Effective Instruction & Authentic Research in Biology

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Title of Abstract: Effective Instruction & Authentic Research in Biology

Name of Author: Carrie Dollar
Author Company or Institution: St. Clair County Community College
Author Title: Professor
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: General Biology, Physiology & Anatomy
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.)
Keywords: undergraduate research experience, authentic research, effective instruction, anatomy and physiology, pedagogical explanations

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Carrie Dollar, St. Clair County Community College

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The overall goal of this project was to initiate improvements in undergraduate biology education and experiences at St. Clair County Community College. In order to do this, an authentic research experience was incorporated into an introductory biology course (Project 1). Additionally, research based, effective instructional practices were integrated into undergraduate biology courses (Project 2).

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Project 1: An authentic research experience was incorporated into a section of an introductory biology course. The students helped to design the projects, which included macroinvertebrate surveys, chemical tests (i.e. dissolved oxygen, nitrates) and environmental assessments (i.e. riparian buffer assessments). During the project, the students worked closely with a local watershed agency, Friends of the St. Clair River. The data collected by the students is used by the watershed agency, governmental intuitions and various other organizations in order to make decisions regarding the stream. Students compared their data to known norms in order to determine the stream’s health status. The students then provided written reports of their research. Project 2: Research based, effective instructional practices were incorporated into introductory biology and human anatomy and physiology courses. These practices included increased frequency of small group activities and increased frequency of formal and informal assessment. Additionally, pedagogical explanations for small group chemistry activities were used in human anatomy and physiology in order to improve chemistry learning outcomes. In the treatment group, students were given explanations for why they were engaging in the activities, whereas the control groups were given no pedagogical explanations.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Project 1: Regarding the authentic research experience, the student’s choice of project design was carefully guided to ensure incorporation of multiple core competencies from Vision and Change (core competencies 1-3, 5 and 6). An informal survey revealed that students enjoyed the experience of engaging in the authentic research project; however, many students struggled with the written report. Project 2: The inclusion of pedagogical explanations for chemistry activities was tested for significance. The treatment group (n=22) scored significantly higher on the chemistry assessment (Student’s t-test, p=0.038) than the control group (n=58). This suggests that pedagogical explanations may help to increase student learning.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: These projects have been enthusiastically received by students, administration and faculty at St. Clair Community College. Both Vision and Change and these projects have provided the momentum for the biology department to begin the discipline-wide redesign of introductory biology course curriculum to better reflect best practices in undergraduate biology education.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Many of the challenges encountered during the project arose from the authentic research experience (Project 1). Most of the challenges involved the cross-disciplinary nature of the research projects. Progress was facilitated by seeking the help of colleagues in other disciplines. For example, when attempting to improve students’ scientific research and writing skills, the library faculty provided student training on researching scientific literature, and the communication department helped to design and clarify rubrics for student writing projects.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: The project results have been disseminated to the biology discipline of St. Clair Community College. Project results may be disseminated to other STEM faculty in the fall. There are no plans for further dissemination.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Sheri Faust from Friends of the St. Clair River, who helped to make the authentic research experience possible.