Multidisciplinary Effort to Address Education in New Biology

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Title of Abstract: Multidisciplinary Effort to Address Education in New Biology

Name of Author: Kari Clase
Author Company or Institution: Purdue University
Author Title: Associate Professor
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Biotechnology
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: undergraduate research; representations; biotechnology; technology; biological systems

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Kristy Halverson, University of Southern Mississippi Robin Heyden, Heyden Ty Jenna Rickus, Bindley Bioscience Center

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Biology as a discipline is changing, integrating more quantitative tools and technologies to tackle increasingly interdisciplinary global challenges. Change provides opportunities for collaboration across disciplinary boundaries and a need to engage students in the New Biology as discussed in recent reports. Change in biology can happen successfully outside of the traditional departmental barriers and current initiatives in engineering and technology can synergize with the changes in biology, resulting in changes with greater impact. However, opportunities for multidisciplinary collaborations must be encouraged and environments that encourage creative and innovative thinking should be nurtured. Just as biology research no longer resides within a single biology department, innovative biology education can cross departments and colleges as well. Students should be provided with opportunities to learn how to tackle these problems by integrating scientific ways of thinking with thinking from other disciplines such as engineering and technology. In response to these changes, a biotechnology minor was created as a collaborative effort among the Colleges of Agriculture, Pharmacy, Science and Technology at Purdue University. Curriculum was developed to reflect the changing biology and draw students from science, technology and engineering majors across campus. The unique course content and delivery demanded new approaches to assessment and measurement of student learning outcomes that led to new collaborations beyond the university. The multidisciplinary team that facilitated implementation includes expertise in biochemistry and molecular biology, biological engineering, educational technology, and biology education research.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: An authentic student research experience was implemented through participation in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Science Education Alliance. Interactive virtual world learning activities were integrated into the experience and students engaged in activities related to visualizing genomes, kept records of their experiences in an electronic lab notebook, posted about their experiences in a blog, annotated genomes in virtual research environments and presented their results in virtual world environments. Virtual learning environments had value in helping build a research community and the collaborative, social environment also contributed to student learning. The virtual learning environments offered new ways to explore questions of representation that were transparent in the types of representations students later generated. Students learned how to collaborate and share data using virtual resources in addition to practical laboratory skills. The use of technology also helped students to accurately develop a conceptual understanding of annotated genomes and they supported their genome definitions with data--this way of thinking was reflected in both their drawn representations and their verbal discussions. Engaging students in an authentic interdisciplinary research space helped them take ownership of their project and prepare for more real world scenarios because of the interactive nature and decision making required.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Qualitative data gathered from student responses, generated representations provided on questionnaires, interview transcripts, and observations during the virtual presentations were used for the data analysis. Approximately fifty students have been interviewed to examine the impact of the environment on their thinking about biological systems through genome representations and discussions. Open-ended pre-questionnaires were administered at the start of the courses that focused on student understanding of biological concepts and attitude questions. Students were also asked to draw and explain a representation for genomes as well as describe what they view as the purpose of a genome. Each student participated in multiple virtual and wet lab activities related to the research project.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Global efforts were achieved by student demand for authentic undergraduate experiences and engagement of other faculty. Efforts were made to align initiatives with the strategic direction of collaborating departments, colleges and ultimately the learning outcomes and strategic educational initiatives at the university level. The learning outcomes for the courses also align with the ABET standards for engineering resulting in their integration as science electives in engineering and technology major plans of study. Administration supported early pilot efforts with resources, including the flexibility to teach courses beyond departmental boundaries. Administrators also supported the creative use of an interdisciplinary bioengineering research space for the project, allowing students to take ownership of their research and contributing to the authentic experience.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Initially, it was a challenge to build fruitful collaborations and find the right fit for the needs and future direction of the project. Synergy was found by collaborating with faculty in other departments in science, engineering and technology that were also in the midst of change. Interdisciplinary conferences and seed funding opportunities have been critical for the initial success of the project and building collaborations across disciplinary and institutional boundaries.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: The project team has been working to effectively communicate the synergy between science, engineering and technology and support the value and impact of interdisciplinary collaborations through conference presentations, publications and research funding.

Acknowledgements: This research and interdisciplinary collaboration was supported by a visionary Grant from the Gordon Research Conference on Visualization in Science and Education (2009), the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (8 P20 GM103476-11) from the National Institutes of Health, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.