Flipping a High-Enrollment Introductory Biology Lecture

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Title of Abstract: Flipping a High-Enrollment Introductory Biology Lecture

Name of Author: Jonathan Marcot
Author Company or Institution: University of Illinois
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development, Mixed Approach
Keywords: flipped classroom introductory biology backward design inductive teaching and learning collaborative learning

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Carla E. Cáceres, University of Illinois Tracey Hickox, University of Illinois

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Our course, IB150, is one half of the introductory sequence required for all undergraduate biology majors, and is a foundational course in their undergraduate career. It also fulfills a general education requirement for other LAS majors. IB150 has approximately 1200 enrolled students over the two semesters every academic year. Based upon the recommendations of the Vision and Change Report, among other resources, we have continually transformed our course with a clear set of goals: 1) improve students’ depth of understanding and long-term retention of conceptual content, and 2) explicitly promote critical thinking and scientific reasoning skills, 3) promote the use of quantitative reasoning, 4) promote connections between biology and other disciplines (e.g., physics and chemistry), 5) provide students with more opportunities to work and learn collaboratively. Our goals are directly aligned with the Core Competencies of the Vision and Change Report.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: We began to redesign substantial portions of our course curriculum using the ‘backwards design’ approach. In particular, we have developed and continual refined explicit learning goals and outcomes, which form the foundation of all instruction, exercises, and assessment. We established the number and scope of learning goals and outcomes to balance the fundamental content we believed all students should master against the course time and effort that would be required to gain a deep and lasting understanding. We have also more effectively integrated various active learning techniques, including clickers and think-pair-share exercises. Finally, we have transformed substantial portions of the course from traditional lecture format into one in which students work collaboratively on ‘lecture activities,’ applying their knowledge to real and relevant biological problems. A typical class period involves a brief (~15 minute) lecture to introduce the problem and review essential concepts required to address it. This is followed by longer interval (~60 min) of student work in small groups to solve a series of conceptual and analytical problems, and finally synthesizing their findings. Work time in class is typically guided by one-on-one interactions with instructors (TAs), which are periodically interspersed with full-class discussions to ensure comprehension and class pacing.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Most of our time and effort to this point has been dedicated to the transformation of the course and development of lesson plans and exercises. As we enter the maturity of our transformation, we are incorporating quantitative tests of the outcomes of these changes. Expected measurable outcomes include: 1. Higher student achievement by students on the summative content assessment when compared to beginning of semester pre-test. 2. Improvements in student mastery of biological concepts and correction of misconceptions after activities and if correct understanding is maintained through end of semester. While currently in the initial phase, we are using a quasi-experimental design for assessing student outcomes. Formative evaluation activities will include interviews with students to determine current thinking and identify students’ misconceptions; open-ended short answer questions during lecture activity; lecture activity multiple choice pre- and post-quizzes, and items on midterm exams. For the summative assessments, the semester will begin and end with instruments that will test student comprehension, development of expert thinking and correction of misconceptions concerning our most challenging biological concepts. Questions will be designed to test both recollection and reasoning skills, but they will also probe where misconceptions commonly occur. Test questions will be validated through student and expert interviews. Final formative assessment will be disseminated for use in other biology courses after rigorous validation.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: We are not aware of any attempts by other faculty members to explicitly institute similar changes as a result of our work. Nevertheless, other faculty members have independently begun similar, if less substantial, modifications of their own courses. As part of an ongoing School-wide initiative, we have begun to aggregate and share our goals, methods and experiences. We hope that this initiative will allow us to consistently address V&C Core Competencies throughout our undergraduate curriculum, and distribute their emphasis appropriately.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: A major barrier to this transformation is the sheer enrollment of the class (>500 students per semester) in a single lecture section. Although we have assistance from graduate TAs, the logistics of navigating and managing a large-enrollment class during these activities remains challenging. For example, the large, stadium-style lecture theatres in which we are confined inhibit the ability of our students to work collaboratively. Perhaps most importantly, we have yet to find satisfactory assessment strategies that are on the one hand rich determinations of student learning, and on the other feasibly provide useful feedback to students in a timely manner. Our continued over-reliance upon multiple choice and true/false exam questions presents a mismatch between our learning goals and our ability to assess them.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We gave a presentation at a mandatory faculty retreat to explain and disseminate the pedagogical principles we learned. We followed this up by offering a series of workshops to cover specific topics (e.g., the formulation of learning goals and outcomes) in more detail.

Acknowledgements: We thank the ongoing institutional support from the faculty and staff of School of Integrative Biology, especially Carol Augspurger and Evan DeLucia. Portions of our course development were supported by a grant from the Office of the Provost. Much inspiration and many of the strategies we have employed were obtained during our attendance at the National Academies Summer Institute On Undergraduate Education.