Enabling Student Success: A Learner-Centered Methodology

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Title of Abstract: Enabling Student Success: A Learner-Centered Methodology

Name of Author: Stephen Aley
Author Company or Institution: University of Texas at El Paso
Author Title: Professor
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: and Pre-Calculus, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Bioinformatics, Chemistry, Ecology and Environmental Biology, Evolutionary Biology, General Biology, Genetics, Microbiology, Organismal Biology, Physics, Virology
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum
Approaches: Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) Curricular Research Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology Assessment

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): James E. Becvar, University of Texas at El Paso Ann H. Darnell, University of Texas at El Paso

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The Biology undergraduate curriculum at the University of Texas at El Paso is undergoing vast changes that address both the University Mission (a pursuit for excellence in education while providing access to the people of El Paso) and a response to the state of Texas legislature’s call for a larger percentage of students graduating. UTEP Biology undergraduate students are 85% Hispanic, mirroring the population of El Paso and reflecting national trends. The intended outcome is to graduate more students and increase participation of underrepresented students in biomedical research.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The change strategy focuses on a learner-centered methodology. Beginning in 2000, the curriculum format for general chemistry changed by replacing one faculty-delivered lecture (passive learning) per week with a required weekly two-hour workshop (active learning). The workshop includes one hour of problem solving in teams guided by a Peer Leader, followed by one hour of hands-on explorations. The explorations are simple experimental activities which promote student-initiated inquiry, guided by the Peer Leaders. Many activities are based on biology, demonstrating real-world examples of the conceptual material that students encounter in lecture. Building upon this active learning approach, a 2006-awarded HHMI grant implemented undergraduate research for at least one semester, and potentially two, for all biology majors. In 2007, an NSF-funded STEP grant expanded the chemistry peer-led workshop model to mathematics and physics. In 2008, NIH provided funding for a major curricular reform where the Core Competencies (Vision & Change, 2011) of quantitative reasoning, modeling and simulation were implemented, beginning with the first introductory biology course, concluding with new course development that consolidates courses designed to prepare students for various graduate studies including Bioinformatics and Biomedical Engineering. Eleven additional undergraduate biology courses (three of which were associated laboratory courses) were either revamped or developed (NIH MARC II) with the goal of increasing the emphasis on biological modeling, computational knowledge, statistical analysis, and data analysis. This curricular reformation targeted not only the increased understanding of core concepts including the ability to make connections among interdisciplinary problems, but an increase in perception of relevance of mathematics and computer modeling in the systems approaches required today.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: 1) Successful course completion 2) Tracking students to graduation 3) Matriculation to graduate and professional school 4) Attitudinal surveys Results of these curricular modifications show that over a six year period between the fall of 2006 and the fall of 2012, the number of biological science students has nearly tripled at UTEP, with the percentage of underrepresented students, primarily Hispanic, rising 10% (to over 85%). Part of this growth is due to less attrition. Assessing degree output six years prior, the graduation rate has risen for those students who declare a major in a biology discipline (from 78% to 85%) over a six year timeframe. If we only maintain an 85% graduation rate, by 2018 we should see more than 1200 students, 85% which are Hispanic, entering the workforce or continuing at the graduate level prepared to critically address not only biology-related problems but complex interdisciplinary issues and challenges of the 21st century.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: The positive outcomes of the program not only include improved student success in course, but also the enhancement of professional development gained through self-guided and team-guided inquiry, presentation, and leadership opportunities. Leaders gain significant confidence in public speaking and motivational skills. Due to our unique program implementation, undergraduates have a great opportunity to significantly enhance the program. This is because they use their own creativity and are permitted to incorporate their suggestions. The expanded knowledge and experiences gained in peer-led workshops, undergraduate research, and interdisciplinary team-based learning activities are crucial to students planning careers in the research, medical, biotechnology, or academic fields. The modified biology curriculum creates stronger thinkers and self-learners. The institutional structure was impacted with the addition of student-only research laboratories where students learn by doing. *All biology students have an undergraduate research experience built into the courses *Increased statistics knowledge *Increased graduation *Increased matriculation into graduate and professional school *Team building *Leadership skills *Communication skills

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Maintaining curricular changes

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Presentations at multiple meetings Writing one or more journal articles

Acknowledgements: NIH, NSF, HHMI