Using Novel Research on Community-Based Problems in Labs

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Title of Abstract: Using Novel Research on Community-Based Problems in Labs

Name of Author: Nancy Trun
Author Company or Institution: Duquesne University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum
Approaches: Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Mixed Approach
Keywords: Service learning, novel research, critical thinking skills, learning communities, writing intensive

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The pedagogy we are developing and testing, Application-Based Service Learning, combines five high impact educational strategies (learning communities, writing intensive courses, collaborative projects, undergraduate research, and service-learning) to improve the quality of STEM courses at a number of different types of educational institutions. Using a community-based problem, students carry out service-learning to understand the complexity of the problem. They apply the scientific method to study a research question posed by the community problem and are taught technical writing, and laboratory, problem solving and critical-thinking skills.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Faculty from several different disciplines and institutions collaborate on one community problem as a way to make an impact on the problem. Currently, 10 faculty members from eight institutions (community college, 4 year undergraduate college/university and research I institutions) and 7 disciplines (microbiology, physiology, molecular biology, chemistry, geology, architecture and English) collaborate on three community problems. The community problems we have chosen include determining the public health threat from feral cats, determining the impact on the environment when natural resources such as coal and shale gas are harvested and determining how to study and reclaim an industrial brownfield. We have chosen a unique strategy for changing undergraduate STEM courses. We have built a virtual department around a community problem with faculty that are interested and qualified to help solve the problem. Each class that works on a given community problem contributes part of the research needed and defines part of the solution. The problems we have chosen are similar in different areas of the country and a virtual department allows many classes to work collaboratively. Only through collaboration can a significant impact be made.

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 are using the Critical Thinking Assessment Test, Service Learning Surveys, SENCER-SALG surveys and a novel survey we have developed that examines the interface of novel research and community problems.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: At this time, we have assessment for individual courses that includes content retention studies, results from the Critical Thinking Assessment Test and the impact of service-learning surveys. We have documented a dramatic increase in content retention after 5 month (58% retention for a lecture course versus 95% retention for an ABSL course). The CAT test results indicated that students in one ABSL course showed a greater gain in critical thinking skills in one semester than most students accomplish in 4 years. A second class showed a statistically significant increase in critical thinking skills. The surveys we use showed that students have a consistent increase in understanding the opportunities in their major and a better understanding of how science impacts their lives. We are currently documenting the details of how to set up an ABSL course and continue to assess student performance using a number of different methods.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: One challenge is to find or develop assessment to measure learning gains in ABSL courses.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We continue to add new community problems and courses at different institutions to study specific aspects of the community problems. We currently have 10 faculty members at 8 different institutions across the northeast.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the current ABSL Faculty Merrillee Anderson and Mike Engle (Mt Aloysius), Jay Deiner (CUNY-New York), Greg Galford (Chatham University), Susan Seibel (Butler County Community College), Joe Newhouse (Lock Haven University), Sarah Woodley (Duquesne University), John Senko (University of Akron) and Gail Rowe (La Roche College).