research or internship experience for the major, which includes a significant capstone presentation. We had also begun to recognize that our strength in preparing students for graduate and professional school had outpaced our knowledge regarding opportunities for biologists outside of these areas. This remains important as our region is focused on growing its biotech footprint.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The first biology course, called How Science Works, focuses on ecology, evolution, genetics, and the relationship of biology to other scientific disciplines and to societal problems. This course has some of the highest enrollments on campus, typically 80-100 students spread across two sections, and had been taught in a traditional lecture-dominated format in a 1960’s vintage space using a general biology textbook. It had been designed to serve majors and non-majors as part of our liberal arts core. We have made significant changes beyond our first decision - to return this to a targeted course for majors. One, the course is now taught in a discussion format in an open classroom where groups of 3-4 students sit (often with a faculty member!) at round tables. Class time is now dominated by student groups working through questions related to their readings and discussions driven by their insights and questions. Two, the giant textbook has been pushed to the background as a reference text, and the course is driven by two popular science books written by scientists, Coral Reefs in the Microbial Seas to focus the discussions on ecology, and Why Evolution is True for discussion of evolution, as well as a series of papers from the primary literature that integrate these concepts. Three, Genetics in all its facets, Mendelian, molecular, and genomic, is peppered throughout the course. As an example, a fallen log metagenomics project was initiated to tie class discussions on metagenomics to an existing ecology lab project. Four, the last third of the course brings it all together in an examination of a hot area of biology research, how indigenous microbes influence their multicellular hosts. Readings of primary literature and an entrepreneurial rocket pitch project asks students to come up with a product or process involving indigenous microbes that would impact human health or agriculture. The student groups present their ideas to a faculty panel.

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 used parts of several published biology concept inventories to develop our own inventory that allows us to assess student learning not only in this course, but throughout their 4-year career at Hiram College. We have collected additional documentation of learning gains for specific topics using other instruments (e.g., Tree Thinking Challenge, Wordle word clouds of key descriptors).

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: We have documented significant learning gains in the two iterations of the new course format run so far and are beginning to track additional changes in learning with the same instrument by accessing students at multiple points in their biology major training. Using other assessment instruments, student comments at the end of the course also emphasized the empowerment of the entrepreneurial process for science students. They describe entering the class feeling daunted, so ignorant given the vastness of the knowledge base we were about to discuss that they could not imagine contributing anything to science. Yet they were clearly interested in the subject. The integration of the entrepreneurial mindset demonstrated tangibly that they could generate ideas with value, and begin to imagine how they, as scientists, might test their worth. We have worked closely with colleagues from our college-wide assessment and retention committees looking at the factors that correlate with lack of success in the introductory biology course and how that corresponds to data from our introductory chemistry course. We are now working on plans to identify high-risk students at the time of enrollment, and provide them with both the advising support and academic support to improve success (exact routes still under discussion).

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Our biggest challenge was in convincing the college administration to let us use a large open nontraditional space (an old dining room in the student union) in which to run the class portion of the course. We have won each battle so far with the help of the academic dean and more faculty are joining us in asking for more open format teaching spaces.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We have worked closely with colleagues from our college-wide assessment and retention committees looking at the factors that correlate with lack of success in the introductory biology course and how that corresponds to data from our introductory chemistry course. We are now working on plans to identify high-risk students at the time of enrollment, and provide them with both the advising support and academic support to improve success (exact routes still under discussion). Finally, we have shared our story with faculty at other sister institutions in northeast Ohio who are looking to use science-based entrepreneurship as a way to energize students early in their science major and to get students to see the wider range of possible science-based careers.

Acknowledgements: We thank Willa Schrlau for helping us integrate the revised class portion of the course with the laboratory portion. We also thank the Department of Biology and Academic Dean Bob Haak for their support of our efforts.