General Biology as Discovering the Story of Life

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Title of Abstract: General Biology as Discovering the Story of Life

Name of Author: Nancy Auer
Author Company or Institution: Michigan Technological University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Ecology and Environmental Biology, Evolutionary Biology, General Biology, Organismal Biology
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: General Biology Inquiry Discovery of story Organismal Evolution

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: My goals/outcomes That the students grasp and discover the story, they begin to see how it grows and unfolds as we move though class and then into other classes how it relates. That they don't rote memorize but can understand and speak concepts to others, roommates, parents, etc. That they develop synthesis skills and critically evaluate material. That they can begin to see their own ability to evaluate how they are doing - know their own 'grade'

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: In 'lecture class' I use discussion in both small and large class groupings of pre-assigned material, asking for things like constructing timelines, concept maps, etc. I use a 'blue book' where small groups record answers and discussions and participation on questions. I use the book Your Inner Fish weekly to synthesize with what is in textbook and what is happening in laboratory. We also have voluntary current event reports. I try and develop the learning as an unfolding story of evolution and organismal life/biology. I use inquiry based laboratory - week one is a prepared lab and then week two is a laboratory where they have asked a question beyond what happened in first lab and test their own experiments the second week.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: My evaluation methods include 1) an individual written research paper using a starter article from current (within past year) Science issues. I will try a 2 person approach this year 2013 assigning 2 people to same article and both help each other finding and discussing papers but each turn in separate papers. 2) Evaluation of class notes, and blue books 3) Laboratory reports (rubric given) 4) 2 short answer/essay exams 5) class participation

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: My pre- and post-short answer tests show students can answer 41% more of the questions at the end of the class without memorization or study. I give this the same day I have my own teaching performance evaluations now and students see and write on my evals that they can see they have made improvement over the semester. I am on the department curriculum and assessment committees and have helped develop the capstone course for senior synthesis. I will also be teaching in 2014 with a new faculty member who is presently on maternity leave.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Our university requires that a syllabus be given out the first week of class. I have been developing my syllabus in old style - read x pages/day prior to coming to class. I will now approach it differently with concept ideas and either shorter readings or more directed readings from articles or even videos. I started out by grading students on weekly reflections but it took a great deal of weekend time to get through 70 reflections and identify areas of work for following week. I now ask for some short written responses done during some class periods instead, at least weekly. The need to not have one student drop out is a challenge - trying to keep everyone engaged - each year I try to offer more and more types of help through our Biology Learning center, GTAs and office hours and email.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: I am involved in the University wide assessment and working in my department on our assessment of learning. I have pre- and post- tests in my Gen Bio course, and share those results and laboratory reports as part of assessment. Through these activities I influence others in our department and others on campus see our successes.

Acknowledgements: Both my previous Department chair (Mike Gibson) and director of CTL at MTU (William Kennedy) were instrumental in encouraging me as I often got poor teaching evaluations due to my unwillingness to simply provide answers or tell students exactly what they needed to know. Both my previous Department chair (Mike Gibson) and director of CTL at MTU (William Kennedy) were instrumental in encouraging me as I often got poor teaching evaluations due to my unwillingness to simply provide answers or tell students exactly what they needed to know. Both these individuals supported and encouraged me to continue to develop this type of teaching. Also all those at the 2010 AAAS conference in San Diego and the many presenters speaking on Vision and Change.

