Replacing Cookbook with Inquiry While Reaching More Students

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Title of Abstract: Replacing Cookbook with Inquiry While Reaching More Students

Name of Author: Mary Tyler
Author Company or Institution: University of Maine
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: General Biology
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Adding to the literature on how people learn, Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development, Mixed Approach
Keywords: Inquiry-based laboratories, peer instruction, rural context, active learning in large-enrollment first-year biology, at-risk interventions

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Michelle Smith, University of Maine Farahad Dastoor, University of Maine Ryan Cowan, University of Maine Kevin Tracewski, University of Maine Eleanor Groden, University of Maine

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The School of Biology and Ecology at UMaine is responding to the Vision and Change call to action to integrate the scientific process into our undergraduate courses, engage students as active learners, and facilitate learning with cooperative interactions. We started by transforming our first-year biology course sequence, which is the largest course in the UMaine system. It serves ~800 students/year from at least 50 different majors. Approximately 85% of the students come from a rural environment. By improving learning in this course, we have a large impact on improving science literacy, increasing retention of students, and influencing how upper-level courses are taught. Our specific goals are: 1) To revise all first-year labs to be inquiry-based such that students plan and conduct their own experiments and report their results. We have reduced the number of concepts covered and study them in greater depth, while asking students to collaborate and relate concepts to real-world issues. 2) To create a means of addressing large classes that serve both on-campus and remote-site audiences, enhancing access at rural education centers. We have done this by creating full-length animated-videos that augment the live lecture and are the basis for a new on-line version of the course. 3) To target at-risk students, providing early intervention to improve their success. Peer tutors are being trained to help students who fail exams by offering regular help with course materials.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Goal 1: We started developing new labs in 2007 and today all the labs in the first-year biology course series are inquiry-based. Students conduct their own experiments and present their results at a symposium. All students regardless of major are thereby getting a robust research experience in biology. Of note, we made these changes while reducing the overall cost of labs and holding the number of lab sections steady; the current cost of labs is $9/student/semester. To facilitate learning and to train graduate teaching assistants, we wrote a lab manual and teacher’s guide for both the first- and second-semester courses. Goal 2: We created 34 animated-videos based on lecture material that illustrate concepts and are aligned with an accompanying set of inquiry-based study guides. These learning materials are delivered through a course management application developed in our department and are used to augment the live lecture and are the basis for the learning modules in our on-line course. These videos allow instructors to have more in-class discussion and on-line face-time with students. Goal 3: We are currently studying what types of interventions help at-risk first-year biology students succeed. This past fall, students who failed the first exam were offered the opportunity to participate in peer tutoring. Data on student progress have been collected and are in the process of being analyzed. These data will allow us to enhance the learning environment for all 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: Goal 1: The changes in learning outcomes of the inquiry-based labs over the traditional labs were studied by Masters in Science Teaching students. On-site observations of labs were scored to determine how students were spending their time in lab in the traditional vs. inquiry-based labs. Questionnaires were used to determine attitudes towards biology and learning, and performance on pre- and post-tests were compared using students paired by equivalent SAT scores. Goal 2: We are in the process of determining improvement in student learning based on the introduction of animated videos to substitute for lecture material. Data from pre- and post-tests are being collected along with attitude surveys. Goal 3: To determine what types of interventions help at-risk students, we are monitoring: 1) student performance on exams and pre/post Diagnostic Question Cluster assessments, 2) attendance in lecture and laboratory, 3) behavior on the online course management system, and 4) novice-to-expert perceptions about biology using the Bio-CLASS assessment.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: A first year of study of the inquiry-based labs compared to the traditional labs showed students in inquiry-based labs discussed more higher-order questions, had higher test scores in lecture, and enjoyed biology more. Our success led W. H. Freeman to publish our lab manuals and teacher’s guides helping us reach a broader audience. By using videos created for lecture, instructors can now spend more time in lecture on discussion and questions. In the online lecture portion of the course, the videos have allowed improved learning for rural and non-traditional audiences and an increase in enrollment without increasing staff, important in these economic times. An initial assessment of at-risk students participating in the peer-tutoring program revealed that these students had historically low dropout rates, and were more likely to attend class and improve performance on subsequent exams. Broader impacts: The culture in our department has changed. Other faculty are now creating inquiry-based environments akin to the first-year courses. The peer-tutoring program went from a pilot to a large multi-course program supported at the Dean’s level. Seven biology faculty have begun work in education research and are co-authors on education papers and/or co-PIs on pending NSF education grants. We recently hired the first tenure-track faculty member in biology education research in the UMaine system. Finally, our published inquiry-based lab manuals are a blueprint for other institutions.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: 1) Changing the faculty culture: An initial barrier to adopting inquiry-based labs was to change the culture of the department where faculty felt that inquiry labs would be too expensive, time-consuming, and difficult for the students. We changed the views of faculty by introducing the complete set of inquiry-based labs in a step-wise fashion: first 2 lab sections, then 15, and finally all 45 sections. This approach gave faculty time to adapt and also evaluate data about the success of the program. 2) Space constraints: Because we did not have the space to accommodate 800 students doing individual experiments, we created labs where students take their experiments back to their dorms and make daily observations and notes. 3) Training: One essential element of our program was revising the teaching assistant and peer tutoring training. Today, teaching assistants and peer tutors are more invested in our reform efforts and often develop new materials to supplement labs and help us write questions that test conceptual learning.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: The work has resulted in several papers published in peer-reviewed journals, as well as two lab manuals and two teacher’s guides being published by W. H. Freeman, Inc. We have also given workshops for graduate students at UMaine and for faculty at national and international conferences. Middle and high school teachers from the state have come to campus to observe our first-year courses, and their feedback has been shared with faculty and used in faculty activity reports. These teachers are then ambassadors when they return to their schools for endorsing inquiry-based changes in their classes.

Acknowledgements: We are grateful for financial support from the University of Maine Faculty Technology Stipend Award, CTE Active Student Learning Micro-Grants, College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture, University of Maine System Trustee Professorship Award, Maine Physical Sciences Curriculum Partnership: Research and Infrastructure for Ongoing Educational Improvement (NSF MSP Grant DUE 0962805), and Development of the Biology Competencies Assessment Series (NSF TUES Central Resource Project Award DUE 1245104).