Weaving a Conceptual Thread: A Cross-Curricular Approach

Return to search results | New search

Title of Abstract: Weaving a Conceptual Thread: A Cross-Curricular Approach

Name of Author: Carol Maillet
Author Company or Institution: Brescia University
Author Title: Assoc. Prof.
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: Interdisciplinary; student-centered; symposium; cross-curricular; collaboration

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Conrad S. Toepfer, Brescia University

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The Biology Thread will address the following goals: 1. The thread will provide students with a multi-faceted exposure to complex biological systems. 2. The thread will give students additional practice in evaluating and synthesizing information from multiple sources. 3. The thread will give students opportunities to collaborate in intradisiciplinary teams. 4. The thread will provide students with additional exposure to quantitative analysis and practice with large data sets. We have already been using student-developed projects in multiple courses to reinforce the application of science competency recommended in V&C. Our project was conceived to focus on four of the remaining competencies (quantitative reasoning, interdisciplinary nature, communication and collaboration, and understanding relationship between science and society). We also incorporated the notion of complex issues identified in both V&C and New Biology. The topic chosen for each thread is couched in a current societal issue, and students will work towards identifying avenues that may lead to potential solutions. The communication and collaboration competency is engaged through symposium presentations, small-group discussions led by upper-level students, and in reflective and analytical essays. While we are currently collaborating at an intradisciplinary level, our goal is to involve chemistry, physics, math, and social sciences faculties in the project

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Our response to the various calls to action was to implement a cross-curricular project to aid students in working with and assimilating large amounts of new material and to support and encourage higher levels of thinking. A focus question (thread), around which acquisition of course-related factual information and discussion was woven, was introduced into each of 8 participating courses. Central to the project is the sharing of the information in a biology symposium each semester, which is attended by all biology students, and individual reflection and application papers. Multiple other forms of assessment are also used in each course. For example, we have used case studies, concept mapping, team-based learning etc. as described in the V&C document.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: The primary goal of the project is to work with and assimilate large amounts of new material (cross-course information) with the following objectives: help students understand what they know and what they do not know (assessed by administering pre/post tests), identify and address misconceptions, apply course content to the focus question (assessed by survey questions as well as the reflection paper), and synthesize information from myriad sources (reflection and application papers). The assessment rubric for the reflection and application papers addressed the ability to synthesize, the creative use of the material to form questions and propose solutions, and the technical aspects of communicating, including appropriate use of scientific language.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Preliminary results (we just completed the second year of implementation) indicate that we do see increased sophistication of responses and fewer misconceptions in spring compared to fall. For example with the thread topic on bacteria, the misconception that all bacteria are bad (fall) was largely absent in responses from spring semester. We also established a baseline that both shows higher scores from upper division students (3-4.5 on a 5-point scale) compared to lower division students (1-2 on the same scale) and accommodates improvement among the higher scoring groups. Students’ self-assessments report an increased understanding of both the focus topic and the value of multiple points of view. However, when surveyed after exposure to the thread, students noted deficiencies in their own capacities of logical thinking and expression. We anticipate that exposure to the thread over four years of undergraduate education will enable students to make connections “among disparate pieces of information, concepts and questions” (V&C document). Overall, our procedures and assessment tools appear to be appropriate for the project.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Weaknesses and challenges: math has been difficult to introduce given high-level of remediation, course scheduling has not allowed more extensive cross-course collaborative efforts, best data is qualitative and we lack the training to adequately analyze it. We had also hoped to have more peer mentoring, but the growth of the incoming freshman class is outpacing retention of the upper division students.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We have been active in describing the process both because of our enthusiasm and to recruit future participants. To this end, our remaining departmental colleague will be part of the project beginning this fall. Because Brescia is very small (700 full time on-ground students), extension will occur by including other areas of study within the Division of Mathematics and Natural Science as well as areas outside the Division. One of our colleagues in Psychology has expressed interest in participating in the project, which is fully aligned with the increased emphasis of psychology/sociology in the new MCAT. Other science faculty members have shown casual interest in what we are doing. Once the vagaries of implementation are addressed, we plan to recruit colleagues from chemistry, math and physics to be part of the project. Going beyond the boundaries of Brescia, we have presented the outline, purpose and initial data from the project to members of the Association of College and University Biology Educators at their annual meeting in October, 2012. There was a lot of interest especially on the mechanics of implementing a similar plan, but we have no indication that other institutions are currently following up on the idea. As we continue to refine the implementation process, we will update our ACUBE colleagues, which may encourage their participation.

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank the administration of Brescia University for its support.