Once Weekly Structured Group Work Narrows Achievement Gap

Return to search results | New search

Title of Abstract: Once Weekly Structured Group Work Narrows Achievement Gap

Name of Author: Samantha Elliott
Author Company or Institution: St. Mary's College of Maryland
Author Title: Associate Professor
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: introductory biology curriculum revision student-centered learning real-world application minority retention

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Holly L. Gorton, St. Mary's College of Maryland Lin Y. Muilenburg, St. Mary's College of Maryland

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Our goal was to increase overall student success in our first semester majors introductory biology course, and specifically retain underrepresented minorities in the discipline, by changing our curriculum to include some best practices as outlined in the Vision and Change report.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: We changed the structure of the course from three Socratic lectures (with clickers and some demonstrations) per week, to two Socratic lecture days (as done previously) and one day of small-group, active-learning workshops. We utilized a variety of approaches in these workshops (mathematical calculations, data collection and analysis, primary literature, case studies, molecular models, role play and debate) to apply lecture content in an authentic scientific and/or real life context.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: We assessed students from the Fall 2009 and 2010 (before implementation, n=332) and Fall 2011 and 2012 semesters (after implementation, n=333). Assessments included: overall course grades, performance on final exam, ability to enroll in the next course of the majors sequence, and ability to answer lower- and higher-order thinking questions based upon Bloom's taxonomy. We will follow the retention of these students within the rest of the majors curriculum.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: All students illustrated significantly greater success in the course (overall grades, final exam performance, ability to answer both lower and higher order questions) after the curricular redesign, as compared to before curriculum implementation. However, the most striking impact was in our minority students, who went from a 25% achievement gap (n=65) before implementation to a 10% achievement gap (n=69) after implementation, as compared to Caucasian students in the course. Enrollments in the second semester course increased, and student success in the second semester was no significantly different from 2009-2012.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: There were many challenges, but not necessarily unexpected ones. This approach necessitated a greater teaching load on the course instructors, and required institutional support in the development and implementation (including supply costs) of the new curriculum. We anticipated challenges based upon teaching styles of the different instructors, but there was no difference in student performance between the sections.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Our data has been shared at various regional and national conferences, and we are currently writing up the manuscript for publication. We hope to share our resources to allow others to adopt the approach at other campuses.

Acknowledgements: This work was supported by external funds from the University System of Maryland and the Lumina Foundation (grant to HLG), and from internal funds from St. Mary's College of Maryland (SMCM). The authors thank the SMCM Biology department (students and faculty), and administration for their support of this project.