Supporting Reform in Undergraduate Science through a Discipl

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Title of Abstract: Supporting Reform in Undergraduate Science through a Discipl

Name of Author: Gili Marbach-Ad
Author Company or Institution: University of Maryland
Author Title: Director
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Faculty Development
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: Professional Development, Biology and Chemistry, Critical Thinking, Evidence-based teaching approaches, disciplinary Teaching and Learning Center

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Laura Egan, University of Maryland Katerina V. Thompson, University of Maryland

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Teaching and learning centers play a critical supporting role in undergraduate biology education reform by raising faculty awareness of national recommendations (e.g., Vision and Change Report Chapter 4) and providing monetary, technical, and peer support. Disciplinary teaching and learning centers are especially valuable because teaching beliefs, practices, goals, and barriers to reform are largely discipline-specific. The University of Maryland established a disciplinary Teaching and Learning Center (TLC; in the chemical and biological sciences that exposes faculty to evidence-based teaching approaches and helps them incorporate these approaches in their classrooms. The overarching goals of the Center are to (1) provide opportunities for collaboration between science faculty and science education experts, (2) create a structured environment of teaching and learning communities to support faculty in their efforts to identify appropriate content and adopt effective pedagogies, and (3) make training in teaching science part of the standard graduate program alongside training in scientific research.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The TLC provides a variety of activities and supports that reflect the recommendations in the Vision and Change report. These activities include teaching and learning workshops that focus on topics relevant to science education. For example, the TLC hosts seminars by Visiting Teacher/Scholars who are nationally recognized for their ability to integrate teaching and research. This dual emphasis on teaching and scientific research provides a model for how faculty at large research universities can engage in scholarly teaching. The TLC provides individual assistance to faculty members and helps faculty members assess the impact of innovative teaching techniques on student learning. The TLC also offers travel grants for faculty and graduate students to attend teaching conferences and disseminate their research on teaching and learning. Most significantly, the TLC has catalyzed the establishment of a variety of faculty teaching and learning communities that facilitate curriculum redesign and support faculty in their efforts to adopt innovative teaching strategies and assess their effectiveness. There are a variety of TLC programs that are specifically designed to enhance the professional development of future faculty. All new graduate teaching assistants are required to participate in a prep course for science teaching. A more extensive program exists for graduate students who seek additional expertise in university science teaching.

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 TLC evaluates its impact and effectiveness through classroom observations, surveys, and interviews. An analysis of student course evaluations indicates that graduate students who have completed our teaching prep courses are perceived as being more effective teachers than those who have not completed the prep course. Our research into faculty beliefs and practices indicates that those who participate in faculty learning communities place a higher value on relating course material to scientific research, using diverse teaching and assessment methods, and providing students with feedback through ungraded, formative assessments. Furthermore, they report using more evidence-based teaching methods than do non-participating faculty.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Our Teaching and Learning Center programming has drawn an increasing number of participants from other disciplines (particularly physics, math, and education), enabling us to build and strengthen interdisciplinary partnerships that are directly benefiting our students through the creation of innovative, integrative courses for students in the biological sciences. We have also seen a dramatic increase in faculty leadership in STEM education reform on a national level, and this is translating into substantive changes across our curriculum.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: We found that there is a gap between faculty awareness of and beliefs about the importance of implementing evidence-based teaching approaches, and use of these approaches in the classroom. In implementing these approaches, faculty face various hurdles including large class sizes, the physical space in which they are teaching, students’ resistance to these new approaches, and lack of resources to provide the ongoing support that the implementation of these approaches requires. In response to these challenges, we are working with individual faculty and faculty learning communities to secure funding through the institution and through outside agencies to offer long-term support.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: TLC staff and discipline-based education researchers working within the College have a strong record of leadership in STEM education reform and are significant contributors to the national discourse on improving teaching and learning. For example, Project faculty and administrators are active in a wide array of organizations that promote science curriculum reform (e.g., Vision and Change, HHMI Quantitative Biology Consortium, Project Kaleidoscope, Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research, Introductory Biology Project). They are prolific in disseminating their approaches and outcomes via conference presentations (e.g., AAAS, NARST, AERA, ASM) and publications in peer-reviewed science education journals (e.g., Bioscene, CBE - Life Sciences Education, Journal of College Science Teaching, and Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education). We will continue to actively encourage and financially support these outreach and dissemination efforts through the TLC. Collectively, these activities provide abundant opportunities for campus leadership and project participants to promote our efforts to improve STEM teaching and learning.

Acknowledgements: The preparation of this manuscript was supported by grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Science Education program and the National Science Foundation Course, Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement program (DUE-0942020). This work has been approved by the Institutional Review Board as IRB Protocol #: 07-0021.