Vision & Change: A Framework for Introductory Biology Re-Des

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Title of Abstract: Vision & Change: A Framework for Introductory Biology Re-Des

Name of Author: Juville Dario-Becker
Author Company or Institution: Central Virginia Community College
Author Title: Professor of Biology
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: General Biology
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: Learning outcomes course redesign research experience student engagement community college

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Jessica Hogan, Central Virginia Community College

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: One of the goals of the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) Achieve 2015 initiative is to serve the students and ensure their academic success. To this end, the VCCS embarked on the re-engineering and re-design of the high-enrollment, high-attrition courses with the primary goal of reversing the trend. Among these courses is the Introductory Biology course, a 2-semester sequence course taught in all of the 23 community colleges in Virginia. In the fall of 2012 the VCCS Biology curriculum committee consisting of faculty representatives from each of the 23 community colleges was convened. The committee was tasked with the development of mutually agreed-upon learning outcomes articulated with specific learning objectives, student achievement benchmarks, and multiple assessment methodologies that are grounded on research-based principles and aligned with national academic standards. The committee decided to use the recommendations of the Vision and Change (V&C) report as framework for the re-design of the VCCS Introductory Biology course. At the institutional level, Central Virginia Community College (CVCC) adapted the V&C recommendations as template for developing the program assessment instruments for the Associate in Arts and Science (AA&S) in Science Curriculum (Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science, and Physics). The development of the new assessment instruments is in response to the Southern Association of Colleges and School (SACS) requirements for CVCC’s re-accreditation.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Many faculty and administrators in the VCCS are not aware of the existence of the V&C document and the continuing effort to improve undergraduate Biology education on a national scale. As the VCCS move forward to implement the re-designed Introductory Biology course, the Biology curriculum committee members continuously upload relevant information and update the online database for the benefit of every Biology faculty in the VCCS. At the institutional level some of the CVCC Biology faculty are changing the environment in their respective classrooms by moving away from a straight lecture format to one where students are expected to participate in open discussions. Case Studies and Inquiry-Based instruction are being introduced and the use of open educational resources (OER) is highly encouraged. Some faculty are doing away with the typical pickled specimens and are sending their students on a real or virtual scavenger hunt to learn about species diversity. Cross-discipline collaboration is being discussed by faculty in the English, History, Sociology, and Biology departments to adopt a book each semester, such as Skloot’s The Immortal Life Henrietta Lacks where each faculty dissects the book’s relevance using the lenses of their respective disciplines, and encourage students to form their opinions and share their perspectives on the relevance of the material to their overall learning experience. Students who have the inclination to pursue research and demonstrate potential for success are mentored individually and then sent off to research laboratories of faculty mentors who have the means and the resources to host the student, mostly through the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Three VCCS college teams will develop models of the re-designed Introductory Biology course to be taught to selected sections in the spring of 2014. Student retention and student satisfaction will be compared with the sections taught using the traditional course format. At the department level, student satisfaction will be surveyed every semester to determine the impact of new instructional elements suggested by V&C.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: At the VCCS Science Peer Group Conference in November 2012 attended by more than 80 percent of full time and adjunct Biology faculty, the Biology curriculum committee introduced their re-design efforts and updated the participants on their progress to date. For some faculty, it was their first time to hear of the V&C report although they were aware of the VCCS's re-engineering initiatives, one of which is the re-design of the Introductory Biology course. During this meeting, the committee chair also invited everyone to join the Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education (PULSE) community. In April 2013 the VCCS Biology Curriculum Committee completed most of the work on the learning outcomes and assessment strategies. The committee is currently working on a professional development plan to disseminate the re-designed Introductory Biology course and V &C initiative to all Biology faculty in the VCCS. The VCCS leadership is supportive of the process; in April 2013, a request for proposal (RFP) was issued for faculty to apply for four $5,000 grants to develop model courses in on-campus, online, and hybrid formats that can be adopted or adapted by any Biology faculty member in the VCCS. Three proposals were funded; CVCC was awarded the grant to develop an Introductory Biology course for hybrid delivery.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Several unexpected challenges have surfaced in response to the VCCS adoption of V&C as the framework for the Introductory Biology course re-design. Some faculty are not prepared psychologically and emotionally to break away from the traditional instructor-centered pedagogy and expressed fear of losing their academic freedom. There were concerns on diminishing the student educational experience in a survey course such as Introductory Biology since V&C recommends introducing fewer concepts but covering them in greater depth. Then there is the notion of a centralized assessment which could paralyze individual faculty creativity if students are expected to pass a standardized test akin to the much maligned Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL). The Biology curriculum committee, with expressed support from the VCCS leadership, is continuously working on professional development initiatives to allay these concerns. Every member of the Biology Curriculum committee is expected to work with the faculty in their respective college to seamlessly integrate the reforms articulated in the V&C document which has been the foundation of the new, re-designed Introductory Biology course.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: The first iteration of the VCCS re-designed Introductory Biology course is now available to all Biology faculty for adaption and implementation. Updates and improvements on the articulated learning outcomes, learning objects, and assessments instruments are continuously uploaded onto the online repository. An online discussion forum has been established for dialog and exchange of ideas among the members of the Biology community. The VCCS leadership is providing financial support for regional workshops and system-wide conferences (Science Peer Group, New Horizons Conference) for training on course management and implementation as well as for showcasing initial successes with the re-designed Introductory Biology model courses. At CVCC, we have looked at the V&C report before the system-wide adoption. A group of Biology faculty and the division dean participated in a Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) workshop on student-faculty research integration at the earliest possible time in a community college science curriculum. We are revisiting our AA&S in Science curriculum to determine the merits of a capstone research course as prerequisite for graduation. To date, we have revised some of our existing Introductory Biology laboratory exercises from a passive (cookbook-style) to an inquiry-based instruction where students are presented with open-ended questions. At this time we do not have enough data to show some measures or success, or lack thereof but we will continue with our lab exercise s revisions and track student progress.

Acknowledgements: Professor Martin Zahn, Thomas Nelson Community College, Chair of the VCCS Biology Course Re-design committee Dr. Timothy Rhoads, Program Coordinator for CVCC AA&S Science curriculum Members of the VCCS Biology Course Re-design Committee