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Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R)

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Course Title: Principles of Biology
Redesign Coordinator: Nicholas E. Kolb

Status: This project was part of Round I of NCAT's FIPSE-funded Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R) program, 2007 – 2008. Participants conducted a pilot of their redesign plans in fall 2007. In the C2R program, NCAT’s role was to introduce the course redesign methodology to participating institutions, assist them in developing project plans and work with them through the pilot period. NCAT was not involved in full implementation; consequently, the project’s status beyond the pilot period is unknown. For more information, contact the project contact listed above.

Project Abstract
Progress Report (as of 3/1/08)

Project Abstract

Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) plans to redesign Principles of Biology I, the first core course of the Biology curriculum as well as the first college science course for most of the students. It is a required course for 5 different majors. The laboratory component of the course complements lecture materials and engages students in the process of science. The course is offered each fall semester, enrolling ~200 students annually in 3 sections.

Principles of Biology I was designed in the early 1990's. Since that time, three gradual changes have impacted the course. The freshman student population is not as well prepared for the course. The DFW rate has increased to about 50% in 2006-2007. During the past five years, a period of constricted state funding, course enrollment increased ~25%. Third, a series of strategic decisions have resulted in an increased emphasis on the course. Both the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the State System of Higher Education have articulated the need to develop and sustain a highly trained technical workforce for the state's biotechnology industry, encouraging universities to expand academic programs that support this aim. At the same time, IUP has moved to increase enrollments in various pre-health professions. In a landscape that has significantly altered since the course began, it no longer serves its students well.

IUP plans to use the Supplemental Model in the course redesign, initiating changes in both the lecture and laboratory components of the course. Online quizzes will help motivate students to be better prepared for class. Review modules for each of the four main content portions of the course will enable students to see how well they have learned the materials and are prepared for exams. Active learning in the classroom will be expanded through a student response system. A simulation will be added to the labs to familiarize students with the system before they actually do the experiment. This will improve their understanding of the scientific method and enable them to do more experimental designs in the laboratory. Biweekly online quizzes will help ensure that students are prepared for the laboratory activities.

IUP's redesign will provide a more effective learning environment, increase retention and graduation in high-priority programs and use limited resources more efficiently. Students will be better prepared for both the lecture and laboratory sessions, ensuring the amount of content coverage necessary for students to succeed in future coursework. Understanding the scientific method and doing more experimental designs in the laboratory will also enhance the students' success in future courses. The plan provides the students and faculty with many rapid feedback opportunities to assess progress and remedy any deficiencies, thereby reducing the DFW rate.

Student learning will be assessed by comparing grades on the laboratory final project as this is the only common grading rubric between the traditional and redesigned courses. The Key Assessment Ratings System, KARS , which maps key assessments from a course to the course outcomes and then to program outcomes is now available and can be used to assess the redesigned course. Assessment tools already in place can be used to provide a comparison between the outcomes of the old course versus the new one. They include Likert scale affective surveys pre- and post-class as well as a modified Cloze test to help assess students' comprehension/level of basic biological readings.

The redesigned course will reduce instructional costs by increasing enrollment from 216 to 288 students, serving them with the same personnel. The cost-per-student will be reduced from $509 to $399, a 22% decrease. The projected decrease in the DFW rate will reduce the number of students repeating this course. The savings will be used to increase retention and graduation in high-priority academic programs.

Progress Report (as of 3/1/08)

Differences in the overall averages on three exam scores were not statistically significant between the traditional and redesigned sections. Although students did not learn a significantly greater amount of base content in the redesigned course, they were able to apply the content to problem-solving much better than the students in the traditional course. There was a very large difference in student performance on the essay portions of the exams (traditional = 55%; redesign = 65%). Students in the redesigned course demonstrated a consistent increase in their scores on the objective portions of the exams (52, 58, and 67%), scoring higher on the second and third exams compared to the traditional section (59, 56, and 62%). The percent of students getting a D or F on the first exam was comparable in both sections (77% - traditional and 76% - redesigned). However, by the third exam there was a profound difference between the two sections (67% D or F - traditional and 42% D or F - redesigned).

The course redesign will continue to be implemented in the section taught by the redesign team but not in all sections. The other section of the course will use the traditional methodology.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?

Student online preparation pages. The in-class discussions of concept questions were much better than in previous years because a larger number of students were participating. An online student page provided a mechanism to help students prepare for lectures, review materials and test themselves on content on a weekly basis. The page provided both pre- and post-class assignments, lecture outlines and reviews, concept or problem-solving questions and a reading assignment that applied some aspect of the content to current happenings in biology.

Using smaller “steps” in the learning process. One of the problems the team faced was the inability of many of the students to apply the content they were learning to broader applications. The introduction of smaller steps such as weekly quizzes and pre- and post- assignments eventually helped the students to do better on the essay portion of the exams where concept questions were asked.

Emphasis on applying the principles of biology. Student preparation for the application of content was enhanced through the use of supplemental readings, concept questions and directed activities in lecture. Many lectures were rewritten to present a series of questions beginning with basic content knowledge to ultimately an application of that knowledge. In the lecture, the students received feedback about their own understanding of the concepts through the use of a student response system.

Content and quizzing. Students were given many more opportunities to assess and enhance their understanding of basic content as well as to assess their application skills through the use of weekly and in-class quizzes. The online quizzes were structured to allow multiple attempts (different questions each time) with only the high score counting so that students could review and study more if necessary. The suggested pattern for taking the quizzes was to make the first attempt early in the week before the material was covered in lecture and then again after the lectures to assess their understanding of the material. The question base for each of the quizzes was also made available a few days before an exam so that students could review more thoroughly.

Rapid feedback. The use of online quizzes and a student-response system allowed the students to receive instant feedback on their progress. These techniques when used with the goals outlined each week on the assignment page helped the students to gauge their progress throughout the entire semester.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Need for students to hit the ground running. The need for students to begin using the resources provided and to realize the importance of them to their grade was the most difficult implementation issue the team had. Performances on the exams increased as the semester went on from 55% to 72% and was highly correlated with the amount of time/work spent by the students in taking quizzes. The percentage of students taking the online quizzes during the first 3 weeks of the semester was 78%; for the three weeks before the third exam it was 92%. The average grade on the quizzes was 73% before the first exam and rose to 87% before the third exam. The faculty involved can now more readily relate to the students the importance of these assignments and can provide motivation earlier in the semester.

Preparation of new materials. Most of the redesign required creating new materials, including a student website that had weekly pre- and post-assignments, concept questions, review modules, lecture summaries, supplemental readings, and multiple choice quiz banks. The lectures also had to be rewritten to incorporate the step approach to learning the content. New questions had to be written for the student response system as well as daily quizzes.

Administrative support. Because of personnel changes in the provost’s office, the administration was not able to provide as much support as initially projected. Both the student response system and computers for the laboratory were not received until the eighth week of the 14-week semester.

Technology support. The technology support was outstanding. The staff provided a great deal of help in getting the equipment (and the team) up and running once it was received.



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