Bringing Change to Introductory Biology Courses in the U.S.

Return to search results | New search

Title of Abstract: Bringing Change to Introductory Biology Courses in the U.S.

Name of Author: Gordon Uno
Author Company or Institution: University of Oklahoma
Author Title: Professor and Chair
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: network, introductory, collaborations, professional development, biology education research

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The Introductory Biology Project (IBP) is supported by a 5-year, NSF RCN-UBE award with the goal of building a network of scientists, science educators, and instructors who are engaged in the study, delivery, and revision of Introductory Biology courses all around the country. This network of faculty continues to grow through the interactions among individuals at IBP-supported meetings and conferences. So far, six small, innovative meetings of 20-40 faculty, and two 2 large, synthesis meetings of over 150 people have been held by the IBP. All the meetings have focused on how to improve the Introductory Biology course at the undergraduate level, and what would be the 'ideal' experience for both students and faculty.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The six small meetings include those for: community college faculty at an annual conference of the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT); faculty of a scientific society (American Society for Microbiology); science faculty with education specialties (SFES) in Dallas; faculty interested in increasing the level of evolution taught in introductory courses held at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent); faculty who are responsible for the implementation of the introductory biology course at their institution (Biology Directors Consortium); and faculty who are interested in the professional development of those who teach in these basic courses, held in Phoenix. The two large meetings included: one at the National Academy of Sciences, a convocation on “Thinking Evolutionarily: teaching evolution across the biology curriculum;” and one at the AAAS headquarters in the summer of 2012. At the latter meeting, three concurrent sessions were held over a three-day period, during which workshops, papers, and plenaries were presented by biologists and biology educators who have conducted research on problems associated with the Introductory Biology course and those who have developed curriculum materials or innovative teaching/learning methods for such courses.

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 NSF project was a collaboration between several institutions, including the AIBS (American Institute of Biological Sciences). The AIBS Education Director, Susan Musante, conducted several surveys of and interviews with faculty participants at all of the meetings, and published reports in the AIBS journal, BioScience. She was able to collect numbers of participants and to follow up to see what activities occurred as a direct result of attending one of the IBP meetings.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Among the impacts of the meetings that we have identified thus far, we discovered that novel mini-collaborations can be cultivated and have emerged as one important outcome of each of the IBP meetings. These mini-collaborations result as participants with similar interests are brought together, face-to-face, for the first-time, and as a consequence of their interactions in a formalized setting, new approaches and projects have been planned. In several cases, the IBP has supported the continued work of these mini-collaborations with additional funding at a very low level. However, this seed money has provided the opportunity for collaborators to meet at least one additional time face-to-face, which has greatly helped to nurture these new mini-collaborations in their important early phases. Several of these new collaborations have already resulted in new collaborative efforts, publications, or work-groups to develop proposals that address different issues related to Introductory Biology. One major publication that has been produced is “Thinking Evolutionarily,” published by the National Academies Press, which is a summary of the NAS convocation and which outlines the first steps toward implementing a greater evolutionary focus in our basic biology courses. We believe this could really have a major impact on the teaching of biology as we build on this meeting.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Although the grant was not funded to support professional development activities, this is the next essential step that needs to be promoted on a large scale---if change in the introductory biology course is to happen. One mini-collaboration at an IBP meeting has resulted in a working group that is developing a large professional development proposal focusing on research involving undergraduate biology programs.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: The IBP is now focusing on three important groups of faculty for the remainder of its funding period. These groups include: community college faculty, at whose institutions over 50% of all college students now receive their initiation into college-level biology in the introductory courses taught there. A second group of importance to IBP is comprised of those professionals who currently engage in the diversity of activities that are considered to be professional faculty development opportunities for those teaching in undergraduate Introductory Biology courses. These professional development experts include scientists who lead workshops at scientific society meetings, directors of campus teaching and learning centers, and faculty who conduct research on faculty professional development. A third group that the IBP will focus on in the coming year is the Biology Directors Consortium (BDC), which is a fledgling group consisting of individuals who are responsible for implementing Introductory Biology courses at their own institutions. Currently, a group of 30 have met a few times, once under the auspices of the IBP, however, this group would like to expand and become a nationally recognized organization. The number of students that the BDC group reaches is huge, and thus this group is critically important to future changes made in biology education and the dissemination of best practices across the country.

Acknowledgements: NSF Research Coordination Network--Undergraduate Biology Education program