University of Oregon Initiatives Improving Science Education

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Title of Abstract: University of Oregon Initiatives Improving Science Education

Name of Author: Eleanor Vandegrift
Author Company or Institution: University of Oregon
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: General Biology, General Education Courses
Course Levels: Faculty Development, Introductory Course(s), Undergraduate Research
Approaches: A mixture of the above, Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Training Future Faculty, Undergraduate Research
Keywords: Undergraduate research, Evidence-based pedagogy, Communication, Mentoring

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Judith Eisen, University of Oregon Peter O'Day, University of Oregon Michael Raymer, University of Oregon Mark Carrier, University of Oregon Cristin Hulslander, University of Oregon Ronald Beghetto, University of Oregon Mia Tuan, University of Oregon

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The University of Oregon (UO) Biology Department has three parallel initiatives to transform science education for biology majors and non-science majors. A key goal is to help students reach the core competency of communicating science. Additionally, components of our programs aim to cultivate aspects of students’ biological literacy, use evidence-based pedagogy in student-centered classrooms, and provide professional development in best teaching practices for current and future faculty.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: 1) The Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), an umbrella for 4 separate programs: NSF REU Site Program in Molecular Biosciences, NICHD R25 Summer Research Program, Alaska Oregon Research Training Alliance (NIH META Center for Excellence in Systems Biology), and Oregon Undergraduate Researchers, began in 1992 with HHMI funding to support summer research for UO biology undergraduates. SPUR is nationally recognized for promoting research careers for underrepresented groups. We offer rigorous, multifaceted, summer-long, mentored training experiences spanning the life sciences, professional development workshops, faculty seminars, an undergraduate research symposium, field trips, networking, and social events. 2) The Biology Undergraduate Lab Assistants (BULA) and Biology Tutors for Undergrads (BTU) harness the skills and energy of highly motivated undergraduates as peer teachers and increase the number of successful biology undergraduates students in 4 general biology courses, 3 honors biology courses, and 4-5 upper division courses. BULA/BTUs make it possible to bring intensive teaching practices into large classes. 3) The Science Literacy Program (SLP), launched in 2010 with HHMI funding, aims to improve General Education courses in biology, chemistry, geology, and physics for non-science majors with three main goals: improve student science literacy, train future STEM faculty in evidence-based pedagogy, and provide faculty support to develop or revise General Education courses. SLP courses use active, inquiry-based teaching that enables students to understand complex societal issues. SLP provides mentored teaching opportunities for STEM graduate and undergraduate students to design and present classroom activities and assessments. Faculty and students explore scientific teaching in a Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club and workshops co-sponsored by the UO Teaching Effectiveness Program (TEP).

