Early Intervention: Increasing ‘at Risk’ Student Success

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Title of Abstract: Early Intervention: Increasing ‘at Risk’ Student Success

Name of Author: Jacqueline Tanaka
Author Company or Institution: Temple University
Author Title: associate Professor Biology & MARC U*STAR Program Director
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Pre-introductory course
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Early intervention, Material Development
Keywords: Early intervention C.R.E.A.T.E. 'At risk' students Increased retention

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The innovative biology teaching approaches promoted by the Vision and Change report have resulted in changes in many college classrooms but the large class model, taught with PowerPoint lectures, is still in use in many biology classrooms. This course format poses challenges for students from low-performing high schools who enter college with few skills to achieve success in introductory biology classes. Consequently, underprepared students may leave the major or be forced to repeat introductory courses increasing the cost of and the time to degree. At a time when diverse research teams are recognized for their highly creative approaches, the loss of diversity impacts our capacity to deal with multiple health- and biology-related challenges. To better prepare ‘at risk’ students to succeed in the biology curriculum, we introduced an early, intervention-type course, Biological Reasoning, focused on effective learning strategies adopted from Vision and Change leaders. Enrollment in our course was offered to ~300 students who were entering Temple University from community college or who scored low on the math placement exam, a proxy for a weak high school science preparation. Additionally, students who previously failed introductory biology were advised to take this course before repeating the introductory course. Twenty-seven students registered and completed the course for 2 non-major credits in the fall of 2012.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The course structure was modified from C.R.E.A.T.E., an approach developed by Sally Hoskins and colleagues (Hoskins & Lopatto, 2011) to Consider, Read, Elucidate hypotheses, Analyze and interpret data, Think of the next Experiment. Biology content for the course was provided by newspaper and scientific articles selected to sustain interest in biology while students developed skills for academic success in college biology. In class, random pairs of students refined their concept mapping and cartooning of experimental data using the assigned articles. Students transformed data from tables to line graphs or histograms and annotated diagrams and figures to demonstrate their understanding of data. Using an overhead projector in the classroom, students shared their work illustrating different representations of the experiment. Using this approach, performance anxiety was reduced and all students became active participants. Class work was recorded in a notebook for instructor assessment several times during the semester. Course exams required students to apply their skills to analyze and describe new results. Mid-way through the course, student pairs developed a 1-page grant proposal providing students an opportunity to create an experiment. Each proposal was required to have a cartoon detailing the proposed experiments. The proposals were presented to the class by the instructor using the overhead projector; each student was a member of the ‘study section’ rating the proposals and providing comments. The ‘funded’ proposal was selected from the averaged review scores and the successful team was awarded extra credit. The final project in the course used sections of an article on mate selection of the Galapagos finches (Grant & Grant, 2008). During a 2 week period, passages from the article were assigned and analyzed in class. Students applied their skills to understand the research.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Informal feedback from the students was positive and a formal evaluation of the course will be carried out comparing grades in future biology and chemistry classes for invited-but-not-enrolled (not-enrolled) vs. enrolled students in Biological Reasoning. An incomplete analysis for enrolled students (2012) who took Introductory Biology 1 or 2 in the spring 2013 semester showed gains in their biology grades after the Biological Reasoning. Four students who previously took introductory biology earned a mean GP of 2.3 (C+ on 4.0 scale) in the introductory course after the intervention course; their mean GP on entering the intervention course was 0.25. Of the 9 incoming ‘at risk’ students who had not taken an introductory course previously, two did not pass the introductory course with a C (one C- and one D); the remaining 6 earned a mean 2.5 GP or a B-/ C+ post-intervention. A number of the enrolled students did not take introductory biology in the spring 2013 semester.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Institutional impacts will be addressed in the future and we anticipate several long-term outcomes. One outcome, if the intervention is successful, will be an expansion of the Biological Reasoning course into multiple sections with additional faculty and TAs trained to use these teaching approaches. Another much-desired outcome would be increased persistence in the major and decreased time to graduation. We hope that all students will develop a deeper understanding of scientific creativity in research and a deeper understanding of how research is evaluated and funded. Long-term goals might show an increase in the number of underrepresented students including minority students and first-generation, low-income students persisting in biology and entering graduate programs since this population makes up the majority of our ‘at risk’ student population.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: An unexpected challenge in teaching this course was the recognition that students had no ability to take notes in class. While they developed analytical skills to link concepts when given material to analyze, they were unable to extract ideas in a real-time, lecture environment. Simply put, when the instructor stopped writing on the board, they stopped writing with seemingly no idea how to construct information from the discourse. As discussed elsewhere, in classes where PowerPoint notes are provided to students, they do not clarify the information in the lecture and connect it to previous learning (Cohen et al., 2013). As a consequence, their understanding reflects the linear thinking demonstrated in a particular PPT lecture and they focus on memorizing facts rather than understanding and conceptualizing a framework for learning. Note-taking will be a future focus of Biological Reasoning.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: The intervention course will be taught again in the fall of 2013 with an analysis of pre- and post-semester skills taught in the course. We will survey the students using assessments similar to those used by Hoskins and colleagues for an upper-level undergraduate genetics course (Hoskins et al., 2007). We are optimistic that the course will increase persistence in the major, increase grades in subsequent science courses, and maintain interest in biology. Results will be disseminated to the biology teaching community at large through peer-reviewed publications. Reference List Cohen D, Kim E, & Tan J (2013). A Note-restructuring intervention increases studetns' exam scores. College Teaching 61, 95-99. Grant PR & Grant BR (2008). Pedigrees, assortative mating and speciation in Darwin's finches. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 275, 661-668. Hoskins SG & Lopatto D'SLM (2011). The C.R.E.A.T.E. approach to primary literature shifts undergraduates; self-assessed ability to read and analyze journal articles, attitudes about science, and epistemological beliefs. CBE Life Sci Educ 107, 368-378. Hoskins SG, Stevens LM, & Nehm RH (2007). Selective use of the primary literature transforms the classroom into a virtual laboratory. Genetics 176, 1381-1389.

Acknowledgements: Sally Hoskins and Kristy Kenyon