Systems Biology and Computer Modeling Across the Curriculum

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Title of Abstract: Systems Biology and Computer Modeling Across the Curriculum

Name of Author: Pamela Pape-Lindstrom
Author Company or Institution: Everett Community College
Author Title: Dept. Co-Chair
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Ecology and Environmental Biology, General Biology, Integrative Biology, Organismal Biology
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Material Development, Systems Biology and Computer Modeling & Simulation
Keywords: Systems Biology Computer Modeling Sustainability non-STEM majors Introductory biology

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The 2011 report, “Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action”, has established core concepts and competencies relevant to future life sciences education. “Living systems are interconnected and interacting” has been identified as a core concept and “The ability to use modeling and simulation” has been established as a core competency. At Everett Community College, goals for our undergraduate majors include investigating biological content with a systems perspective and providing computer modeling and simulation classroom experiences which help students understand that biological systems are interactive, dynamic and complex. Systems thinking and modeling has been included in the biology majors’ courses for several years. An additional goal is to enhance the curriculum by providing similar opportunities for non-science majors. Recently, a new “Sustainability and Systems” course has been introduced for non-majors to reinforce a systems biology perspective and provide opportunities for students to develop competency in modeling and simulation for the first time, regardless of their major. This new course is available to any student across the institution and focuses on analysis of the sustainability of human systems. Simple models of population growth and more advanced ecological case studies are explored with tools such as connection circles, and causal loop diagrams, including reinforcing (positive feedback) loops and balancing (negative feedback) loops. Students also explore the effects of time delays upon systems and identify leverage points which enhance ecological sustainability.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Students in both the majors and non-majors courses utilize STELLA software at an introductory level via construction of prescribed models, manipulation of existing models and creation of their own models. In the biology majors series, concepts explored with modeling and simulation include plant transpiration, photosynthesis, cardiovascular function and hormones & homeostasis. Evidence that students deepen their comprehension of these concepts and increase their understanding of the usefulness of these curricular approaches has been collected via short surveys for biology majors. Formal assessment of student learning gains regarding systems-thinking and gains in competency with simulation in the non-majors course is currently underway.

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 Colorado Learning Attitudes About Science Survey (CLASS) instrument for biology was used to assess the STEM majors. The survey was designed, tested, and validated for measuring “novice-to-expert-like perceptions about biology” and was developed specifically to “measure whether curricular and pedagogical changes in the classroom are succeeding in both improving student learning and transitioning students toward more expert-like thinking.” It employs multiple-choice questions with a 5-point, Likert-type response range, focusing on understanding biology, opinions about biology, and behaviors relative to the practice of biology. Students’ responses are scored based on how closely they follow the responses of experts in the field. Analysis of the pre & post CLASS data from the first quarter majors series indicated that there was a positive trend for students to move toward a 'more-expert like' perspective, but the data was not statistically significant due to small sample size. To evaluate STEM majors' perceptions of the usefulness of mathematics and modeling in understanding biology, and relevance towards their anticipated biological careers a 5 question survey was administered. A statistically significant number of students switched their choice to ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ when comparing pre- vs. post-tests in response to questions such as “Understanding how to use STELLA and/or other modeling programs will be useful in my scientific career”. After instruction in Year 2, 73% ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with the statement, “I can use STELLA to explore biological concepts at a beginning level” Also, 53% ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with the statement “Using STELLA helps me to understand biological concepts more in depth.” These results occurred after spending approximately 11 hours of instruction (out of a course total of 70) on STELLA modules in either lecture or lab. Evaluation of the non-STEM majors responses is ongoing.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: The STEM majors curricular change began in 2007 in response to 'Bio 2010'. Approximately 165 students successfully complete the majors series each year, therefore about 1000 STEM students have engaged with the systems biology and computer modeling curriculum from inception to present. The new non-majors Sustainability & Systems course (began Fall 2012) enrolls approximately 18 students in each of the two quarters it is offered. This course offers computer modeling experience and a systems perspective to students that might not otherwise encounter these approaches in their curriculum. Confirmation that this curricular change is becoming institutionalized at Everett Community College is evident in the 2012 adoption of a Student Core Learning Outcome regarding sustainability, which in part emphasizes some aspects of systems biology. The institution-wide learning outcome is stated here: “Identify elements of a sustainable society: Students will integrate and apply economic, ecological, and eco-justice concepts into a systems-thinking framework.”

