Integrated Life Sciences, An Honors Living-Learning Program

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Title of Abstract: Integrated Life Sciences, An Honors Living-Learning Program

Name of Author: Byrn Booth Quimby
Author Company or Institution: University of Maryland
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Integrative Biology
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Learning community
Keywords: Integrated, collaborative learning, learning community, service-learning, research internship

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Nicole F. Horvath, University of Maryland Todd J. Cooke, University of Maryland

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: To institute the recent national initiatives, including Vision and Change, for transforming undergraduate biology education, we at the University of Maryland (UMD) have recently created an honors living-learning program called Integrated Life Sciences (ILS) (www.ils.umd.edu). ILS represents a protected niche within our large research university that can serve as an incubator for piloting, assessing, revising, and then disseminating both academic and co-curricular reforms in various disciplines in the life sciences. The specific program objectives of ILS are: (1) to establish a residential community of talented life-science students dedicated to academic excellence, professional preparation, and social welfare; (2) to implement an innovative series of life-science courses that utilizes student-centered, collaborative learning in order to promote the development of multidisciplinary perspectives toward understanding biological processes; (3) to facilitate authentic research experiences for ILS students on the UMD campus and at federal and non-profit research institutes focusing on life sciences in the surrounding Washington, DC area; and (4) to inspire students to act for the greater good of the world at large by their participation in service-learning opportunities in healthcare, environmental sustainability, and education.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: We have successfully recruited the first two annual cohorts of honors ILS students majoring in biological sciences, bioengineering, and biochemistry and having the highest mean admissions credentials of all honors programs on this campus. ILS has already pioneered the development of new or revised courses often utilizing active engagement pedagogies, including integrated organismal biology (emphasizing multidisciplinary perspectives), genetics (focusing on genomics), biomathematical modeling (as a potential third semester of mathematics following calculus for life sciences), and a scholarship-in-practice course (devoted to scientific literature analysis and grant writing). These courses, along with several others being considered for the near future, have the potential for being readily scaled up to become new offerings serving the life science programs with high enrollments on the UMD campus. ILS students are actively encouraged to seek significant research experiences, with 58% of the first cohort already participating in research internships during the summer following their first year on campus. ILS service-learning experiences have focused to date on meaningful service to the local community; for instance, ILS students have implemented an afterschool mentoring program at a nearby high school having a high percentage of underserved students.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: A number of assessment strategies have been implemented, including pre-post surveys and focus groups, which indicate that ILS students have an enhanced awareness of the multidisciplinary nature of the life sciences, greater appreciation for the effectiveness of collaborative learning, and high levels of overall satisfaction with the ILS program. In addition, we have videotaped class activities and analyzed course assignments and final exams to determine the level of student achievement of course learning outcomes.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Eighty percent of students state that they are satisfied with the program and 70% of students feel that the ILS courses have prepared them for their future careers. Greater than 80% stated that the introductory ILS course, organismal biology, covered all five core concepts for biological literacy set forth by the Vision and Change document. Faculty teaching the ILS courses state that the students are engaged and open to collaborative work. As we introduce faculty to the vision and change core concepts they are willing to implement them into the ILS courses. In addition, ILS is developing a flipped cell biology course organized around the vision and change core concepts, that once implemented, can be exported to the larger university community.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: One unexpected challenge was the level of competition among students, 66 % of students agreed with the statement 'My peers in ILS try to compete with me.' To address this issue we implemented two beginning of the year activities, 1. a half-day challenge course that focused on cooperation and 2. a community values workshop emphasizing collaboration. In our courses we utilize group activities to support the development of teamwork skills.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We are currently compiling our data into a scholarly article that we hope to have submitted by September 2013. We also plan to submit and abstract to the American Society of Cell Biologists 2013 annual meeting.

Acknowledgements: Danette Morrison, doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology University of Maryland for analysis of the survey data and leading the focus groups. Daniel M. Levin, Assistant Professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning - Policy and Leadership College of Education University of Maryland for qualitative analysis of focus group transcripts.