Integrating Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning Skills (SIRS)

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Title of Abstract: Integrating Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning Skills (SIRS)

Name of Author: Christine Broussard
Author Company or Institution: University of La Verne
Author Title: Professor of Biology
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Faculty Development
Approaches: Adding to the literature on how people learn, Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development, Mixed Approach
Keywords: Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning Skills (SIRS), Design Your Own Experiment (DYOE), Peer critique, High Impact Practices (HIPs), Biology

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Scientific inquiry and reasoning skills (SIRS) are cornerstones to effective/good science practice, yet few programs emphasize their importance. To achieve mastery of SIRS, one approach is to provide high impact practices (HIPs), such as research experiences for undergraduates and forming communities of learners. HIPs have been shown to increase participation, retention, and success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and to be particularly effective for underprepared and underrepresented groups in STEM (Kuh, 2009 AAC&U). However, incorporating these approaches in the undergraduate curriculum is challenging due to time, cost, and effort constraints.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Course-level: Initial work integrating SIRS in the undergraduate biology curriculum yielded two SIRS integrated courses, Cell Biology and Developmental Biology. Experiences with scientific inquiry and process, such as the Design Your Own Experiment (DYOE) approach we created, allowed students to develop critical thinking skills, content knowledge in context, and scientific competency. In the current project, a critical question we will address is how to use low-cost, low technology approaches that focus on science literacy to complement experiential learning in order to obtain desired student outcomes (i.e. mastery of SIRS, in conjunction with increased participation, retention, and success in STEM). Key design elements for the project include formative assessment (direct and indirect measures), creating a community of learners who value knowledge, engaging diverse groups in problem-solving, utilizing peer-instruction, and engaging students in genuine research problems. To address limitations of time, resources, and effort (barriers to implementation of HIPs), we are developing a laboratory manual with low-cost, low technology modules that integrate reading and critiquing scientific literature, scientific communication (oral presentation and writing), as well as higher cost, high technology modules focused on laboratory experimentation. While there are ample assessments for critical thinking skills and content knowledge, there are no widely accepted assessments for scientific inquiry and process learning. Therefore, in conjunction with developing the learning modules, we will develop and test new tools to assess scientific competency. Program-level: A four-course series was developed to scaffold learning of skills necessary to complete the capstone experience, a year-long research apprenticeship and the culmination of SIRS training. In the junior year student take Research Methods and Biostatistics, and in the senior year, Senior Seminar A and B.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Indirect Measures such as CURE, SALG, NSSE will be used to probe student self-perception of research immersion experiences, performance and mastery of content, and pedagogical approaches, respectively. Direct Measures such as CAT and BIO-SIRS (to be developed) will be used to assess performance on critical thinking tasks and SIRS. Together these data will provide evidence for whether the integrated scientific literacy and research immersion approach achieves the goal of proficiency or mastery of SIRS.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: In informal reflection essays and focus group interviews conducted thus far, students report increased confidence in SIRS and their own lab performance. Students have commented on their self-perception as well. “I see myself as a scientist.” Students also reported increased confidence and comfort with capstone expectations. Prior to SIRS integrated courses, students felt overwhelmed at the prospect of completing the senior project. After taking SIRS integrated courses, students report feeling comfortable and confident that they could complete the capstone. Data collected supports these assertions. In 2003, only 20-30% students completed the senior project ‘on-time’ (to graduate at the expected time), whereas by 2009 70-80% students completed the senior project ‘on-time’. Moreover, the quality and sophistication of the senior projects have increased in the same time frame. Greater faculty participation in STEM education initiatives and local or national conferences has been observed over time. This in turn has led to more engaged pedagogies, reported by faculty and students, in the classroom and labs. Another important impact on the program level was the increased willingness of the faculty to use the Vision and Change (V&C) report and recommendations as the basis for curriculum redevelopment. The V&C report was used as the starting point for establishing program level outcomes for biology more aligned with the national dialogue on STEM education.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: There were several areas of resistance, and not all were expected. Many faculty expressed resistance to engaged pedagogies, often arguing that classroom engagement would diminish the amount of material they could cover, a lack of resources to innovate courses, and heavy workload. The strategies we employed to overcome this resistance were 1) pursuing grant money that would allow faculty to buy their time, 2) establishing the SEIG to provide faculty development opportunities and a network of practitioners for support, 3) recruiting junior faculty to attend the PKAL leadership conference (others wanted to attend after hearing how useful and fun the conference was), 4) recruiting junior faculty to attend national meetings with support from the Dean to pay for cost, and 5) hiring new faculty with interest in STEM education research. Slowly over time, resistance has diminished, but not disappeared completely. It seems the most promising approach is to invest in faculty development of junior faculty to give them the tools (like the V&C report) and support to transform the curriculum.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Dissemination has been accomplished through local, regional, and national venues. On campus, findings have been shared with faculty in department meetings and at University lectures. At the division-level (encompassing Biology, Chemistry, Math, Physics, and Computer Science) the approach has been to announce successes such as improved completed and graduation rates, grant awards and conference presentations, and to recruit faculty participation in grant projects. In addition teaching innovations have been shared as part of a faculty research day, a celebration of teaching event, and a senior symposium (the campus conference where students present their capstone research findings). With the current project, planned faculty development activities are being carried out. Under the umbrella of a STEM Education Interest Group (SEIG), a journal club was hosted highlighting current educational approaches in biology. A second event invited participation of faculty in scoring of a critical thinking assessment (CAT - TnTECH). Twelve to fifteen individuals participated and more events are planned. Feedback will be gathered to determine if the faculty development events influence incorporation of engaged pedagogies in participants’ courses. Regional presentations have been given at SoCal PKAL (a regional PKAL network) meetings. Poster presentations have been given at National AAC&U/PKAL meetings. After completing the manual and piloting it at our own and other institutions, we plan to present our findings in similar venues and to publish the results in a STEM education journal such as CBE - Life Sciences Education.

Acknowledgements: This work was funded in part by NSF grants DUE-0632831 and DUE-1140958 and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of La Verne.