DBER-Specialists and Change at Large Research Universities

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Title of Abstract: DBER-Specialists and Change at Large Research Universities

Name of Author: Diane O'Dowd
Author Company or Institution: University of California Irvine
Author Title: Professor
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Faculty Development, Introductory Course(s), Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: Adding to the literature on how people learn, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), TA Training
Keywords: Biology education research / BER TA Training Scientific Teaching Evidence-based instruction

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Adrienne Williams, University of California Irvine

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Our project has had three major goals over the past 7 years: 1. Biology Education Research: Develop and test the effect of specific active learning strategies on student attitudes and learning gains in large lecture classes. We have identified a number instructional approaches that can be implemented incrementally by research faculty that improve learning outcomes and/or student attitudes in introductory biology. 2. TA and Postdoc Training: Train graduate students how to teach actively while serving as discussion leaders for large biology courses. Transformation of education in research universities requires formal training of future faculty in pedagogy and practice in scientific teaching. Each Fall we work with 20-30 graduate student TAs to guide them in creating learning-centered discussion sections for ~2000 undergraduates. TAs are also coached on strategies to help them maintain progress in their research while teaching, a crucial skill for their professional success. We have recently expanded this into a postdoc mentoring program as well. 3. Use of DBERs: Promote embedding of discipline-based education researchers (DBERs) in the Schools of Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences. We have participated in and coordinated a large number of forums in the university to discuss recent findings in biology education research. As research faculty have become more familiar with our biology education program they often ask for help with a small project or change they wish to make in their course. We have found a resident DBER expert can quickly provide assistance to lower the ‘activation energy’ for faculty to make changes to their teaching and help with designing appropriate assessments. Our intended outcomes are to increase the number of faculty and future faculty who are able to make changes in their teaching toward active teaching, and develop scientific teaching skills.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Biology Education Research: We have completed projects on improving student email etiquette, use of physical demonstrations to illustrate biological processes, use of pre-class assignments to make space for active learning in class, tools to help students analyze exam questions, laptop use in large lectures, and use of lecture capture videos. We are currently examining the effect of a ‘flipped class’ on student learning and whether a preparatory biology MOOC can improve student performance in freshman introductory biology. We are particularly interested in how these factors affect at risk students, identified by their low SAT scores. TA and Postdoc Training: We run a 10-week training program each fall that mentors 20-30 graduate students in using evidence-based teaching practices while they are TAing large introductory biology classes. During each 1-hour meeting, TAs practice an active learning technique including group quizzes, posters, demonstrations. The TAs are evaluated twice and improvements are noted. Strong TAs are awarded travel grants upon the completion of the program. Our newest program guides existing UCI postdoctoral researchers in evidence-based instruction. A weekly workshop is open to all interested postdocs during one term a year. Postdocs with permission from their PI are accepted as mentees of a faculty member teaching a course using active methods. The postdoc creates weekly supplemental materials while attending all lectures of that class, and are evaluated when they lead. Postdocs who complete this training are given the opportunity to teach a summer section of the same course they were mentored in, and receive regular support during this course development. Use of DBERs: Funds from an HHMI grant have allowed us to hire full time biology education researchers. They conduct research, use educational technology, are able to develop campus-specific curriculum and speak regularly at workshops.

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 methods for evaluating effectiveness of instructional methods include comparison of exam scores, normalized for preparation level, between experimental sections and control sections. We use online surveys for feedback from undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty to evaluate attitudes and data from the registrar to track student progress through the major. We are working on developing measures of faculty involvement with evidence-based instruction and scientific teaching.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Impact on students: Over 10,000 undergraduates have taken introductory biology taught by a team of 5 faculty involved to various degrees in increasing use of evidence-based instruction and developing-testing active learning strategies. During this time we have seen significant improvement in student exam scores with a number of the active learning strategies we have employed. In addition, students rate active learning techniques very positively. Impact on graduate students: Over 140 graduate students have been through our program and over 80% report the TA training to be very important in their professional development. We are currently following how this impacts their career choices/success. Impact on faculty: Over half of the 26 faculty in Developmental and Cell Biology now use clickers, online formative assessment quizzes, learning goals, and/or problem sets for group work. Impact on department/ school: We have been part of recent efforts to develop more uniform and critical methods for evaluation of teaching efforts during promotion of research faculty to include peer evaluations, self-statements and assessment of course material.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The greatest difficulty for our faculty interested in change is lack of time to generate new materials, learn new technology, and assess effectiveness of changes implemented. In our school, having DBERs in the Department who are able to experiment with teaching courses using new platforms, styles and techniques, and help other faculty implement successful strategies in the context of their classes has been very effective in getting more faculty involved in evidence-based teaching.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We have published the results of our studies in five biology education research papers in science education journals, and we have contributed to authoring two science education advocacy articles in the journal Science. We developed and maintain a website that contains TA training materials, postdoc workshop materials, activity templates for biology discussion leaders, and white papers for faculty on active learning techniques. https://www.researchandteaching.bio.uci.edu

Acknowledgements: This project was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor Program to Diane O’Dowd.