Infusing Quantitative Approaches into the Undergraduate Biol

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Title of Abstract: Infusing Quantitative Approaches into the Undergraduate Biol

Name of Author: Katerina Thompson
Author Company or Institution: University of Maryland
Author Title: Director, Undergraduate Research
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Material Development
Keywords: quantitative skills, MathBench, introductory biology, online modules, mathematical biology

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: A major curriculum redesign effort at the University of Maryland aims to infuse all levels of our undergraduate biological sciences curriculum with increased emphasis on interdisciplinary connections and quantitative reasoning. The overarching goals of this coordinated approach are to help students appreciate the essential role of mathematics and statistics in contemporary bioscience research and allow them to become more adept at applying their quantitative reasoning skills to biological problems.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Major components of this effort include (1) developing online modules to infuse more mathematical content into fundamental biology courses, (2) strengthening the interdisciplinary connections of ancillary courses in mathematics and physics to support the development of quantitative skills in biological contexts, and (3) creating more quantitatively intensive courses for the final two years of the biological sciences degree program. Our main strategy to imbed mathematical and statistical content into introductory biology courses was the creation of a series of online modules (MathBench, that are woven into the curriculum of five biology courses taken by biological sciences majors during their first two years of study. MathBench modules are designed to introduce or reinforce 10 basic quantitative skills identified by our faculty as being important for competence in upper-level biology courses. The modules use an informal tone to encourage students to apply their mathematical intuition, and then gradually build in their level of mathematical sophistication. Interactive elements with contextually appropriate feedback are imbedded throughout. A freshman taking the entire required sequence of coursework would encounter about 20 of these modules over the course of their first two years.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: The impact of MathBench on student learning and attitudes has been assessed with surveys and pre- and post-tests of quantitative skill using an instrument developed and validated specifically for this initiative.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Students who have used MathBench in their coursework show increases in quantitative skill that are independent of their previous math coursework. They also show an increase in their willingness to tackle quantitative problems and a better appreciation for the importance of mathematics to modern biology.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The greatest challenge has been assisting faculty in finding ways to incorporate MathBench modules into their teaching. We have developed comprehensive faculty training workshops to help them create implementation plans and have established various ways of encouraging continued communications among MathBench users.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We are currently partnering with 32 U.S. institutions of differing type, size, and demographics to gather additional data on the effectiveness of MathBench modules in diverse educational contexts. As part of this process, we have developed workshops to assist faculty with implementing the modules and have started to build a users community for peer support. More recently, we have been approached by a group of seven Australian universities to collaborate on a grant-funded project to revise MathBench modules for the Australian educational context and assess their impact.

Acknowledgements: These projects were supported in part by grants to the University of Maryland from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Science Foundation.