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: SPUR: An internal two year grant from UO’s Graduate School and Center on Diversity and Community (CoDaC) provided support to evaluate student experiences (particularly of underrepresented minorities), clarify SPUR’s core mission and messaging to its constituents, and review learning objectives and outcomes. Assessment identified training of research mentors as key for successful undergraduate research experiences initiating a richer and more rigorous Mentoring Workshop. Such changes provide mentors with new ideas for effective mentoring, as assessed by surveys. BULA/BTU: Anecdotally, peer tutors achieve post-graduation goals including STEM teaching careers and admission to highly competitive professional and graduate schools. Faculty report improved student performance in introductory classes. SLP: An internal grant from UO College of Arts and Sciences helps sustain a partnership with CoDaC to evaluate SLP and determine to what extent we reach all students. We also collaborate with College of Education faculty to develop approaches to evaluate student science literacy behaviors. This work is ongoing.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: SPUR: We strive to enhance STEM opportunity and diversity. Typically, the participant profile is about 65% women, 70% underrepresented ethnic minorities, 40% economically disadvantaged, 80% with limited access to home institution research. Since 2005, there have been 4 participants with disabilities. In 2012, 8 students won national awards at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS). For 2013, the SPUR programs had over 900 applicants. BULA/BTU: The success of this program is indicated by both improved student performance in introductory classes and the remarkable record of our peer teachers in achieving post-graduation goals. SLP: Data indicate SLP courses increase students’ science literacy. Undergraduate scholars and graduate fellows who co-teach courses report more confidence in science teaching, communication abilities, and excitement to pursue teaching careers. Faculty report improved classroom experiences using evidence-based pedagogy. The SLP has also had campus wide recognition: it was featured in an article by TEP and is the model for a campus wide initiative to improve General Education courses.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: SPUR: Our biggest challenge is that we can only accept a small fraction of students who apply. We developed a Mentoring Workshop to address the concern that some researcher-mentors required more preparation and training to serve effectively. BULA/BTU: Our biggest challenge is making sure our program complies with UO policies, especially with respect to the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation, which has strict guidelines defining undergraduate teaching. We work closely with the UO Graduate School to ensure our program is in compliance with these policies and to monitor policy changes that may impact our program SLP: One significant challenge has been streamlining the processes for new course approval and for cross-listing interdisciplinary courses between departments. We worked toward this goal with the registrar and several administrative and faculty committees.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: SPUR: Many students who participate in SPUR present their work at ABRCMS. Faculty also serve as scientific judges and recruiters at ABRCMS. Several publications have included SPUR interns as authors. We hosted a Pacific Northwest regional workshop on creating and maintaining successful summer undergraduate research programs. BULA/BTU: Instructors of courses that regularly use BULA/BTUs actively recruit and solicit applications from students who have done well in these classes. Students also learn about BULA/BTU by word of mouth or by taking a course with a BULA/BTU. Finally, information about these teaching opportunities is on our webpage. SLP: The SLP Associate Director and SLP-associated faculty and students have presented talks and posters about our program at conferences. Faculty have written or are writing papers about restructuring their courses. We also have a paper in preparation about more global aspects of science literacy based on research about our SLP courses.

Acknowledgements: We thank HHMI, NSF, NIH, UO Department of Biology, UO Graduate School, UO CoDaC, and UO College of Arts and Sciences for generous funding and support.

NEXUS/Physics: Rethinking Physics for Biology Students

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Title of Abstract: NEXUS/Physics: Rethinking Physics for Biology Students

Name of Author: Edward Redish
Author Company or Institution: University of Maryland
Author Title: Professor
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: A mixture of the above, Adding to the literature on how people learn, Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: interdisciplinary, physics, competencies, epistemology

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): C. Bauer, University of New Hampshire K. L. Carleton, University of Maryland T. J. Cooke, University of Maryland M. Cooper, Michigan State University C. H. Crouch, Swarthmore College B. W. Dreyfus, University of Maryland B. Geller, University of Maryland J. Giannini, University of Maryland J. Svoboda Gouvea, University of Maryland M. W. Klymkowsky, University of Colorado W. Losert, University of Maryland K. Moore, University of Maryland J. Presson, University of Maryland V. Sawtelle, University of Maryland K. V. Thompson, University of Maryland C. Turpen, University of Maryland

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: An interdisciplinary team of physicists, biologists, chemists, and education researchers is reinventing introductory physics for the life sciences. The curriculum is designed to interact supportively with biology and chemistry classes taken by life sciences students, with the intent of helping them build general, multi-disciplinary scientific competencies. One goal is to be of authentic value to biology students in improving their understanding basic concepts in introductory biology and chemistry classes that depend on physical ideas and principles, such as chemical bonding, entropic effects, diffusion, and gradient driven flow. A second goal is prepare them to make clear and coherent conceptual sense of topics discussed in their upper division classes. A third is to help them develop a better understanding of the use of mathematical modeling in science. The strategy of the project is to create a first physics class for biology majors to be taken in their second year. This permits us to assume they have a familiarity with concepts in biology (cell structure, basic biochemistry), chemistry (molecules, bonding), and mathematics (calculus, exponentials, probability). It permits us to focus on materials that will be helpful in upper division classes (cell biology, neurophysiology, physical chemistry). We take a broad approach to physics covering a range of scales from the organismal to the cellular and molecular. As a result, the class gives more emphasis to thermodynamics, kinetic theory, and statistical physics than is usual.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The project has explicit methods and strategies for pedagogy and materials development. Our pedagogical methods include activities to prepare students for reading and interpreting scientific text, and having them employ their learning in problem solving and group work both in and out of class. Multiple types of tasks engage students and encourage deeper thinking and reflection: complex problem solving in realistic contexts, essay questions, multiple-representation translations, and estimation problems to build a sense of scale and confidence with quantification. The laboratories retain a pedagogical focus on sense-making and introduce modern tools as well as approaches to deal with large datasets. In all cases, we focus on building an understanding of basic physics but also give frequent problems and examples that illustrate the value of such an understanding in biological and chemical situations, often tied to explicit examples discussed in their introductory biology and chemistry classes. Our methods and strategies for materials development use a design-delivery-research development cycle that begins with negotiations among multi-disciplinary faculty teams, creation of activities, careful observation and analysis of students working in groups on the activities, reflective post-activity interv

