Comparing Traditional and Module-Based Intro Biology Class

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Title of Abstract: Comparing Traditional and Module-Based Intro Biology Class

Name of Author: Erin Morrey
Author Company or Institution: Georgia Perimeter College
Author Title: Assistant Professor of Biology
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Material Development
Keywords: Modules Introductory Active learning Retention Success

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Erin Morrey, Assistant professor of biology, Georgia Perimeter College

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The focus of this study was to increase retention and success rates in an introductory course for biology majors (BIOL 2107 – Principles of Biology I). The attrition rate in this class is typically high. Research shows dramatic improvement in learning and understanding using active teaching methods but incorporating these methods into a traditionally-taught class have been difficult to accomplish and have only shown modest improvements. The objective, therefore, was to redesign the BIOL 2107 class around active teaching of central themes while covering the material required by the common course outline.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: During the spring semester of 2013, I taught two sections of BIOL 2107: BIOL 2107-200 was designated as the ‘redesigned’ course, while BIOL 2107-260 was designated as the ‘traditional’ course. The redesigned course had five themes for the semester: HIV, genetic disorders, stem cells, cooking, and biotechnology. Each theme included lectures, collaborative learning activities, discussions, and an exam at the end. After the first unit, students in the redesigned course were given the opportunity to determine the order of topic coverage for the semester.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Some of the key pedagogical outcomes that I observed in the redesigned course were an increased depth of student engagement with the material. These students asked questions at a deeper level than usual for the course. They shared news stories more frequently through class and online discussion boards, implying recognition of the importance of the material in current science research. Students took exams of the same levels in both classes, though different questions, and fared equally well or better in the redesigned class compared to the traditional class.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: The redesigned class completed a group project about genetic disorders that earned an average grade of 86.9; while the traditional class completed individual research papers that earned an average grade of 75.4. Students in the redesigned course seemed more involved and had more accountability for their group project than those in the traditional class did for the research papers. The success rate (defined as those students who earned the required grade of A, B, or C needed to progress to BIOL 2108) for the redesigned course was 30% higher than that of the traditionally-taught class; in addition, the withdrawal rate for the course was 50% lower in the redesigned course.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The greatest challenge that I faced was that when I proposed this redesign, I was anticipating teaching only 3 courses in the semester. That would have allowed a great amount of time dedicated to designing and administering course material. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I ended up teaching 5 courses the semester that I ran the redesigned course and simply did not have the time to put into fully developing the course in the manner that I had envisioned.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: My final conclusion is that the redesign of the course material around central themes did lead to increased retention and success in the course. Future recommendations include developing an IRB to allow data collection for individual students, including pre- and post-class assessments to compare overall student improvement and learning between a redesigned course and a traditionally-taught course. There were also student suggestions for how to improve certain aspects of the course that will be incorporated in the future.

Acknowledgements: Georgia Perimeter College STEM office