Implementing Vision and Change in Introductory Biology

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Title of Abstract: Implementing Vision and Change in Introductory Biology

Name of Author: Paula Lemons
Author Company or Institution: University of Georgia
Author Title: Assistant Professor
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: General Biology
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Adding to the literature on how people learn, Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: Assessment, peer-mentoring, supplemental instruction, problem solving, online learning

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Norris Armstrong, University of Georgia

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Biology educators at the University of Georgia pursue multiple projects to meet the recommendations of Vision and Change. Although our projects are independent, we achieve synergy with regular group meetings that offer support and critical feedback. In this abstract, we provide information about the projects of two faculty members, Dr. Norris Armstrong and Dr. Paula Lemons: Armstrong Goals: 1. Improve assessment of student learning by incorporation of constructed response (CR) questions into very large introductory biology courses. 2. Improve students’ study skills and their ability to learn and apply concepts through voluntary, peer-mediated study sessions (Supplemental Instruction) Lemons Goals: 1. Improve students’ skills applying the process of science, i.e., interpreting and analyzing data and constructing evidence-based arguments. 2. Improve students’ comprehension and application of the concepts Evolution and Systems.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Armstrong is developing a system by which advanced undergraduates assist with instruction of very large introductory biology courses. The undergraduates help to score constructed response questions from exams and serve as Supplemental Instruction leaders facilitating optional, weekly, peer-mediated study sessions. Lemons and colleagues developed SOLVE-IT! to address students’ difficulties with the interpretation and analysis of data about Evolution and Systems. SOLVE-IT! is a self-directed, online program with three data-rich biology problems covering species concepts and ecological interactions. In SOLVE-IT! students: (1) construct initial solutions to problems; (2) respond to a series of multiple-choice questions about the process for solving each problem: clarifying the problem, analyzing scientific data, examining possible assumptions and drawing a conclusion. (3) revise initial solutions; (4) explain the problem-solving strategies used for each problem; (5) reflect on their responses and expert responses.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Armstrong: Goal #1: One of our colleagues has shown that using CR encourages students to make greater use of study strategies that employ cognitive active learning skills compared to exams that use multiple choice questions alone (see Stanger-Hall,, 2012). Dr. Armstrong is collecting data to see if using CR questions on exams results in similar changes to how students study in his large Introductory Biology course and if any changes observed carry over to subsequent classes. Goal #2: Supplemental Instruction program is being evaluated by student participation in the optional study sessions. If participation can be maintained at a reasonable level, the influence of participation in these sessions on student performance in class will be evaluated relative to that of comparable students who chose not to participate. Lemons and colleagues used two approaches to evaluate the impact of SOLVE-IT! First, they used a two-group, pre/posttest experimental design. The treatment group used the full, scaffolded version of SOLVE-IT!. The comparison group used an alternative version of SOLVE-IT! with problems but no scaffolds. They examined gains in student problem-solving from Exam 1 (pre-SOLVE-IT!) to Exam 2 (post-SOLVE-IT!). Exams 1 and 2 featured a multiple-choice and a constructed-response item that were very similar to the problems in SOLVE-IT! Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to compare mean scores from the treatment and comparison groups. Second, they used semi-structured interviews with a subsample of participants from the experimental study, including low-, average-, and high-performing students.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Armstrong: Goal #1: Preliminary data indicates that students in classes that use CR questions on exams increase their use of cognitively active strategies. These data also suggest that students at the beginning of a subsequent biology class use more active study strategies and fewer passive study strategies when their previous biology class use CR questions than when the previous class used MC exams questions only. Goal #2: We have offered Supplemental Instructions sessions for one year. Participation in these sessions (a high of approximately 20% of a 600 student class) has been good but needs to be improved. Lemons and colleagues found the following: (1) Using ANOVA, they found a marginally significant increase in the treatment group scores on the constructed-response plus multiple-choice items F(1, 149)=2.880, p=0.092. They found a significant increase in the treatment group scores on the constructed-response question F(1,149)=4.061, p=0.046. (2) Using semi-structured interviews, they found that most low- and average-performing students improved their reasoning skills, gained procedural knowledge in solving problems, and reached solutions more rapidly while working problems. Most of these students reported that they liked SOLVE-IT!, because it gave them a method for approaching biology problems. On the other hand, high-performing students reached solutions rapidly both before and after using SOLVE-IT! Additionally, some high-performing students did not like SOLVE-IT! because they did not need to be walked through solutions.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Armstrong found that an unexpected challenge to using CR questions in large classes is the time and effort needed to create new questions that are effective at assessing students understanding of a concept while also being straightforward to grade. Lemons and colleagues are currently considering how to adapt SOLVE-IT! for use in other biology courses. The most significant barriers to adaptation for propagation are (1) finding an affordable and efficient way to develop and program greater flexibility into SOLVE-IT! and (2) creating effective professional development opportunities to support faculty who want to teach problem solving using SOLVE-IT!

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Armstrong: Goal #1: Armstrong is currently seeking permanent support from the University to support UAs to assist large lecture classes. Goal #2: Armstrong is seeking ways to increase participation in Supplemental Instruction study sessions. Lemons and colleagues have disseminated their work through presentations at conferences. They are currently preparing manuscripts for publication. They also are seeking funding to redesign SOLVE-IT! for greater flexibility and to work with faculty who will use SOLVE-IT! to support problem-solving instruction in their courses.

Acknowledgements: Dr. Lemons acknowledges her colleagues on the SOLVE-IT! project: Hyunsong Kim, University of Georgia and Dr. Luanna Prevost, University of South Florida.