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Our methods and strategies for assessment coordinate with our research-based development of activities. Initial proposed assessment tasks for content and epistemological knowledge are used as formative assessment and the results used to refine and improve the tasks. Collections of summative tasks for each new topic included in the class are built, including open-ended and reflective essay questions with detailed rubrics. Student attitudes and expectations are evaluated with a pre-post Likert-scale survey that contains segments on student views on coherence vs. fragmentation, independence vs. authority, and on the value of multi-disciplinary knowledge in learning biology.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: We have gone through two years of development and testing in small classes. The 30 biology students in our 2012-13 test class were almost all juniors and seniors, and, although they self-selected to join the class, had a GPA similar to the larger population. At the end of the class this group showed a strong increase in their perception of the value of physics in biology. When asked 'Is physics useful for understanding biological phenomena?' more than half chose 'very useful' and the rest chose 'somewhat useful', a large shift from their perception of the beginning of the class, where 35% chose 'of little or no use'. Six of the 30 signed up for a summer MatLab 'bootcamp' on computational methods run by one of our instructors (a biophysicist), and 5 are now involved in undergraduate research at the interface of physics and biology. Nearly half applied to be Peer Instructors in the first large-lecture implementation (2013). The biology faculty at Maryland were enthusiastic about the new approach and voted overwhelmingly to make the new course the required two-semester introductory-physics sequence required of all biology majors. We have preliminary interest from faculty in the chemistry department, who see our approach as potentially being a more appropriate physics course for their students than the more traditional one. There is a growing interest of both the physics education community and the biophysics community in reforming Introductory Physics for the Life Sciences, as evidenced by the number of sessions and attendees at those sessions at American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) meetings. Additional evidence is provided by the invitations we have received to give talks on the project at physics departments around the country (including North Dakota State, Georgetown, University of Miami, UMBC, Rutgers, Dickinson College, George Mason, Harvard, Kansas State, and Towson State).

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The biggest unexpected challenge was in the different tacit assumptions and expectations about introductory university education among the distinct disciplines. While choosing topics to cover did involve considerable negotiation, the biggest challenge was in understanding what lay behind the different ways the different disciplines approached instruction. We found this first in discussions among faculty and then in interviews with biology students. Two examples are: (1) many of our physicists want to emphasize abstract, generic examples while many of our biologists and chemists want to emphasize specific real world cases; (2) many of our physicists want to express relationships in terms of symbolic equations, retaining the symbols until the very last; many of our biologists and chemists want to explicate the relationships to particular cases using real values right away. We developed a blended approach, using a style that appeared somewhat familiar to all, but stretched everyone a bit. Interviews suggest this worked well with the students.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: As part of our dissemination effort we have published (or submitted) 15 peer reviewed papers and 8 conference papers. These describe some of the challenges to creating an interdisciplinary physics, and specifically discuss the new content, including chemical energy, entropy and free energy, and developing biologically authentic examples. These papers have appeared in both physics and biology education journals. We have also given 42 presentations of our findings and methods at conferences and universities, including Physics Education (AAPT, ICPE), Biology Education (SABER), and Interdisciplinary STEM Education (TRUSE) meetings. We delivered a two-hour workshop at the AAPT 2013 summer meeting to about 35 interested faculty. Our materials are available on the open web and we are currently in preliminary negotiations with a number of potential adopters. Materials, publications, and presentations can be found at

Acknowledgements: This material is based upon work supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute NEXUS grant and the US National Science Foundation under Awards DUE 11-22818 and DGE 07-50616.

