University of Oregon Initiatives Improving Science Education

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Title of Abstract: University of Oregon Initiatives Improving Science Education

Name of Author: Eleanor Vandegrift
Author Company or Institution: University of Oregon
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: General Biology, General Education Courses
Course Levels: Faculty Development, Introductory Course(s), Undergraduate Research
Approaches: A mixture of the above, Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Training Future Faculty, Undergraduate Research
Keywords: Undergraduate research, Evidence-based pedagogy, Communication, Mentoring

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Judith Eisen, University of Oregon Peter O'Day, University of Oregon Michael Raymer, University of Oregon Mark Carrier, University of Oregon Cristin Hulslander, University of Oregon Ronald Beghetto, University of Oregon Mia Tuan, University of Oregon

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The University of Oregon (UO) Biology Department has three parallel initiatives to transform science education for biology majors and non-science majors. A key goal is to help students reach the core competency of communicating science. Additionally, components of our programs aim to cultivate aspects of students’ biological literacy, use evidence-based pedagogy in student-centered classrooms, and provide professional development in best teaching practices for current and future faculty.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: 1) The Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), an umbrella for 4 separate programs: NSF REU Site Program in Molecular Biosciences, NICHD R25 Summer Research Program, Alaska Oregon Research Training Alliance (NIH META Center for Excellence in Systems Biology), and Oregon Undergraduate Researchers, began in 1992 with HHMI funding to support summer research for UO biology undergraduates. SPUR is nationally recognized for promoting research careers for underrepresented groups. We offer rigorous, multifaceted, summer-long, mentored training experiences spanning the life sciences, professional development workshops, faculty seminars, an undergraduate research symposium, field trips, networking, and social events. 2) The Biology Undergraduate Lab Assistants (BULA) and Biology Tutors for Undergrads (BTU) harness the skills and energy of highly motivated undergraduates as peer teachers and increase the number of successful biology undergraduates students in 4 general biology courses, 3 honors biology courses, and 4-5 upper division courses. BULA/BTUs make it possible to bring intensive teaching practices into large classes. 3) The Science Literacy Program (SLP), launched in 2010 with HHMI funding, aims to improve General Education courses in biology, chemistry, geology, and physics for non-science majors with three main goals: improve student science literacy, train future STEM faculty in evidence-based pedagogy, and provide faculty support to develop or revise General Education courses. SLP courses use active, inquiry-based teaching that enables students to understand complex societal issues. SLP provides mentored teaching opportunities for STEM graduate and undergraduate students to design and present classroom activities and assessments. Faculty and students explore scientific teaching in a Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club and workshops co-sponsored by the UO Teaching Effectiveness Program (TEP).

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: SPUR: An internal two year grant from UO’s Graduate School and Center on Diversity and Community (CoDaC) provided support to evaluate student experiences (particularly of underrepresented minorities), clarify SPUR’s core mission and messaging to its constituents, and review learning objectives and outcomes. Assessment identified training of research mentors as key for successful undergraduate research experiences initiating a richer and more rigorous Mentoring Workshop. Such changes provide mentors with new ideas for effective mentoring, as assessed by surveys. BULA/BTU: Anecdotally, peer tutors achieve post-graduation goals including STEM teaching careers and admission to highly competitive professional and graduate schools. Faculty report improved student performance in introductory classes. SLP: An internal grant from UO College of Arts and Sciences helps sustain a partnership with CoDaC to evaluate SLP and determine to what extent we reach all students. We also collaborate with College of Education faculty to develop approaches to evaluate student science literacy behaviors. This work is ongoing.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: SPUR: We strive to enhance STEM opportunity and diversity. Typically, the participant profile is about 65% women, 70% underrepresented ethnic minorities, 40% economically disadvantaged, 80% with limited access to home institution research. Since 2005, there have been 4 participants with disabilities. In 2012, 8 students won national awards at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS). For 2013, the SPUR programs had over 900 applicants. BULA/BTU: The success of this program is indicated by both improved student performance in introductory classes and the remarkable record of our peer teachers in achieving post-graduation goals. SLP: Data indicate SLP courses increase students’ science literacy. Undergraduate scholars and graduate fellows who co-teach courses report more confidence in science teaching, communication abilities, and excitement to pursue teaching careers. Faculty report improved classroom experiences using evidence-based pedagogy. The SLP has also had campus wide recognition: it was featured in an article by TEP and is the model for a campus wide initiative to improve General Education courses.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: SPUR: Our biggest challenge is that we can only accept a small fraction of students who apply. We developed a Mentoring Workshop to address the concern that some researcher-mentors required more preparation and training to serve effectively. BULA/BTU: Our biggest challenge is making sure our program complies with UO policies, especially with respect to the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation, which has strict guidelines defining undergraduate teaching. We work closely with the UO Graduate School to ensure our program is in compliance with these policies and to monitor policy changes that may impact our program SLP: One significant challenge has been streamlining the processes for new course approval and for cross-listing interdisciplinary courses between departments. We worked toward this goal with the registrar and several administrative and faculty committees.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: SPUR: Many students who participate in SPUR present their work at ABRCMS. Faculty also serve as scientific judges and recruiters at ABRCMS. Several publications have included SPUR interns as authors. We hosted a Pacific Northwest regional workshop on creating and maintaining successful summer undergraduate research programs. BULA/BTU: Instructors of courses that regularly use BULA/BTUs actively recruit and solicit applications from students who have done well in these classes. Students also learn about BULA/BTU by word of mouth or by taking a course with a BULA/BTU. Finally, information about these teaching opportunities is on our webpage. SLP: The SLP Associate Director and SLP-associated faculty and students have presented talks and posters about our program at conferences. Faculty have written or are writing papers about restructuring their courses. We also have a paper in preparation about more global aspects of science literacy based on research about our SLP courses.

Acknowledgements: We thank HHMI, NSF, NIH, UO Department of Biology, UO Graduate School, UO CoDaC, and UO College of Arts and Sciences for generous funding and support.