Group Redesign of a Non-major's Introductory Biology Course

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Title of Abstract: Group Redesign of a Non-major's Introductory Biology Course

Name of Author: Bethany Stone
Author Company or Institution: University of Missouri - Columbia
Author Title: Associate Teaching Professor
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: Redesign Online Module Introductory biology Flip

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Sarah Bush, University of Missouri - Columbia Robin Hurst-March, University of Missouri - Columbia

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Biology 1010: General Principles and Concepts in Biology is a 3-credit introductory lecture course for non-science majors. The majority of students in Biology 1010 are freshmen. Up to 8 sections are offered annually, serving around 3,000 students/year. Each section is currently taught by a single instructor, with six instructors rotating through Biology 1010 and their other teaching commitments. The Bio 1010 course redesign involved three instructors: Sarah Bush, Bethany Stone, and Robin Hurst-March. This course redesign focuses on improving the learning outcomes for two of the Missouri goals included in the state exit competencies for an introductory biology course: 1. Nature and process of science, including: how to evaluate and judge the validity of sources of information, how scientists obtain data, how new scientific findings are communicated, the process by which new findings may become broadly accepted by other scientists, and how to distinguish between science and pseudoscience. 2. Science and Society, including: recognizing how content in an introductory biology course is relevant to the daily lives of the students, how society is impacted by scientific discoveries, and the role that non-scientists play in shaping public policy in science. Engaging students deeply in these topics is difficult using the standard lecture format common in large classes.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The project entails the development of a series of on-line modules that emphasize active learning, engagement with course content, and interactions among students. These modules have been implemented several ways: 1. Hybrid - Students work together in small online groups to complete the modules. Students are assigned a module every other week throughout the semester. Each module requires approximately three hours to complete and replaces one class session in the week it is due. 2. Flipped - Modules are completed each week. Students complete individual components of the modules online before coming to class. During class, students work together in small groups to complete the group components. 3. Online - Students complete all components of the module each week online, with no face-to-face class meetings required. The modules incorporate a multi-tiered structure that facilitates learning by taking students through a series of steps. 1. What Do You Already Know? - A pretest to assess the student's knowledge of background information needed for the module, and links to resources for students whose backgrounds may be deficient. 2. Build Your Knowledge - Resources to develop a deeper understanding of the material. Short lecture-capture recordings, videos, radio broadcasts, and on-line readings are used to deliver content, and the Blackboard quiz tool is used to assess content knowledge. 3. Engage with the Science - Web-based activities to help students delve deeper into the concepts. 4. Apply the Science to Your Life - Activities that emphasize the application of the material to issues of importance to the students. 5. Tiger Link - a short tier in which students learn about related research taking place on our own campus.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Each tier of the module includes a graded assessment. The upper tiers, which emphasize higher order thinking skills, require the students to engage in interactive tutorials in which they demonstrate their comprehension of the concepts introduced in the lower tiers. The three instructors develop modules independently and make the materials available to each other through a communal Blackboard site. Module topics are chosen based on the potential to incorporate course concepts and to illustrate relevance of science to everyday life. Examples of modules already developed include alcohol metabolism, sun-tanning, correlation versus causation, evolution of human mate choice criteria, herbal remedies, GMOs, and climate change. The sun-tanning module, for example, reinforces student understanding of gene expression, communication within and between cells, and the molecular basis of cancer; the alcohol metabolism module emphasizes enzyme structure and function as well as the connections between mutations, amino acid sequences, and protein shape. Both of these modules incorporate evolutionary connections as well as group discussions of social controversies (e.g. government regulation of the tanning industry, genetic testing for genes associated with alcohol metabolism). Assessment of the course redesign has taken two forms. 1) In the pilot semester, class performance on a selection of exam questions was compared between the redesigned section and traditional (base-line) sections taught by the same instructor in earlier years. Students in the redesigned section out-performed their predecessors on 80% of the questions. 2) Student attitudes toward science were assessed at the beginning and end of the semester using an attitude survey in both traditional and redesigned sections taught by different instructors in the same semester.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: In our pilot semester, students in the redesigned section exhibited a significant improvement in their attitude toward science on 14 of the 23 items on the survey (compared with 7 of the 23 items in the traditional section). Following the pilot semester in spring 2012, the redesign was incorporated into three sections of Bio 1010 in the fall semester. Some modules were re-purposed for use in a General Botany course in fall 2012. As indicated above, students participating in redesigned sections of General Biology have greater improvement in attitudes toward science and better performance on high-level exam questions. At the departmental level, the conclusion of this project has coincided with new conversations between our faculty on active-learning, resulting in faculty incorporating or planning on incorporating more active-learning components in the classroom. We cannot determine if these conversations were inspired by the redesign; they may have been prompted by other factors, including the Vision and Change document. On campus, this module strategy has also been used as a model for other course redesigns outside Biology.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: We have had broad institutional support for the project. The greatest challenges we face are 1) dedicating the time for module development, and 2) a lack of TA support to assist with grading. Although most quiz questions are automatically graded in Blackboard, the modules include some short-answer questions, discussion board posts and/or in-class group assignments that need to be graded by hand. Grading is tedious and we have had difficulty retaining hourly paid assistants.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: While the project has garnered interest from other colleagues who teach sections of Bio 1010, efforts to broaden participation in the project have been focused largely at the state level. We have presented the project to faculty from other Missouri institutions both individually and at workshops/conferences. Access to the communal Blackboard site is provided to any faculty member who requests it, with permissions to any biology faculty to use its components. Locally, the process and outcomes of this course redesign have been shared multiple times on campus, including our annual Celebration of Teaching Conference. The modules were also a component of talks on flipping the biology classroom given at campus, state and national talks, workshops and conferences, including the 2013 American Society for Microbiology’s Conference for Undergraduate Educators (ASM-CUEs).

Acknowledgements: Funding provided by Mizzou Course Redesign, MU Provost’s Office Administrative support provided by Dr. John David and Dr. John Walker Technology support provided by Educational Technologies (ET@MO) at the University of Missouri.