Using Authentic Research In Uncontrolled Environments

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Title of Abstract: Using Authentic Research In Uncontrolled Environments

Name of Author: Douglas Causey
Author Company or Institution: University of Alaska Anchorage
Author Title: Professor of Biological Sciences
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Ecology and Environmental Biology
Course Levels: Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: A mixture of the above, Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.)
Keywords: Socioscientific reasoning, authentic research, inquiry learning, ecology, assessment

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Michael P. Mueller, University of Alaska Lauren A. Caruso, University of Alaska

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: When is authentic research in undergraduate biology education too authentic? We may have come close to finding an answer to this question in an experimental course, Exploration Ecology, offered in Fall 2012 at the University of Alaska Anchorage. This was designed as an advanced upper-division lecture and laboratory experience using inquiry-driven learning and authentic research as a means for students to apply socioscientific reasoning skills in ecological contexts. These skills utilize authentic scientific problems that are embedded in social and ethical contexts. They are focused specifically on empowering students to consider how science-based issues and the decisions made concerning them reflect ethical principles applied to their own lives, as well as the physical and social world around them.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Our immediate goals were to enable students to design and undertake research using these skills, and within the context of competing ethics of development, protection, and management prevalent here. We focused on the study and collection of baseline ecological data in nearby remote landscapes where few data exist, under the real constraints of time, resources, and logistics. The constraints were identified through their own consultations with research scientists at state and federal agencies, other professionals, local people, and industry. These and others constituted the community of practice that served as a resource, as an audience, and in a few cases, as participants in student-initiated research. Our pedagogical goals were focused on better understanding the complexity of implementing authentic research in realistic field-based settings, developing a flexible and responsive (‘organic’) instructional design, and in creating relevant assessments of student progress. In practice, students interviewed members of the community of practice to determine which were their highest priorities for research or knowledge discovery within our context. Using these as potential research foci, students self-assembled into interest groups (e.g., plant communities, stream ecology, moose foraging behavior) and worked to design scientific research projects constrained by the factors listed above. We refined the content and delivery of lectures and laboratories throughout the course to match the progress and the maturation of student project activities. This ‘Just In Time’ educational approach provided an immediate relevancy otherwise difficult to achieve in a standard predetermined syllabus.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: We based our assessment of student success by typical self-assessment instruments and surveys, narratives by students and participants, as well as preparation of manuscripts for publication.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: In all, 15 students participated in four distinct projects ranging from an ecological study of juvenile salmonids to foraging behavior in moose. All of these ecological projects were field-based in semi-remote environmental settings, and in every case represented original research never conducted before this class. Students presented the results of their one-semester projects in a public meeting attended by agency scientists, industry representatives (e.g., mining, fisheries), top administrators of the university (Deans, Chancellor), and the general public. Their research results were featured in public media (newspaper, TV), State and Federal agency publications, and industry professional associations. Two of the students received full support fellowships on the basis of their published research, and several are working in paid internships with agencies to continue their particular projects. All of these showed that the approach we describe here succeeded as an effective paradigm for integrative biological science education at advanced levels.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: We did not anticipate how difficult it would be to implement an experimental course of this type. We had planned for the educational challenges and in fact looked forward to them; this is what we do best. But every other aspect of this course was new as well and, consequently, we and the students were confronted with academic and administrative disconnect almost daily that reflected the complexities faced by all professional scientists and researchers. They ranged from a somewhat trivial concern that the credit hours assigned to this course were probably insufficient for the work performed by the students to a substantial set of potential liability issues that nearly cancelled the course mid-semester. Student research results were vigorously debated: each agency, industry group, and stakeholders use and interpret data in ways that reflect their own political realities, not necessarily in synchrony with unfettered academic freedom. Ultimately, all of these challenges were resolved. Students were directly involved in all of these issues and learned how critical scientific research can be in authentic contexts.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: The methodology, curriculum, and outcomes have been published widely within the state of Alaska by news media and traditional means. As a consequence of the excellence in student achievement in this single course, our department is adopting the approach used here as a model for similar upper division courses. Minus, we hope, the controversies.

