Using Evo-Devo to Implement Change in Upper-Level Courses.

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Title of Abstract: Using Evo-Devo to Implement Change in Upper-Level Courses.

Name of Author: Anna Hiatt
Author Company or Institution: University of Kansas
Author Title: Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Evolutionary Biology, Genetics, Integrative Biology, Organismal Biology
Course Levels: Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: Assessment, Material Development
Keywords: evo-devo, evolutionary biology, developmental biology, inquiry-based teaching and learning, concept inventories

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Donald P. French, Oklahoma State University

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Using a discipline-based approach, we developed an inquiry-based activity targeting evo-devo concepts for two upper-level undergraduate biology courses in Evolution and Embryology. The activities include tapping into the interdisciplinary nature of science, active use of quantitative reasoning and computational biology to solve problems, and implementing classroom and laboratory assessments. Our goal is to document change in student understanding of evo-devo concepts throughout the course of the semester in the two courses. Additional goals include recruitment of faculty to adopt similar practices and activities in their courses.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The evo-devo teaching unit draws on examples from authentic research using Stickleback fishes as a case to evaluate both population and molecular level evolutionary changes within this system. Several major themes emerge in the unit that encourage the integration of evolution and development: Population genetics studies of traits to differentiate between drift and selection, developmental and genetic basis of morphological changes, conceptual understanding and modeling of gene switches and regulatory DNA, and understanding the relationship between molecular-level proximate mechanisms of evolution and their ultimate effect on populations. To assess the outcomes of these changes we evaluated students using student artifacts and a variety of diagnostic tools. The EvoDevoCI is a recently validated instrument developed by the authors that specifically measures student understanding of six core evo-devo concepts. Using the EvoDevo CI as a tool to measure learning gains over the course of the semester, we issued pre- and post-tests at the beginning and end of the semester in Embryology and before and after the evo-devo unit was taught in the Evolution course. We also used lecture exams and lab activities to evaluate student understanding of evo-devo and related concepts in both courses: these include the use of short-answer and essay questions as well as lab reports and oral presentations. These assessments were administered to ascertain whether incorporating approaches outlined in Vision and Change improved undergraduate biology majors’ understanding of and ability to apply evo-devo and related foundational concepts.

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 EvoDevoCI evaluates six core evo-devo concepts that will allow us to measure any change in student understanding of this interdisciplinary area. The activity requires students to apply evolutionary concepts to developmental contexts and discern between a variety of evolutionary mechanisms. In the process, we hope this also alleviates persistent evolutionary misconceptions. The EvoDevoCI was administered before any evo-devo instruction was provided at the beginning of the semester and was administered two weeks after the Stickleback teaching unit concluded. By evaluating learning gains in each of the core concepts we are able to document any change in student understanding. Additional qualitative data was obtained from open-response questions and activities collected during the instructional unit. This may provide additional data on how student conceptual understanding may have shifted during the teaching unit.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: This project directly impacts the two instructors who have had no previous training in scientific teaching. Their participation was voluntary and both intend to continue using this activity in future semesters. Both have also expressed interest in learning more about assessing their students and developing effective teaching units. One professor in particular has been highly motivated in using more effective assessments to capture student understanding of evolutionary concepts. This also provides a ‘domino-effect’ in that many other faculty have become more interested in how to assess their students properly. At OSU, the introductory biology course has been employing inquiry-based teaching and learning activities for over a decade and many faculty who are assigned to teach are able to invest in learning about these practices and taking them to their upper-level courses. However, little overall departmental changes are visible: The undergraduate assessment committee has adopted more appropriate assessment methods, but little has been done to promote or document changes across the degree program.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Many faculty are time-constrained in their ability to add or re-arrange a syllabus to accommodate a new instructional unit. To help create an incentive and alleviate this constraint, Dr. Hiatt delivered all of the instructional units to both courses as a guest-lecturer. The participating faculty attended these lectures and met periodically throughout the semester to discuss the project with the intent the instructor of record would implement and teach the lesson in subsequent semesters.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: The results of this project will be published as an article documenting learning gains in upper-level biology courses. We also plan to present these findings at the National Association of Biology Teachers conference in November. The primary author, Dr. Hiatt, recently moved to a post-doctoral position at the University of Kansas and plans to continue to collect data using the EvoDevoCI in a variety of biology courses. At OSU, the Undergraduate Assessment Committee has made plans to expand its assessment strategies to include qualitative artifacts and student interviews.

Acknowledgements: Instructors Michi Tobler, Arpad Nyari, and Andy Dzialowski. And transcribers and research assistants Kat Moriarty and Heather Stigge.