Designing a Coherent Curriculum in Molecular Biosciences

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Title of Abstract: Designing a Coherent Curriculum in Molecular Biosciences

Name of Author: Michael KLymkowsky
Author Company or Institution: University of Colorado Boulder
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, Evolutionary Biology
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s), Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: Adding to the literature on how people learn, Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development, Mixed Approach
Keywords: evolutionary and molecular biology, general chemistry, teaching and learning biology, flipped classroom, embedded formative assessments

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Melanie M. Cooper, Michigan State University Erin M. Furtak, University of Colorado, Boulder

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Our goals are to develop courses, course materials, curricula, and formative assessments that help students reach a level of disciplinary competence so that they can ‘think like a scientist’. In the case of students who go on to become science teachers, it is particularly critical that their undergraduate degree programs provide them with a confident and accurate understanding of the key ideas in biology and the ability to extend their understanding to new areas.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: In order to generate more coherent and effective curricula we have focused on both early and late courses. To that end, we have developed two college level introductory courses and one upper-division ‘capstone’ course. The two introductory level courses are Biofundamentals, a one-semester introduction to molecular bioscience, and Chemistry, Life, the Universe & Everything (CLUE), a two-semester introductory general chemistry course. Both texts and associated materials are based on the identification of key conceptual and recurrent strands within these subjects. In molecular bioscience these are evolutionary mechanisms, physicochemical systems, and interaction networks [1], while in chemistry we focus on molecular-level structure, energy, and macroscopic properties [2]. The ‘capstone’ course, Teaching and Learning Biology (TaLB), has been taught at both UC Boulder and ETH Zurich, and is designed to help students reflect on their understanding of core biological ideas, how they know them, and how they might teach them. Both CLUE and Biofundamentals are available on-line; a book-like version of CLUE is available upon request, and a book-like version of Biofundamentals should be available by the end of 2013.

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 evaluation of student performance in these courses relies heavily on take home and in-class activities, many delivered through our beSocratic system (beSocratic.com)[3] which uses student generated graphics (drawings, chemical structures, and graphs) and textual inputs as the basis of formative assessments. In the case of CLUE, student performance has been tracked longitudinally and compared to that of matched students in conventional courses. For example, students’ understanding of the relationship between molecular structure and physical properties are significantly improved by the CLUE treatment [4,5] and this improvement persists as they move into a conventional organic chemistry course. Using nationally normed American Chemical Society (ACS) examinations reveals similar levels of performance for both cohorts. We are currently analyzing the results from various beSocratic type formative assessments, used in the Biofundamentals and TALB courses, to compare the quality of students’ ability to model various biological processes, with the goal of characterizing weaknesses and strengths in the current curriculum.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: This is, of course, the most challenging hurdle to jump, since changing the underlying curriculum is difficult, particularly when compared to often superficial changes in pedagogical technique [6]. We have been working to publicize the longitudinal improvements obtained using CLUE (manuscript in preparation) and working to examine the effects of the Biofundamentals curriculum. As part of this latter project, we are using beSocratic data obtained from the Fall 2012 version of the course to rewrite the text, redesign activities, and develop new ‘end of curriculum’ assessments that can be used to this purpose. We have a publishing contract for CLUE, and plans are underway to extend the CLUE curriculum into the large enrollment general chemistry courses at Michigan State University. In addition, we have tracked a number of students who took the TaLB course at the University of Colorado and have found that the course inspired them to change their career trajectories [7]. For example, one student entered a discipline-based education research PhD program at Purdue, another opened an after-school program in his home country of Korea, and another student entered a teaching masters’ program at another university.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The process of building coherent curricula (texts and assessments) is an iterative one. As we collect data from students, we learn not only to identify ideas that are difficult to master but also to distinguish assessments that are valid and reliable from those that are not. Our approach to evaluation of these courses has evolved from a control treatment quasi-experimental design to design based experiments [8]. In the ‘real world’ it is unrealistic to expect to control all variables, and we find that it is more useful to continuously feedback the formative assessment findings into the course design process.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We have been preparing and publishing manuscripts and various other presentations on the design and efficacy data associated with the CLUE, and to a lesser extend the Biofundamentals courses. As part of the TaLB course, we have been posting students’ final short (10-15 minutes) video lessons on specific topics on-line through YouTube, and hope to aggregate them into a Teaching and Learning Biology Channel.

Acknowledgements: Support for these projects has been supplied by the NSF (DUE #0816692, TUES #1043707, TUES #1122472, as well as NMSI support of CU Teach, and a visiting professorship from the ETH. Literature cited: 1. Klymkowsky, M.W., Thinking about the conceptual foundations of the biological sciences. CBE Life Science Education, 2010. 9: p. 405-7. 2. Cooper, M.M. & M.W. Klymkowsky, Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything (CLUE): A new approach to general chemistry, and a model for curriculum reform. J. Chem. Educ., 2013. in press. 3. Bryfcyzynski, S., et al., BeSocratic: Graphically-assessing student knowledge, in International Association for Development of the Information Society Conference on Mobile Learning. 2012: Berlin, Germany. 4. Cooper, M.M., S.M. Underwood, & C.Z. Hilley, Development and validation of the Implicit Information from Lewis Structures Instrument (IILSI): Do students connect structures with properties?' Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 2012. 13, 195-200, DOI: 10.1039/C2RP00010E. 5. Cooper, M.M., et al., Development and Assessment of a Molecular Structure and Properties Learning Progression. J. Chem. Educ., 2012. 89: p. 1351-1357. 6. Klymkowsky, M.W. & M.M. Cooper, Now for the hard part: the path to coherent curricular design. Biochem Mol Biol Educ, 2012. 40: p. 271-2. 7. Furtak, E.M. Exploring the Utility of Discipline-Specific Pedagogy Courses in Science Teacher Recruitment and Preparation. Presentation at the Annual Meeting of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching, 2010. 8. Brown, A.L. Design experiments: Theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex interventions in classroom settings. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 1992 2: p. 141-178.