Leveraging Change with the Science Education Initiative

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Title of Abstract: Leveraging Change with the Science Education Initiative

Name of Author: Jenny Knight
Author Company or Institution: University of Colorado
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Faculty Development
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: Science teaching fellows, course transformations, development of concept assessments, faculty development

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Anne-Marie Hoskinson, University of Colorado, Boulder Teresa Foley, University of Colorado, Boulder

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The University of Colorado Science Education Initiative (SEI) was founded by Carl Wieman in 2006 as a university-supported project to improve how we teach science to all undergraduate students. Two of the campus’ biology departments have worked within this program since its inception (Integrative Physiology, IPHY and Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology, MCDB), and the third biology department (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, EBIO) joined the initiative in 2011. Each department hired 1-3 Science Teaching Fellows (STFs) that would work with faculty to implement changes within the biology courses. In general, the goals of the three departments, though not identical, can be captured as follows: * To change the culture (among both students and faculty) of undergraduate biology education at the University of Colorado, Boulder. * To promote critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills among students. * To develop teaching methods that promote a deeper understanding of concepts so that students retain and can use what they have learned. * To develop concept and process skills assessments that can be shared nationally.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: All departments began by developing sets of learning goals for core courses (both introductory and upper level). These goals established what students should learn upon completion of the course, and included everything from basic concepts and vocabulary to more advanced critical thinking skills and data interpretation skills. Then, course (re)designs focused on ensuring that learning goals for each course fit within the ‘core ideas’ from Vision and Change. Some re-designs explicitly focused on addressing process skills while others focused on introducing active-learning activities, case studies, and other larger-scale student projects. The majority of courses in each biology department added clicker questions, homework assignments, pre-class preparation assignments, modified recitation/lab instruction or other aspects of their course (added homework help sessions, class projects, etc.). In an effort to change the culture of science education in biology, faculty-working groups led by STFs were developed for instructors of individual courses or for series of courses to decide on learning goals, assessments, and address issues related to retention and progression through the major. Finally, concept assessments designed to identify misconceptions and diagnose areas of student difficulty were developed for Introductory Molecular Biology (IMCA) and Genetics (GCA). An exit assessment, the Capstone Molecular Biology Concept Assessment (Capstone MBCA) is currently under development.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: We have begun to assess students’ abilities to formulate testable hypotheses; design and execute experiments; develop and interpret graphs; solve complex problems; and communicate clearly with multiple audiences. Results from these assessments have informed the redesigned of some curricula. In some courses, students now complete a significant, original research project and present their results in a capstone poster session to demonstrate content learning and process-skill mastery. One section of Ecology in the EBIO department was executed as a student-centered, case-based course requiring meaningful cooperation among students. In comparing content mastery between students in case-based Ecology and those in a traditionally-taught course, we found a significant content-mastery advantage in students completing the case-based course. Using the aforementioned assessment tools developed in MCDB, we have also been able to track how students improve their conceptual understanding of introductory biology concepts after instruction, and document the impact of instructional changes (e.g., implementation of clickers and problem solving sessions) on student learning. We have published best practices for clicker use based on these findings. We have also used the GCA to uncover persistent misconceptions among our students, and have subsequently targeted development of new curricular materials to the corresponding conceptual areas.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Departmental impact: More than 80% of the core courses in all three biology departments now use set of faculty-generated and department-approved learning goals to communicate the objectives of each course with students and other faculty. Faculty impact (example): Many faculty have been involved in the development and implementation of effective strategies, have attended campus workshops, and have presented findings at a wide variety of conferences with an emphasis on education research. Student impact: Thousands of students have taken at least one biology course that has been transformed by the SEI. National impact: Faculty, both nationally and internationally have requested the use of our concept assessment tools. We anticipate that the Capstone MBCA will aid in transforming undergraduate biology education by providing a longitudinal measuring stick for faculty and administrators to evaluate the transformation of introductory (novice) students into more expert learners. More broadly, this upper level assessment will also allow faculty and departments to address the restructuring of undergraduate curricula to maximize student learning, an area that thus far has been particularly refractive to change.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: All departments involved with the SEI have encountered some expected ‘pushback’ from both faculty and students as we adopted active, student-centered, skill-focused curricular changes. One of the main criticisms from reluctant faculty has been the amount of time necessary to transform an undergraduate biology course, which we were able to mitigate with the support of the STFs. Students have also come to appreciate changes in instruction as they realize (often after a course concludes) that they have retained more than they would have expected; when students embrace these methods and recommend transformed courses to other students, the culture of the department evolves to value these methods more. We have found three principles useful in mitigating challenges. First, we focus on implementing transformations that address the ‘big ideas’ and core concepts described in V&C, since most faculty can agree that these are essential. Second, we practice transparency in our communications with colleagues and students, and we involve them in the process. Third, we include metacognitive opportunities for reflection on the effectiveness of teaching and learning practices, both in interactions with faculty colleagues and as formative exercises with our students.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We have published two papers describing the development of concept assessments, and many additional papers describing research studies. Several faculty and STFs attend a diverse list of national meetings to share work produced under these initiatives. In addition, we continue to offer faculty development workshops (offered to all faculty through the Faculty Teaching Excellence Program) and working group meetings (in departments) to maintain the impact of the changes. Recently, IPHY was named as one of three departments at CU-Boulder chosen to participate in the Association of American Universities STEM Education Initiative. The purpose of the initiative at CU-Boulder is to objectively assess the teaching methods of faculty who teach undergraduate STEM classes, which will help to continue dissemination of evidence-based techniques. Lastly, as part of the SEI, all departments have shared resources such as clicker, homework, and in-class activity questions on the publically accessible SEI archive site (https://www.sei.ubc.ca/materials/Welcome.do).

Acknowledgements: We acknowledge the many biology faculty who have worked with us, previous and current STFs and undergraduate assistants, education colleagues in STEM departments and the CU School of Education, and SEI directors Carl Wieman and Kathy Perkins.