Acknowledgements: We would like to acknowledge assistance and support by the US Forest Service -- Chugach National Forest, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, US Geological Survey -- Alaska Science Center, the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, the Aleut Native Corporation, and the Eyak Native Corporation. We especially thank Cynthia Annett, Sarah Boario, Thomas Case, Tim Charnon, Mark Chilcote, Greg Hayward, Jessica Ilse, Joshua Leffler, Terri Marceron, David Tessler for professional assistance in the classroom, laboratory, and field settings.

Developing Scalable Research Experiences for Undergraduates

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Title of Abstract: Developing Scalable Research Experiences for Undergraduates

Name of Author: Paul Ulrich
Author Company or Institution: Georgia State University
Author Title: Lecturer
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Faculty Development, Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: A mixture of the above, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: theme based laboratory large university

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Dabney Dixon, Georgia State University

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: We are developing Signature Research Experiences at Georgia State University (GSU) to help students establish critical thinking and technical skills in biology. GSU is a large, urban institution with a diverse student body and ~2500 biology majors. Our very strong commitment to diversity is reflected in our No.1 rank among U.S., not-for-profit institutions in awarding bachelor’s degrees to African-American students. Annually, ~8% of biology majors engage in research, and we seek to broaden exposure via cooperative, team-based projects supervised by non-tenure track (NTT) faculty. In the coming five years, we anticipate undergraduate research initiatives to increase impact to 15% of majors (375 students), improve scientific writing and integration of facts within conceptual frameworks, and build momentum among a greater proportion of faculty.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: GSU seeks to develop student research and encourage success in STEM careers. In the last three years, we have expanded undergraduate research opportunities. Student teams take ownership in research ranging from natural product chemistry and identification of bacteriophages to protein targeting and bioremediation. In Fall 2011, we established the Undergraduate Research Center (URC). The URC is a focal point for teams of undergraduates and non-tenure track (NTT) mentors to pursue biological questions while encouraging scientific development of students. We also provide Signature Research Experiences to an increasing number of students via theme-based laboratories such as the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) team and a natural products course. In Spring 2013, we will launch a course integrating basic bioinformatics and the molecular laboratory bench. Each research opportunity develops skills used by STEM professionals. Our learning objectives include (1) critical thinking (inquiry, discovery, hypothesis testing), (2) ability to use primary literature, (3) mastery of technical skills, (4) scientific communication (posters, presentations, written reports), and (5) training in scientific conduct (e.g. responsible conduct certification). Our model for scaling up research experiences to our large student body taps leadership by NTT faculty, and we have found that undergraduate education and biological research are not mutually exclusive. Non-tenure track faculty represent 40% of biology faculty and are poised to prioritize student development via research and (ultimately) publication. NTT faculty direct research groups at low cost and are a key component of our strategy. We are building the program by developing research teams of 15 undergraduates per NTT mentor and occupy six research laboratories (~6500 ft2) vacated by faculty moved to newer buildings. Importantly, undergraduate research oversight will be included in the course load of NTT faculty.