Problem-Based Learning in Integrated Biology & Chemistry

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Title of Abstract: Problem-Based Learning in Integrated Biology & Chemistry

Name of Author: John R Jungck
Author Company or Institution: University of Delaware
Author Title: Director
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: General Biology
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Adding to the literature on how people learn, Material Development, Mixed Approach
Keywords: Problem-Based Learning Quantitative Reasoning Interdisiciplinarity Team-Teaching Peer Review

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Deborah E. Allen, University of Delaware

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Goals: Increased retention of Biology majors who are first generation students, members of historically underrepresented groups, or who enter with poor mathematics placements. Integrate General Biology and General Chemistry so that more focus is placed on 21st century life-long learning skills: (National Research Council, 2012, p. 42): 1. Asking questions and defining problems; 2. Developing and using models; 3. Planning and carrying out investigations; 4. Analyzing and interpreting data; 5. Using mathematics, information and computational thinking; 6. Constructing explanations and designing solutions; 7. Engaging in argument from evidence; and, 8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Methods and Strategies: Our implementation primarily employs problem-based learning about contemporary problems with a research-rich curriculum where lecture-laboratory-recitation are integrated in a common studio setting. Students make extensive use of rapid data acquisition, analysis, visualization, and interpretation. We have reduced class sizes and are providing more personalized attention by using a team of professors, preceptors, graduate teaching assistants, and peer-lead-team-learning (PLTL) undergraduate tutors to work collectively to support collaborative learning. We are implementing a learning community program in our dormitories in order to facilitate opportunities for study groups to meet outside of scheduled class time.

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 simply used a survey and interviews of students in our initial pilot course. We plan to use substantial amounts of formative qualitative and quantitative evaluation to constantly monitor how we are doing and to quickly identify problems that develop so that we can adjust accordingly. The course instructors have been developing rubrics for increased use of peer review. We will be investigating whether students take more ownership of their own work, whether engagement in peer review help them better understand primary research literature, and whether innovation and leadership are socially appreciated in peer communities.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: A major impact already has been that in addition to engaging campus wide leaders in problem based learning and campus administrators who have invested in the construction of the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Lab with a focus on problem based learning, we have recently received the support of multiple departmental chairpersons who decide who teaches whom, when, and where. This has made it possible to attract volunteers who are eager to implement more active learning pedagogies, to collaborate more with peers, and to be rewarded more for curriculum materials development, studies of student learning, and professional publications in peer-reviewed educational journals.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Two challenges are consistent with items identified in the Vision and Change document: 'A Vision for Implementing Change.' First, there was more resistance to evidence than we expected. When we reported on low completion of majors and graduate in STEM disciplines for a large cohort of students who entered in 2007 for which we had five years of data, many faculty responded with comments like the students didn't belong in these classes or majors, they were ill prepared, and/or that the high schools were doing a poor job rather than being willing to inspect their own practices. This group of colleagues viewed agents for change as impinging upon their academic freedom and as having changed the rules by focusing on student learning rather than what they were teaching. Second, institutional change on the issue of recognition, rewards, and funding for collaborative, interdisciplinary work has been much slower than anticipated. Many blame the process of responsible based budgeting because they believe that this practice reinforces the silos rather than promoting collegial interactions between and among diverse constituencies.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We have run faculty and curriculum development workshops on campus through the auspices of the Institute for the Transformation of Undergraduate Education, Academic Computing, the Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning, and the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory. We have reported on our work at professional scientific society meetings. We run workshops externally from the University of Delaware through our participation in the BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium’s projects (please visit our calendar at for a list of these workshops run and planned) entitled “Cyberlearning for Community Colleges,” NUMB3R5 COUNT (Numerical Undergraduate Mathematical Biology Education), and BEDROCK (Bioinformatics Education Dissemination); the NSF funded Research Collaboration Network on Case-Based Learning; workshops of the National Institute for Mathematical Biology Synthesis Center (NIMBioS); and other places upon individual request. We will run several more workshops on campus in January and June 2014 through the auspices of many of the units described above.

Acknowledgements: HHMI funding to Hal White, Chemistry, and David Usher, Biology. NSF funding to John R. Jungck for Cyberlearning for Community Colleges. Funding from IUBS (the International Union of Biological Sciences). Dupont Foundation for funds applied to building the ISE Lab and purchasing laboratory equipment. Internal University of Delaware funding through the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Biology and Chemistry Departments, the Institute for the Transformation of Undergraduate Education, Academic Computing, the Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning, and the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory.