Teaching General Biology to Non-majors at a Tribal College

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Title of Abstract: Teaching General Biology to Non-majors at a Tribal College

Name of Author: Olivia George
Author Company or Institution: University of New Mexico
Author Title: Post-doctoral fellow
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: General Biology
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.)
Keywords: Introductory biology, curriculum redesign, active learning, community based projects, and tribal and community colleges

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Leyma De Haro, University of New Mexico Summer Raines, University of New Mexico Salina Torres, University of New Mexico Gloriana Trujillo, University of New Mexico Dorothy Wester, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute Christopher Harrington, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute William Adams, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute Nader Vadiee, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Our goal was to incorporate active learning and culturally relevant topics into an undergraduate biology curriculum at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), a federal tribal college in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Science education research has suggested that incorporating active learning into the curriculum enhances the student learning experience. In addition to culturally relevant topics, we also used real world examples during almost every lecture to introduce topics/concepts to ensure that our students could understand the more abstract concepts. We hope that after taking our course the students would become ‘more informed citizens’ of their communities especially whenever science is in the news.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Our class format included reading guide questions, clicker-based reading quizzes, and in-class active learning group activities. In addition, we created various low-risk assessments including multiple-choice and group exams. Instead of having a final exam, students were required to complete a final research project and presentation centered on a current science topic of their choice.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Over the course of two semesters, we documented the efficacy of our curriculum using pre- and post-semester knowledge tests, motivation/attitude surveys, and overall student performance.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Student knowledge test scores increased by an average of 14 percentage points by the end of the semester. Results from the attitude surveys indicated that students strongly favor our redesigned course format over traditional lecture-style courses. Additionally, other SIPI faculty have shown interest in incorporating instructional techniques from our curriculum, particularly clickers and the final research project format, in their own classrooms. We saw the most impact with the students’ final projects. We noticed that students who produced thoughtful, in depth presentations and presented their work using professionally printed pamphlet in color and on glossy paper, were graded higher by their peers than the class average. We hypothesized that this success may have stemmed in part from the emphasis on professionalism. So we offered to professionally print all pamphlets the following semester. We also invited other SIPI faculty to attend and grade the oral presentations as ‘guest experts’, further increasing the sense of professionalism associated with the final project. As a result, student interest and immersion intensified even further. When we looked across the two trimesters we taught, we observed a striking trend between the final project topic choice and the grade received. Students who chose a topic with direct relevance to their culture and heritage were twice as like to receive an excellent grade on the project than students who chose less culturally pertinent topics.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: It is important to note that despite its successes, the curriculum redesign was not without difficulties. We experienced barriers at the level of the students (deficiencies in writing and math) and at the institutional level (short-term adjunct-teaching appointments and inadequate interaction with other faculty and administration). We attempted to remediate student preparation by incorporating guided questions to help with textbook reading, in-class writing and math practice, discussion-based assessments, and meta-cognitive practices. Additionally, we had many conversations with other SIPI faculty and eventually sparked an interest in incorporating instructional techniques from our curriculum, particularly clickers and the final research project format, in their own classrooms.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: At the institutional level, we have provided SIPI with the curricular materials and have offered to advise future adjunct as well as permanent/full time instructors, in hopes that this student-centered approach to teaching will be sustained after our departure.

Acknowledgements: We would like to acknowledge our support from the IRACDA/UNM-ASERT training program (1K12GM0888021) including directors: Dr. Angela Wandinger-Ness and Dr. Sherry Rogers. We would also like to thank the following people for their contributions to our curriculum development: Dr. Diane Ebert May (Director of FIRST IV), Dr. Jennifer Knight, Dr. Marcy Osgood, and Dr. Michele Shuster.