Student-Centered Introductory Biology and Forestry at a HSI

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Title of Abstract: Student-Centered Introductory Biology and Forestry at a HSI

Name of Author: Sarah Corey-Rivas
Author Company or Institution: New Mexico Highlands University
Author Title: Research Assistant Professor
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Faculty Development, Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: Forestry, HSI, biology, Introductory, Boot camp course

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Mary Shaw, New Mexico Highlands University Sara Brown, New Mexico Highlands University

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Our overall goal is to increase learning, retention, and graduation rates at an open enrollment, rural Hispanic Serving Institution through development and support of a student-centered learning environment. The Biology and Forestry faculty at New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU) will continue to increase the learner-centered nature of our science programs by focusing on five goals and outcomes: 1) Learning and adapting new pedagogical techniques to our particular student population assisted by professional development workshops. Outcome: Faculty at NMHU will be knowledgeable in current research methods involving student centered teaching and experiential learning. 2) Implementing new techniques in the classroom. Outcome: All faculty teaching introductory courses adopt research based, student-centered learning methods, 3) Aligning curriculum using backward course design. Outcome: The curriculum is fully aligned with the V& C core concepts and competencies, and courses build on each other in a logical way. 4) Course mapping and alignment of learning objectives in cross-departmental curricula. Outcome: Collaborations between Biology, Forestry, and other sciences result in curricula that interweave concepts and skills with clearly aligned, degree-program objectives. 5) Offering developmental courses to provide foundational study skills and personal learning habits. Outcome: Cognitive skills are integrated into introductory courses. We particularly want to identify the level of quantitative reasoning skills needed for life science students and integrate reinforcing principles throughout the curriculum.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: At a large scale, faculty and administrators are participating in STEM strategic planning to meet ongoing retention and graduation concerns. This planning includes revising faculty commitments to teaching and research in terms of time allocation and cooperative efforts to align curricula across STEM disciplines. Addressing goals 1 and 2, to strengthen our repertoire of student-centered teaching and encourage faculty to use newly acquired skills, we offer regular professional development workshops and a discussion group for STEM faculty. Pedagogical techniques being tested at NMHU include inquiry-based biology labs, punctuated lecture/discussion, and iClicker polling in conjunction with problem sets. To address goals 3, 4, and 5 we are determining cognitive skills and content learning outcomes for each course aligned with V & C plus professional criteria and new State content standards for K-12 students. Goals and objectives for advanced courses build on those for the lower division prerequisites.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: For our goal of increased retention and timely graduation, we will rely on institutional data on student’s graduation and retention rates. Goals 1 &2: Survey faculty participation and implementation of best practices in STEM pedagogy. Goal 3: Survey students and faculty regarding curricula alignment to determine if courses build on each other in a logical way so that undergraduates are able to navigate science programs efficiently. In addition, we will assess the applicability of other standardized tools including the SURE, SALG, and mFAT. Goal 4: Among science departments, fewer courses overlap in content and objectives. Pre-assessments indicate that skills from introductory courses are being retained in more advanced courses. Goal 5: One or more interdisciplinary courses support development of foundational science knowledge and skills, as evidenced by in-class summative assessments of learning objectives and attitude surveys. Foundational course students will be tracked to determine if they persist and are successful in the sciences compared to peers not enrolled in the course. Faculty feedback on successes and challenges of these interdisciplinary courses will also be collected and discussed in faculty strategy meetings.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: The support provided to STEM students and faculty has resulted in substantial gains in both total number of STEM majors (from 242 in fall 2008 to 322 in fall 2012) as well as improvements in retention. Students at NMHU participating in the supported program are 3.8 times more likely to continue to be enrolled as a STEM major or to graduate with a STEM degree (Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Research). Students polled in STEM classes (172 respondents) note that hands-on, collaborative learning techniques supported their success. Two faculty development workshops (OnCourse, and a workshop by Dr. Diane Ebert-May) provided tangible examples and techniques to implement in a wide variety of courses. In addition, faculty have established a weekly discussion group where teaching techniques are often discussed (~10 faculty per week). High Impact teaching techniques have been integrated into five introductory biology and forestry courses taught by 6/8 faculty. These new techniques have reached 453 students over the last year. In a recent survey of faculty teaching all (not just forestry or biology) introductory STEM courses (70% response rate), 44% reported that their primary teaching strategy was traditional lecture. In terms of course design, only one faculty member reported full implementation of backward course design while 28% reported they did not plan on trying it. We have also aligned objectives in the cross-departmental ecology curriculum and created assessments that align skills and content from introductory courses with more advanced courses in both Forestry and Biology. We are entering year two of a pilot course for students needing developmental coursework in fundamental concepts (scientific thinking, graphing) and quantitative and reading skills. This 'boot-camp' style class is aimed at increasing passing rates in introductory classes and allows students to proceed through their degree program in an organized and timely manner.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: One challenge we face is faculty buy-in of these new techniques and ideas, though we have made progress in introductory STEM, with 6/8 faculty using high impact techniques. Pre/post assessments and attitude survey instruments have demonstrated that the majority of students want to play an active role in their classroom experience and thought it helped increase learning. Although preliminary results are promising, the number of students who do not pass introductory courses, or do pass but have not gained skills necessary to sustain them in the following course work is an ongoing challenge. NMHU is an open enrollment institution, and there is a wide range of math, science and reading skills within a class. This provides a challenging teaching and learning environment; we have instituted a pre-assessment to better determine skill levels of students initially enrolled in the introductory course so that we may advise those who have more advanced math skills to take a course with more appropriate material. The design of the introductory 'boot-camp' course, and our particular student body’s deficiencies, have inspired us to scaffold quantitative reasoning skills into other courses across the curriculum. An additional challenge is to incorporate all the goals and objectives into the curriculum without increasing the number of credits students must take. This will involve a distilling of the numerous concepts in a way that is beneficial for both Biology and Forestry students. An additional challenge is working within departmental teaching and research requirements to find adequate faculty time to implement our desired changes and continue to collaborate with faculty across disciplines.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We have applied for two NSF grants, NOYCE and WIDER in the past year as part of our efforts to disseminate knowledge gained and to deepen our involvement in strengthening science education in the V&C framework. We are members of various listservs and bulletin boards, such as the New Mexico DBER, PULSE, and First IV. We share our insights with other faculty members at NMHU across the STEM disciplines during discussions and Faculty Development week activities. We plan to publish results from our experiences with the developmental, interdisciplinary course after a three-year trial period is complete. We are also interested in developing and publishing work on Hispanic student success in our unique learning environment.

Acknowledgements: We thank the ARMAS Center at NMHU and funding provided by the Kellogg Foundation, USDA, and NSF. We also thank Dr. Diane Ebert-May and Dr. Eileen Zamora for professional development support.