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: We will compare student success and progression to the degree for students involved in research and those not involved in research. We will choose matched controls based on credit hours completed, GPA at the start of the research, first generation status, Pell status, and gender. These data will be drawn from a rich database maintained by GSU. Our efforts to date have focused on comparison of research participants in URC and iGEM projects to non-research peers with a standardized quiz to assess conceptual mastery and technical understanding. While these efforts are still in the development phase, student responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Lastly, we will be considering impact of research exposure via publication and recruitment of student researchers to graduate programs.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: STEM initiatives in GSU Biology have positively affected undergraduates within the department, graduate student mentors, faculty perception of undergraduate research, and support from administrative stakeholders. Notable achievements and impacts of students in the URC and iGEM are a first place award in a university research competition, acceptance as an Oak Ridge Institute of Science Education fellow at the Centers for Disease Control, improved writing skills, heightened confidence, and experimental independence. Graduate student mentors have been active in the iGEM team, overseeing undergraduate projects in the laboratory and laboratory meetings. Student researchers continue to bolster growth by word-of-mouth marketing of their experiences to their peers.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Given the number of students and our urban setting, we face challenges to undergraduate research participation including space allocation, workload demands, and assumptions regarding activity of instructional, non-tenure track (NTT) faculty in biological research. We are overcoming space allocation through utilization of research labs vacated by movement of tenure track researchers to new facilities. Finding laboratory space involves persistence, strong relational networks, and creative reconsideration of underutilized areas. Grant proposals have been strategic elements to develop university interest in undergraduate research development. Biases in organizational culture present a significant challenge in the form of the tacit assumption that instructional faculty lack credentials or appropriate training for oversight of research. This roadblock manifests at both internally and externally. Internally, we observe responses ranging from enthusiasm to surprise to dismissal. Externally, we find that reviewers of STEM proposals may question the roles of instructional faculty in undergraduate research. We continue to work to raise awareness of the value of NTT direction of undergraduate research. Historically, instructional and research activities have been largely independent in our department, and we seek to bridge this gap with a culture of undergraduate inquiry as prioritized in the V&C 2009 report and the GSU Strategic Plan. Convincing policy and decision makers in the university will be critical because scaling up research as an instructional priority will increase instructional and administrative burdens. These burdens must transition from ‘overload’ to an appreciated component of NTT workload. We anticipate this cultural shift will develop as we encourage and incentivize development inquiry-based research by NTT.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Our program is young, but we are developing a strategy to leverage conference opportunities, informal contacts, and branding to improve visibility and information exchange. Among the formal conference opportunities available for us to share our successes and challenges with the STEM community include meetings of the Georgia Academy of Sciences, STEM Teaching and Learning Conference (Statesboro, GA), and AAAS Vision and Change. Smaller contexts include interactions and tours with experts visiting GSU via our STEM Education Series. We anticipate one-on-one interactions with these individuals will counteract tacit assumptions that NTT instructional activity is solely classroom-based. Our physical footprint at GSU is growing and focused in one building, and we are seeking to ‘brand’ this space by increasing visibility, highlighting participants, and increasing our online presence. Recently, one of our talented students was featured in a story by the GSU College of Arts and Sciences. Students are influential elements of our dissemination strategy and have been active at our science club fair, the annual Georgia State Undergraduate Research Conference and nationally at the International Genetically Engineered Machines Jamboree, and recruit and train new students.

