Working Group Descriptions

Working Group Descriptions

Transforming Undergraduate Biology Education:

Mobilizing the Community for Change

July 15 – 17, 2009
Grand Hyatt Washington DC Hotel

Convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science with support from the Directorates for Biological Sciences and for Education and Human Resources
National Science Foundation

Working Group Sessions

This is an exciting time for all of us as we try to align the biology we teach with the immense changes that have taken place within the discipline, the new resources we have available to enrich our teaching, and the new knowledge about how people learn. This working conference brings together leaders from around the country to respond to these changes, and to develop a blueprint for the future of undergraduate biology education. An important outcome of the meeting will be a printed report of the conference findings, supplemented by online resources designed to help faculty and administrators transform undergraduate biology education at their institutions.

The conference grows out of a series of conversations with biologists, professional society representatives, and undergraduate students around the country, all of whom helped identify specific topic areas related to approaches, projects, resources, and lessons learned about improving the quality of undergraduate biology education. These eight topic areas will be the subject of the breakout sessions at the conference. The breakout sessions will not include formal presentations, but rather will be organized as small working groups of up to 20 participants who will meet twice on Thursday, July 16, to define “strategies that work” and “what is needed to move forward” in each topic area. On Thursday afternoon, the three groups working on the same topic will work together to summarize their discussions and recommend which strategies and resources to include in a brief presentation to all participants.

Thursday evening, the group leaders will use an online template to create a brief summary of their groups’ recommendations to be distributed to all conference participants. On Friday morning, a representative from each topic area will highlight the three most important recommendations and outcomes of their discussions, describe connections with other topic summaries, and respond to questions from the audience. On Friday afternoon, group leaders will work with the Advisory Board and AAAS staff to draft a preliminary report of the conference. This preliminary draft will form the basis of the conference proceedings and help direct the creation of a website with online resources.

Working Group Topics

All working groups will be asked to identify specific successful strategies in their topic area, and other resources and support that faculty, administrators, and stakeholders (i.e., students, parents, employers, etc.) need to improve undergraduate biology education now and in the future. The charge to each group is to: 1) synthesize what has been done, what we have learned, and tools/strategies that work; and 2) identify actions and tools that are still needed.

THEME I: Goals of biology undergraduate education

1. Overarching and unifying key concepts and competencies

Leaders: Charlene D’Avanzo, Hampshire College; Cynthia Bauerle, Spelman College;Muriel Poston, Skidmore College; David Wessner, Davidson College (floater between groups)

The field of biology, encompassing scales from molecules to the biosphere, is so diverse that it is a tremendous challenge for any one person to grasp its full breadth. What is important for all students, including biology majors, to know and to be able to do? Is there an overarching and cross-cutting set of concepts (e.g., evolution, inheritance, energy flow, cell theory, systems biology) and competencies (e.g., using evidence, understanding scientific explanations, communication, team work) that prepare future biologists and citizens? Reports published in the last few months (e.g., from the Association of American Medical Colleges and the National Research Council), taking a broad approach to the discussion of competencies and concepts, have paved the way for this discussion, which will focus on three subtopics: the introductory course, quantitative competency, and the life sciences major (writ large). Participants will be asked to indicate which of these areas they would most like to address.

THEME II: Classroom practices designed to achieve those goals (using newly developed resources and knowledge to promote learning)

2. Student-centered learning (engaging students in discourse)

Leaders: Prathiba Varma-Nelson ,Indiana University-Purdue University; Harold White, University of Delaware; Michelle Withers, West Virginia University

Over the last decade, new models have been created and tested to better connect teaching and learning (e.g., case studies, problem-based learning, peer-led team learning, clickers, etc.). Moreover, we now recognize that learning often takes place beyond the walls of the classroom (e.g., homework assignments, projects, undergraduate research experiences, television and the internet). What have we learned about what works and what doesn’t? Where does technology play a role? How can we best capture the learning/cognitive reasons for particular pedagogical innovations as well as the innovations themselves? The challenge is to identify approaches and exemplary case studies, both in and out of the classroom, that point the way to mastering both the concepts and competencies we value for biology majors and for other students who take one or only a few courses as part of their general education training.