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Historically, the first course in the majors’ biology sequence was comprised of STEM majors and pre-allied health students. This presented an initial barrier to curricular change, as there are differing math requirements for these student populations. Some of the majors’ modeling exercises are more mathematically focused. Resistant faculty members were eventually persuaded that changing the curriculum structure (separate courses for STEM majors vs. non-majors) would benefit both student populations. In addition, this transformation was accomplished by initially having two of the majors’ courses (of the three quarter series) team taught, which allowed instructors to become familiar with this new pedagogical approach.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: The STEM majors project was presented in poster format at the NSF sponsored 'Broadening Impact Conference' in 2011 and at the 'Introductory Biology Project Conference' in 2012. Interactive workshops with participants utilizing STELLA software and curricular modules were conducted at a NW BIO conference for community college instructors and for high school math and science teachers at a 'Strength in Numbers' conference at Everett Community College in 2011. An initial project description is available at https://serc.carleton.edu/nnn/numeracyprojects/examples/32003.html. Additional dissemination of the Sustainability & Systems work is planned at upcoming NW BIO conferences.

Acknowledgements: I thank Dr. Fayla Schwartz for assistance with developing some curricular materials. Funding for portions of this work was provided by NSF-CCLI, Award # 0737487.

Smithsonian-Mason Semester teaches conservation in practice

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Title of Abstract: Smithsonian-Mason Semester teaches conservation in practice

Name of Author: James McNeil
Author Company or Institution: George Mason University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Agricultural Sciences, Conservation Biology, Ecology and Environmental Biology, Environmental Management, Environmental Studies, General Biology, Integrative Biology, Organismal Biology
Course Levels: Faculty Development, Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: A mixture of the above, Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: Conservation Biology, Conservation Studies, Collaborative, Integrated, Transdisciplinary

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Jennifer Buff, Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation Anneke DeLuycker, Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation Stephanie Lessard-Pilon, Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation A. Alonso Aguirre, Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The Smithsonian-Mason Semester for Conservation Studies (SMS) grew out of a meeting in 2001 funded by the U.S. Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE). Forty representatives from 21 academic, government and professional organizations met to discuss strategies for reforming undergraduate education in conservation studies. Similar to the Vision and Change report, which advocates for more student-centered education and a shift towards class formats that foster critical thinking skills, recommendations from these meetings focused on ways of teaching conservation studies that mirror the way that it is practiced by professionals. One of the goals for the program included involving conservation practitioners and non-traditional partners representing disciplines related to conservation but not often included in undergraduate courses on the subject (i.e. economics, conflict resolution, communication, policy, management, public education, ethics). Another goal was to engage students in real-world case studies and projects that illustrate the multi-faceted and transdisciplinary nature of conservation studies and provide them opportunities to practice skills in a meaningful way. Finally, the program intended to establish guidelines for what information and skills graduates in the conservation field should possess and act as a model for that high level of training. The result of these discussions was the formation of the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation in 2008. Housed at the 3,200 acre Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia, the School is a partnership between the Smithsonian Institution and George Mason University (Mason) to provide the type of instruction that would meet the goals outlined by the FIPSE meeting.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Undergraduates in the SMS participate in an immersive, integrated 16-credit semester where they live on-site at the SCBI for the entire semester. The program is open to students from any major with a demonstrated commitment to conservation careers. In the program students are introduced to theoretical frameworks, explore them with hands-on experiences, and apply the knowledge to novel scenarios. Faculty explicitly discuss how connections between different fields are essential to creating solutions to difficult conservation issues. For example, one activity allows students to visit with Smithsonian scientists working on coastal climate change research, help collect data related to that research, discuss ways the effects of climate change can be mediated, collect data about public perceptions of climate change in Front Royal and then present their findings to local high school students. This activity takes the students from a theoretical understanding of climate change through to the practical implications of the issue. Along the way the students practice a variety of skills, from methods of experimental design to strategies for effective communication. Students also work, individually and in groups, on semester-long projects that require them to take the information and skills they are learning and apply them to a topic of their own choosing. This project is specifically designed to sharpen their writing, research, and oral presentation skills and guide them step-by-step through the revision process. For example, in the spring 2013 semester, students worked on developing monitoring plans for benthic macroinvertebrates at a local organic farm. Many students commented that it was a valuable experience to take a project from start to finish on their own, and some students even stayed after the semester was over to continue working on their project at the request of farm employees.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Since the program’s inception in 2008, 104 students have completed the program. Student assessment has been a key component to monitor student learning achievements. In addition to standardized university course evaluations, students have three one-on-one interviews with faculty members during the semester and complete informal surveys of course content using SurveyMonkey (online assessment tool) every four weeks. The most significant tool used to monitor the progress towards the program goals is a formal Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG) test (https://salgsite.org, Wisconsin Center for Educational Research), administered at the beginning and end of the semester. Significant class time is set aside for these meetings and formal evaluations, but the results from 5 years of SALG testing show an improvement of students’ understanding of conservation biology in their answers to questions such as “Presently I understand the relationships between [course] main concepts” (mean increase in rating 1.54 on a 6 point scale (+/- 0.45), and “Presently I am confident that I understand the subject [conservation studies]” (mean increase in rating 1.16 on a 6 point scale (+/- 0.28).

