Experiential Research-Based Biology Curriculum

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Title of Abstract: Experiential Research-Based Biology Curriculum

Name of Author: Robert Newman
Author Company or Institution: North Carolina A & T State University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: General Biology
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.), Mixed Approach
Keywords: Faculty Engagement Student-centered Learning Research

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Mary A. Smith, North Carolina A & T State University Gregory Goins, North Carolina A & T State University Scott Harrison, North Carolina A & T State University Catherine White, North Carolina A & T State University

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Compared to the percentage of undergraduates at majority institutions who pursue graduate degrees and professional career fields in scientific research, African-Americans are underrepresented. Our institution, North Carolina A&T State University (NC A&T), is a large HBCU with approximately 400 biology majors, of which approximately 95% are African-American. With an ever-increasing gap in the educational backgrounds and academic abilities of incoming freshman, instructors are presented with the dilemma of how to engage all students in a manner that increases their potential for success. Meeting these challenges requires a comprehensive remapping of the biology curriculum to create an inquiry-based, student-centered learning environment that promotes independent, self-directed learning. Our overall goal is to adopt instructional strategies and a biology curriculum that will enhance student success, graduation rates and retention in the biological sciences. Toward that end, we are embracing the Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action recommendations on student-centered, active learning and incorporating the suggested core competencies and concepts for undergraduate biology education across our curriculum.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: One of our fundamental goals is to promote undergraduate research and scholarly productivity through student engagement with our faculty as a mechanism to improve student learning of content and practical skills in the biological sciences. In recognition of undergraduate research as catalyst for student success across gender, ethnicity and disciplines, we are adopting innovative practices in teaching for high-impact, authentic student research experiences and restructuring our curriculum to introduce and reinforce metacognitive and critical thinking skills at all levels. The freshman and sophomore core curriculum was revised to promote orientation in learning, scientific communication and student-initiated research experience, respectively. During the ‘First Year Experience’ course, we focus on metacognition and learning strategies to impact student retention in the major. This course also includes a unique advising paradigm that fosters faculty-student engagement that is critical for long-term student success. In the second year, the faculty facilitates student engagement in the research process, through student-initiated research projects that involve experimental design, scientific writing and a public defense. This approach replaces passive learning with the development of critical thinking and effective communication skills early in the student’s career. In parallel with curricular changes, we provide opportunities for interested students to participate in mentored ‘wet’ lab research and/or transformative, cross-disciplinary research at the interface of mathematics, computation, and biology on and off the campus throughout the year. The cross-disciplinary approaches offer institutional synergy and are important force multipliers in preparing underrepresented minority students to pursue bioscience career paths of the future.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Faculty members are using rubrics, pre- and post -tests, surveys and other assessment tools to determine levels of student achievement of student learning outcomes in their courses. At the departmental level, we use data from select courses, including a capstone course, student surveys, and the Educational Testing Services Field test to assess how well students achieve our program level learning outcomes. The effectiveness of teaching and research training programs in the department is also evaluated annually by an external assessment group to survey and track academic performance of students, and follow their participation in research and readiness for summer internships and graduate school. Finally, we assess student persistence in biology, graduation rates and matriculation into graduate and professional programs.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Early indicators in several areas suggest that the strategies outlined above are positively impacting student success. For instance, the number of students participating in independent research projects has increased over three-fold, from 13 students in 2007-08 to 43 students in 2011-12. Likewise, over the past five years the number of undergraduates presenting papers at scientific meetings annually has steadily increased from 6 in 2004-05 to 18 in 2007-08 to 36 in 2011-12. Moreover, for the past three years, several of our students earned awards and honors at these national and international conferences. Importantly, the increased focus on inquiry-based learning and undergraduate research has led to a significant rise in the number of faculty/student co-authored research papers, as well as student acceptance rates into masters and doctoral programs at research intensive universities over the past three years. The majority of the faculty members in the Department of Biology are contributing to our ongoing efforts to transform our curriculum, adopt student-centered learning in the classroom and engage students in independent research. In addition they are pro- active in participating in professional development activities on active student- centered learning, and are showing increased interest in contributing to the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Developing and adopting student-centered learning approaches is a challenge for most faculty members. Issues include lack of training in alternative pedagogy beyond the traditional lecture and fear that change will negatively impact student success in the classroom. Our strategies to encourage and engage faculty members in change include linking the adoption of the Vision and Change recommendations to university accreditation requirements; recognizing adoption of student- centered learning as part of excellence in teaching; supporting faculty travel to conferences and workshops for development in new pedagogy; encouraging faculty members who teach multiple sections of the same course to collaborate in adopting core competencies, concepts, strategies for active learning and assessment ; strategically hiring and assigning instructors to classes based on interest and expertise; discussing strategies and assessment data on courses in faculty meetings and during the annual faculty retreat; encouraging faculty members to report the results of successful evidence-based teaching strategies at conferences and to engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning; and encouraging instructors to participate in the Academy of Teaching and Learning (ATL) sponsored activities and the community of practice in the new College of Arts and Sciences STEM Center of Active Learning at North Carolina A & T State University.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Our plans for dissemination include faculty presentations of successful evidence - based teaching strategies at conferences and in publications on the scholarship of teaching and learning. We will present some of our findings on our research course at the AAC&U/PKAL Conference on Transforming STEM Education, in San Diego California, October 31 - November 2, 2013.

Acknowledgements: This on-going project is a collaborative effort of the Department of Biology. The contributions of the Associate Chair Roy Coomans, faculty members, Gregory Goins, Andrew Goliszek, Jessica Han, Scott Harrison, Randall, Hayes, Vinaya Kelkar, Patrick Martin, Perpetua Muganda, Robert Newman, Elimelda Ongeri, Checo Rorie, Joseph Whittaker, Catherine White and Cailisha Petty,and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Goldie Byrd are greatly appreciated.