Community-Based Inquiry Improves Critical Thinking in STEM

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Title of Abstract: Community-Based Inquiry Improves Critical Thinking in STEM

Name of Author: Ian Quitadamo
Author Company or Institution: Central Washington University
Author Title: Professor of Biology and Science Education
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Biotechnology, Cell Biology, General Biology, Genetics
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Faculty Development, Introductory Course(s), Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: Adding to the literature on how people learn, Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development, Mixed Approach
Keywords: critical thinking, inquiry, assessment, community, faculty development

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Our major goals are to use Community-Based Inquiry (CBI) to measurably improve student critical thinking outcomes and to build faculty expertise and capacity to teach for critical thinking in STEM courses. CBI efforts are key to transforming STEM teaching and learning at Central Washington University. Students should graduate with well-developed critical thinking skills. Faculty should be highly engaged in effective STEM teaching practice. Community stakeholders should know the value of a higher education. CBI brings all these elements together and provides an immersive, engaging, and effective experience for students and faculty. Robust assessment allows data-driven teaching and learning decisions. Focus on key concepts, in-depth exploration, and development of oral and written communication provides a lasting learning experience in ways that build STEM knowledge, skills and dispositions.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: CBI immerses students and faculty in authentic inquiry and problem solving of real-world issues and brings together higher education and local communities in ways beneficial to both. In courses that use a CBI framework, students apply knowledge of key concepts in real time, develop a robust set of scientific investigative skills, and internalize scientific dispositions over time. Example projects across various STEM courses include watershed and agricultural chemistry, nutrition biochemistry of K-12 school lunches, local factors affecting climate change, and mathematical modeling of county public health data. CBI course frameworks are based on research on how people learn. They integrate prior knowledge assessment, tailor instruction to meet student learning needs based on data, and use a panel of alternative assessments to engage students from diverse backgrounds in learning. Outcomes-aligned assessments during the course identify content and thinking strengths and weakness, document learning growth over time, and help students become self-aware learners. External pre- and post-assessments of critical thinking provide a means to compare gains between traditional and CBI courses and enable informed decision-making in STEM teaching. CBI uses a collaborative faculty community to troubleshoot and build courses that work for students. Critical thinking results are shared openly and factors statistically identified that produce maximal critical thinking gains. Aside from benefits to student learning, CBI provides faculty and administration with tangible evidence of teaching quality that are used to enhance professional files and support promotion and tenure decisions.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: An external pre/post-test evaluation of critical thinking has been used to document gains for traditional and CBI courses. In STEM disciplines where standardized content measures are available, content gains have also been evaluated. Surveys and classroom observations document frequency of use of traditional and alternative assessments. External faculty have also conducted independent evaluations of CBI effectiveness. A large database of dozens of instructional variables has been constructed and statistically evaluated to identify key variables that affect critical thinking gains. These measures are in addition to outcomes-based rubrics and other evaluation tools being deployed during the academic term.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: We have studied a wide variety of STEM courses in Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, Geology, Mathematics, Psychology, Physics, and Sociology for over 15 years. Almost universally, traditionally-taught courses show no gains in critical thinking, with female and minority students disproportionally receiving fail/withdraw/drop grades. CBI reduces this teaching and learning bias and produces on average 5-8 national percentile gains in critical thinking in one academic term. Faculty who have used CBI state they will never return to teaching the 'old way' because of how engaged their students have become, how much better they perform, and how much more fun it is to teach in a CBI classroom. Currently, a key group of CBI instructors is paving the way for other faculty to try these methods, partly because of the data that shows CBI works better, and partly because evidence from faculty courses can be used to document professional effectiveness and growth.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Fully implementing CBI the first time through can be overwhelming due to the scope of what may need to change in a faculty member's course. Our data shows that even relatively modest changes toward CBI produce significant gains in critical thinking (e.g. building case studies into lecture, using Socratic seminars instead of traditional lecture, oral exams, etc). What appears to be needed for most faculty members wanting to use CBI is a full collaborative evaluation and unpacking of the approaches that faculty member has done previously, then identifying desired student learning outcomes and reverse engineering their course(s) using research-supported best practices and data showing what works. In some cases, faculty needed to work through their new CBI course one time before they became more comfortable and started to see the critical thinking and other results they hoped for. The role of the collaborative faculty community played a key role during this transition time. Another aspect of the collaborative community in the importance of building graduate student training into CBI and having graduate students become part of the solution by supporting faculty colleagues.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: CBI is becoming more well-established in the College of the Sciences at CWU. Dissemination occurs through personal communication, coordinated professional development activities, research presentations and manuscripts, invited seminars at CWU and other institutions, and professional meetings. We now build various aspects of CBI into K-12 science teacher training and graduate student training. We are currently seeking institutional support to widen CBI beyond the College of the Sciences as faculty from other colleges have asked to join our initiative.

Acknowledgements: We thank the National Science Foundation (DUE 1023093) for their generous funding, the co-PI team of Ian Quitadamo, Martha Kurtz, Jim Johnson, and Carin Thomas, our research assistants Kristy Kappenman, Page Wooller, and Rani Lewis, and support staff Eric Foss, Jonathan Betz, and Mary Bottcher at CWU.