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: We see the success of this program through the high rate of placement of alumni in internships, graduate school, and careers linked to conservation. Of the 78 students for which we have data, 51 of them (65%) are pursuing activities or have held positions related to conservation work and the others are completing their undergraduate degrees. Many students state that this program is the reason they enrolled at Mason, and students from both inside and outside Mason enroll because of the referral of previous peer participants. At a larger level, the success of this program has led to increased involvement from conservation professionals, such that we were able to support a second program of study that began in fall 2012. While in residence at SCBI during the Semester students become part of the community of practice, which leads not only to powerful networking opportunities but the realization by staff and faculty that participation in this program can lead to tangible change in the field of conservation. A further sign of the success of our curriculum is the enthusiastic participation of practicing conservation professionals, many who go beyond merely presenting a lecture to sharing days of their time to show students how they actually conduct their work. All students in the SMS are required to spend one day a week in a practicum experience where they shadow a conservation professional. Additionally, the close interaction with faculty a residential program facilitates and flexible scheduling that allows for deeper experiences has created an environment where students are mentored, not just instructed.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The intensity of this model of instruction means planning and adequate staff support are essential to its success. Full-time instructional faculty manage guest instructors, organize field activities, and design and implement activities integrating multiple disciplines that enable students to hone their critical thinking, writing, and oral presentation skills. Additionally, the SMS cohort size is capped at 20 students to help manage field activities and enable the students to receive individualized attention and mentoring. Larger classes would become logistically impossible and the close peer-to-peer and faculty-student mentoring connections essential to the program would become especially difficult.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Sharing the model of this unique program involves strategies such as visits to classes at Mason and other colleges and universities to describe it to students and faculty, maintaining a vibrant online and social media presence, and attending professional conferences where this model of instruction can be discussed with other instructors, such as the Society for Conservation Biology annual meeting. Expanding these opportunities are an important part of the future plans for dissemination, but we have found the strongest advocates for our program are faculty, professionals, and alumni. Their testimonials are the greatest asset we have in sharing this information. This value is embodied in the following quote from an undergraduate student in the program from fall 2010: “At the start of the Semester I was afraid of graduating. I was not sure of where to go after school ended, or of how to find a rewarding job that would facilitate the changes that I hope to see in the world of conservation. Now I am eager to finish with school and apply what I have learned to the world of ecology and conservation biology.”

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank the many people at George Mason University and the Smithsonian Institution who helped create the semester and continue to support it; this work would not be possible without them. We especially thank, Anne Marchant, Jennifer Sevin, Tom Wood, Kate Christen, Andrew Wingfield, M. Randy Gabel, Sonya Kessler, and Kari Morefeld, who have been primary semester faculty, staff and teaching assistants in the past. We also thank Amada Schochet for the use of her quote.