Acknowledgements: GSU Technology Fee Program; GSU STEM Program

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 (, 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.

Aligning Introductory Biology Curricula to Vision and Change

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Title of Abstract: Aligning Introductory Biology Curricula to Vision and Change

Name of Author: David Koetje
Author Company or Institution: Calvin College
Author Title: Professor
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses, General Biology, Integrative Biology
Course Levels: Faculty Development, Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: A mixture of the above, Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: Introductory biology curriculum, Contemporary societal challenges, Engaging research, Systems thinking, Student-centered learning

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Amy Wilstermann, Calvin College Herbert Fynewever, Calvin College

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: In 2009 Calvin College’s Biology Department reformed its introductory curriculum to better align with the goals of Vision and Change. Indeed, the principle objective of Living Systems, the first course in our new curriculum, is to introduce students to biological core concepts and to begin the process of core competency development. In this course, students encounter biological knowledge and skills in the context of contemporary societal challenges including biodiversity and climate change; food, fuel, nutrition, and sustainability; and public health and personalized medicine. While engaging these issues, students consider the connectedness of living systems, the complexity of societal challenges, and the need for integrative approaches to resolve them. Approximately 200 students have enrolled in this course each year; two-thirds of whom are biology majors that enroll in subsequent courses in the new curriculum. Our second course (Cellular and Genetic Systems) and third course (Ecological and Evolutionary Systems) focus on how living systems function simultaneously at different spatial and temporal scales. An NSF TUES grant is funding reforms in the laboratory component of these courses, designing multi-week modules that use core competencies and concepts to address compelling research questions related to issues explored in Living Systems. We are focusing on competencies pertaining to methodologies (e.g., quantitation involving standard curves) and scientific communication (e.g., graphical interpretation and inferences from data). To date, nearly 100 students have participated in revised laboratory investigations. Our new introductory curriculum culminates in a Research Design and Methodology course involving extended research projects that address ecological and human health problems associated with Plaster Creek, a highly impacted local stream. This course gives students opportunities to integrate concepts from biology and other STEM disciplines.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Change does not happen all at once. To nurture an environment conducive to reform, we employed a highly collaborative long-term process of faculty and curriculum development focused on learner-centered, scientific teaching. Motivated by the realization that our old curriculum and pedagogies did not align well with new understandings of how people learn, we sought to blend practices based on constructivist and cognitivist learning theories. Early innovators were encouraged to identify and pilot learner-centered pedagogies and assessment options through literature reviews and conference participation. As faculty discussed insights and concerns about these pilot efforts in departmental colloquia, a clearer vision emerged. And so began a growing local movement for educational reforms aligning with Vision and Change. In our Living Systems course, we provide opportunities for students to actively engage core concepts through problem-based, inquiry-driven, collaborative explorations based on relevant societal challenges. These investigations are designed to not only expand biological knowledge, but also facilitate the development of communication and collaboration skills, and enable students to recognize their roles as change agents in the world. The Research Design and Methodology course requires students to apply the knowledge and skills gained in preceding courses to address challenges associated with a polluted local watershed. With funding from the Great Lakes Innovative Stewardship Through Education Network (GLISTEN, and in collaboration with community partner organizations, student teams conduct research on various projects including stream bank erosion and restoration, coliform bacteria and sediment loads, and invasive exotic species. Beyond providing valuable learning opportunities for students, these projects have enhanced community efforts to monitor and implement actions in its watershed management plan.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Direct and indirect assessments have enabled us to evaluate gains in students’ conceptual knowledge as well as gains in competencies and metacognition. Pre- and post-assessments show that significant gains are achieved in the mastery of biological concepts and the resolution of common misconceptions. The Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG) tool has been used to evaluate student attitudes about biology and perceptions of their own learning.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Results indicate that students appreciate the emphasis on societal issues, problem-solving, interconnections with other disciplines, and development of collaborative learning skills. They feel that they learn a great deal about biological concepts, despite that fact that we have de-emphasized ‘coverage’. On SALG surveys, about two-thirds of our students report good to great gains in their interest in discussing biology-related issues with friends or family. Impacts among biology department faculty on our campus include exposure to and practice of novel course development, course implementation, and pedagogical strategies. A particularly valuable component of our approach has been the inclusion of students in the course development process. Students participated in the selection of course content and in the preparation of classroom activities. Another feature of our course development and implementation strategy has been the formation of collaborative instructor teams. These teams have facilitated discussions that have guided course revisions and provided avenues to share best practices. As faculty join an instructor team, they have opportunity to acquire a new toolkit of active learning pedagogies from experienced colleagues. These faculty development gains can then be used to affect change in courses throughout the curriculum. Our reform efforts have also had impacts beyond our department. The NSF-funded laboratory revision project is led by an interdisciplinary team. This team of seven faculty representing biology, chemistry, and mathematics, has organized faculty development workshops for colleagues (60 participants) across the science division that have prompted greater collaboration among faculty that teach at the introductory level. Our curriculum revisions have also provided opportunities to share Vision and Change goals, and curriculum development and implementation strategies at national conferences.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: First-year students tend to approach learning of biology concepts by focusing on bold-face words in their textbook. They have little experience thinking things through or understanding the complex dynamic behaviors of biological systems. To resolve this problem, we added a short module to the beginning of our Living Systems course that introduces students to systems thinking and provides opportunities to practice approaching complex problems using systems methods. We also found that many students with prior experience working in groups had not gained the skills necessary to do so effectively. To address this problem, we added several activities to the beginning of our Living Systems course that introduce students to collaboration strategies and promote effective communication, productivity, and conflict resolution.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: To date we have presented elements of our curricular reforms at regional and national meetings (including SENCER meetings, Next Generation STEM Learning Conference, and TUES PI Conference). SENCER is now featuring Living Systems as a model course: Our NSF TUES project includes dissemination plans involving publication of manuscripts, dissemination of lab materials via peer-reviewed databases, and presentations in faculty development workshops.

Acknowledgements: Elements of our project are funded by NSF TUES grant #DUE-1140767.