Using Scientific Teaching to Transform First Year Biology

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Title of Abstract: Using Scientific Teaching to Transform First Year Biology

Name of Author: Ellen Goldey
Author Company or Institution: Wofford College
Author Title: Professor and Chair
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: General Biology
Course Levels: Faculty Development, Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.)
Keywords: First-year Guided Inquiry Open-ended research Flipped classroom Assessment

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): William R. Kenan, Wofford College G.R. Davis, Wofford College

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: This project is an example of successful curriculum transformation at the department level, which is the level of change targeted by the PULSE Initiative. By replacing the content-driven, memorization-intensive, first-semester course that had been in place for over 30 years, Biological Inquiry has served as a tipping point for subsequent reform throughout the department’s curriculum and across the College. Biological Inquiry is taken by over half (> 250) of all incoming, first year students at Wofford College. Adopting the tenets of scientific teaching, the new course uses best pedagogical practices (e.g., guided inquiry, flipped classroom, team-based learning) and builds the knowledge and competencies called for in Vision and Change.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Biological Inquiry engages students in developing the habits of mind and practicing the research skills of professional scientists. These include reading and applying primary literature, analyzing data with appropriate statistical methods, visualizing and interpreting the sometimes unexpected results of open-ended experiments, and communicating research findings. It also targets the goals of Wofford’s General Education program (e.g., critical thinking, communication skills, numeracy, and problem-solving) and eliminates separate introductory courses for majors and non-majors.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Four years of evidence from our multifaceted (direct and indirect methods) assessment protocol has show that, compared to the courses it replaced, Biological Inquiry leads to significant gains in all of our targeted learning outcomes, including gains in content knowledge, skills, and attitudes toward science. The course has resulted in higher retention rates, no grade inflation, more students continuing in biology, and majors having a stronger foundation for their upper-level coursework. As evidence of the latter, the focus on research in Biological Inquiry has led to more rigorous research topics being incorporated into upper-level courses, and may explain the increasing number of students who express an interest in conducting independent summer research and pursuing research as professionals. Specific assessment methods include the SALG and CURE surveys, self-reflective metacognitive essays, student work including professional research posters, exams, and guided-inquiry assignments, focus groups, and interviews.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Eight of the twelve members of the department worked together (with upper-level students) developing and implementing Biological Inquiry, and they found it very challenging to adopt unfamiliar pedagogies, plan for the unexpected outcomes of open-ended research, and develop exams and assignments that force students to use higher order cognitive domains. Therefore, time devoted to faculty development, support from administrators for risk-taking, sharing and learning from each other’s experiences, and willingness to continue to update and change the course based on assessment evidence have been critical to the project’s success. Perhaps most important, we learned that it takes a couple of years of trial and error before anxiety dissipates and enthusiasm takes its place.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: As noted above, there were numerous challenges but none of them were unexpected. Educating the entire campus about this reform effort was key in warding off unintended consequences/challenges and in garnering the support of top administrators and Trustees, who were inspired to add new FTEs to the biology department.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Goldey, E.S., et al., 2012 Biological Inquiry: A New Course and Assessment Plan in Response to the Call to Transform Undergraduate Biology. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 11:353-363. This work has been presented in numerous venues (several AAC&U-sponsored conferences, as the winner of the 2012 Exemplary Program Award presented at the annual conference of the Association for General and Liberal Studies, and invited presentations on several campuses). Goldey is a PULSE Vision & Change Leadership Fellow and she has included this model in several PULSE-led workshops.

Acknowledgements: Goldey was PI on the grant from NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education (CCLI grant #0836851) that supported this project.