3. Assessing student learning

Leaders: Charles “Andy” Anderson , Michigan State University; Diane Ebert-May; Michigan State University; Nancy Pelaez, Purdue University

Research over the last decade has taught us a great deal about how students learn, as well as the kinds of evidence that help inform both students and teachers about mastery of content knowledge and process skills. What does the research tell us? Can we define a range of assessment approaches to embed in the undergraduate biology curriculum? What do students need to know about assessing their own learning? What can external assessments tell us about student learning?

4. Innovations in integrating scientific research experiences across the curriculum

Leaders: Sally Hoskins, City University of New York; David Lopatto, Grinnell College; Clare O’Connor, Boston College
Studying Biology is more than learning about and understanding a set of facts, concepts, and theories. It also involves learning how knowledge is created and refined. How can research experiences be integrated into courses and across the curriculum to prepare students to generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations? How are these experiences structured and assessed? What are the exemplary case studies of interdisciplinary research experiences? And how do we integrate research into the curriculum and engage students in the science community when budgets at many campuses are shrinking?

5. Toolkits to support the change

Leaders: Mark Bergland, University of Wisconsin (floater between groups); Peter Bruns, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Daryl Chubin, American Association for the Advancement of Science; Susan Singer, Carleton College

Over the past decade, significant resources have been allocated toward the development of a wide array of materials to enhance learning in biology. These include electronic and hard copy resources such as textbooks, web-based materials, and other media and tools. What do we know about the extent to which these tools make a difference in terms of student learning, attitudes, perception or switching to biological fields of study? Which of the materials currently available would we put into a “biology education tool box” to help biology faculty better connect their teaching with student learning, and why would we choose this set? What kinds of materials are still needed? What is the best approach to pull these resources together and to help faculty find and make use of them?

THEME III: Ways to bring about change–change agents

6. Preparing faculty (developing teaching skills and interests of future and current faculty)

Leaders: Shawn Drew, NIH ,National Institute General Medical Sciences; David Lynn ,Emory University; William Wischusen, Louisiana State University
No one questions the goal of connecting teaching with learning. However, few faculty have had formal training in how to teach, and excellent teaching may be undervalued in the reward system on many campuses. How do we break out of the rut of teaching like we were taught? What can be done to cultivate a greater interest in developing teaching skills in current and future faculty? What are effective learning objectives and assessment indicators in effective STEM teaching programs? What are examples of excellent programs that incorporate research on teaching and learning into the training of graduate students and post-docs?

7. Implementing innovations and assessing their impact

Leaders: David Asai, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Anthony DePass ,Long Island University – Brooklyn; Daniel Wubah, Virginia Tech
Once faculty members are on board, what have we learned about how to implement innovations into the curriculum? What structures need to be in place for small and large changes? How do we know if the changes are having an impact? What are indicators for examining the impact of innovations?

8. Changing institutional approaches

Leaders: James Gentile, Research Corporation; Will McClatchey; University of Hawaii at Manoa; (floater between groups), Kimberly Tanner, San Francisco State University; William Wood, University of Colorado at Boulder

Innovation in the biology curriculum can be a hit or miss proposition on many campuses across the country. Approaches range from engaging post-doctoral students in the process, to establishing teaching and learning centers specifically charged to work with faculty interested in change, to senior members of departments taking the lead to promote change. How effective have they been? What do we know about developing a receptive landscape for innovation and change? What are the barriers and how can they be overcome, regardless of institution type? What incentives make it more likely that faculty and departments will choose to adopt the approaches to teaching and learning that have been vetted by research and shown to work? What are interim and long-term indicators for examining institutional or departmental progress?