Introducing the NWBC: Introductory Biology for All Students

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Title of Abstract: Introducing the NWBC: Introductory Biology for All Students

Name of Author: Stasinos Stavrianeas
Author Company or Institution: Willamette University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Faculty Development
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: faculty development, interdisciplinarity, regional network, introductory courses

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Marlene Moore, Willamette University

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The development of the Vision and Change mandate coincided with an ongoing and vibrant conversation on biology education among the members of the PortPKAL network. The diversity of learning objectives, resources, and needs was reflected in the work of the Willamette Valley Biology Education Network (WVBEN), a nascent collaborative effort aiming at transforming the undergraduate biology curriculum. WVBEN leaders benefited from an RCN-UBE incubator grant to promote collaboration of biology faculty within and between institutions in the Pacific Northwest. One major outcome of this ongoing work is the creation of the Northwest Biosciences Consortium (NWBC) that aims to adopt the Vision and Change initiative and create modern, student-centered, integrated, and investigative introductory biology experiences for all students. The first outcome from this collaborative effort is the submission of a proposal to transform the introductory biology curriculum (outcome pending). The specific aims of this proposal are: * Develop Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) aligned with Vision and Change concepts and competencies, allowing students to gain appreciation for the scientific process and reflect on their learning. * Develop a series of customizable modules that can be incorporated into any first-year or introductory biology sequence that reflects our commitment to scientific literacy for all students and establishes a foundation for future majors. * Develop course descriptions aligned with Vision and Change to facilitate curriculum design and student transition, especially from the 2-year to 4-year institutions. * Use the NWBC to foster professional development, provide support, promote dissemination, and legitimize the need for change at the faculty member’s home institution.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The NWBC’s initial emphasis on transforming introductory biology will be followed by curricular and pedagogical revisions in the upper-division courses. In accomplishing these goals the NWBC will foster and support faculty development and collaborations within and between institutions. As the group takes its first steps towards these goals we will be benefit greatly from the WVBEN leaders, the PULSE Fellows in our region and beyond, and educators across the country who work on similar initiatives (i.e. BioQUEST, IBP, SABER).

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 effort is very recent, and we are in the process of developing our approach towards the stated objectives. However, over the past few years Willamette University initiated the transformation of its biology curriculum in alignment with Vision and Change through curricular realignment, strategic hiring, and increased emphasis on modern science pedagogy. More importantly, in addressing the Vision and Change mandate we established meaningful collaborations with colleagues in other departments, we share instruments and facilities, and streamlined our approach to institutional planning and grants. In accomplishing so much in such a short time, we benefited greatly by the vision of our administration and the enthusiasm of our several new colleagues, who easily cross departmental boundaries. This transformation in attitude and our work at breaking down the ‘departmental silo’ mentality started through initial discussions among colleagues across the sciences on issues that are common to all: student learning, classroom pedagogy, assessment strategies, and faculty teaching and research collaborations. These discussions were facilitated through our own iScience framework and supported by an external grant for faculty development. Thus, we have taken the first few steps towards the implementation of Vision and Change in the biology curriculum, and we have simultaneously established communication channels with our colleagues in the other science departments to facilitate the incorporation of interdisciplinary elements in the biology curriculum.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: This undertaking represents a real shift in introductory biology education in the Pacific Northwest. The establishment of this regional pedagogical network, the development of a comprehensive framework to advance evidence-based STEM pedagogies for all students, and the attention to faculty mentoring and support are the hallmarks of this proposal. This community of biology educators is a representative slice of academia as it consists of faculty of all ranks, diverse pedagogical experiences and scientific training. The NWBC objectives are broad, as faculty from public, private, 2-year, and 4-year institutions will implement the Vision and Change mandate in the introductory biology curriculum. The development of a concept inventory based on the core concepts and competencies will facilitate discussions on curriculum development and credit transfers at institutions in our region and beyond. Through a comprehensive assessment and dissemination plan, this project will enhance understanding of how we can change institutional cultures and faculty activities for the benefit of majors and non-majors alike. The NWBC has the potential to transform the educational experience for a very large and diverse population of undergraduates, and become a model for other educational groups/consortia to adopt Vision and Change in their biology curricula.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: We anticipate that the biggest challenge to this effort will be institutional inertia, reflective of inflexible curriculum structure, inadequacy of facilities and/or resources, and faculty resistance to new ideas. By focusing on the introductory curriculum targeting all students we hope to facilitate curricular transformation across the spectrum of biological sciences.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: In this effort we will be collaborating with Drs. Kimberly Tanner (UC San Francisco) and David Lopatto (Grinnell College), two prominent experts on assessment. We will complete the assessment plan by the beginning of the 2013-14 academic year. The results of this work will be disseminated widely through conference presentations, proceedings, faculty workshops, and submissions to peer-reviewed journals.

Acknowledgements: The authors recognize the NWBC Co-PIs: Walter Shriner (Mount Hood Community College), Stacey Kiser (Lane Community College), Jeff Brown (University of Portland), Erin Baumgartner (Western Oregon University), Gary Tallman (Willamette University), Anne Kruchten and Chris Gaiser (Linfield College), and Lori Kayes (Oregon State University).