Integrating Research into the Freshman Experience

Return to search results | New search

Title of Abstract: Integrating Research into the Freshman Experience

Name of Author: Joel Schildbach
Author Company or Institution: Johns Hopkins University
Author Title: Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.)
Keywords: advanced placement, laboratory, metagenomics, research,

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Forrest Spencer, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Our biology change project targets the freshman year of students interested in biological sciences. Many of our students arrive at Johns Hopkins with Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam scores that qualify them for credit for our introductory biology course. Despite their exam scores, these students have varying levels of biology knowledge, yet most are loath to forego the credit and enroll in our General Biology course. The Department of Biology offers relatively few other options for freshmen. In addition, while we strongly encourage our students to pursue independent research, freshmen have an especially difficult time finding lab positions for a variety of reasons.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: To expand the options for freshmen, and to engage them in worthy activities both in the classroom and in the lab, we embarked on a two-phase project supported by funds from the Office of the Provost. In the first of these we successfully applied to the Science Education Alliance of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to bring the phage hunting project lab to Hopkins. This project lab starts its third year in the fall. The second phase is a course titled ‘Genetics, Genomics and Evolution’ which began in the spring, 2013 term. This is an introductory --- but not a survey --- course that explores topics in genetics through lecture, class activities, discussions and labs. The course content focuses on principles of genetics. To give the students ownership of their lab results, the lab exercises examined the students’ oral microbiome, culminating with participation in the American Gut citizen science project to identify microbial species in an oral swab.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Outcomes, including perceived gains in learning and lab skills and changes in attitude toward science and research, are documented using the SEA-CURE survey for the phage lab, and the SALG tool for the genetics course.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Over 80 freshmen have experienced at least one semester of the phage lab and/or the genetics course, and report increased confidence in their lab abilities, increased interest in research, and a high level of satisfaction with the course. The lessons learned are being applied as the university prepares to open a new building dedicated to undergraduate teaching labs. Several departments are reviewing lab course offerings and are designing exercises and lab courses that are more open-ended and inquiry-based, and that yield new scientific data.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Both courses posed practical problems of scheduling. The course times had to avoid the standard freshmen lecture and lab courses (introductory chemistry, calculus, physics), and also had to be scheduled when both lab and lecture space were available. The combination of lecture, activity and lab in the genetics course is unusual for Hopkins, and presented unique scheduling issues. The class had to have long enough periods to allow for lab work, but short enough to avoid conflicts and complicating students’ schedules. We also met resistance from some faculty who view lab courses as a method to teach lab techniques instead of a mechanism for teaching about the process of scientific research. To counter the resistance, we began and will continue to engage in a long-term educational process. We will stress a focus on intended outcomes and will advocate for successful pursuit of long-term lab projects and confidence in lab skills and the ability to pursue scientific research being explicitly stated as worthy outcomes. Collection of data on outcomes will continue, as will explorations of how to scale up the change. Finally, despite requiring an Advanced Placement exam score of 5 for the genetics class, we found that the students had a wide range in their levels of understanding of basic biology. In response, we revised our assumptions about student knowledge, provided more basic background reading, and used more in-class discussions and writing exercises to better assess knowledge and learning.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We anticipate discussing the course and our evaluation of it during the next Johns Hopkins University Gateway Sciences Initiative Symposium, scheduled January, 2014.

Acknowledgements: Funding supporting the course was provided by the Office of the Provost, Johns Hopkins University. The SEA-PHAGES is a program funded and administered by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and we are grateful for their training and support.