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Arizona Board of Regents: Learner-Centered Education Course Redesign Initiative

Northern Arizona University

Course Title: Introductory Biology
Contact: Catherine Ueckert

Status: This project originated as part of the Arizona Board of Regents Learner-Centered Education Course Redesign Initiative, 2006 – 2009. Due to a variety of factors, this project was not completed. The project plan serves as a good example of how to think about redesigning a large-enrollment course.

Project Abstract

Northern Arizona University is redesigning Introductory Biology, the first course required for all biology majors as well as 22 other majors. This course serves 500 students in the fall semester and 400 students in the spring. The number of students taking the course is limited by the availability of lab sections. Three sections are taught each semester by a variety of instructors. Since 2005, eight different instructors have taught the course including one part-time lecturer, a visiting assistant professor, adjunct faculty and tenured/tenure-track faculty. Eight graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) are assigned to teach the laboratory portion of this course each semester.

The primary academic problem to be addressed by the redesign is the low level of student success as reflected by one of the highest DFW rates at NAU. For the past seven semesters, the DFW rate for students has varied from 28% to 40%. This DFW rate impacts students’ ability to enter the major and also contributes to over-enrollment in the course.

The course redesign, using the Supplemental Model, has six components: 1) Online tutorials, simulations, and readiness quizzes will prepare students for class and lab. 2) End-of-chapter quizzes will provide students with evidence of successful learning throughout the course. 3) Implementation of a classroom response system will increase student participation in the learning process. 4) Supplemental instruction that is closely aligned with class and lab content will help students stay current with the class. 5) Laboratory investigations will be closely aligned with course content. 6) One third of the lab sections will be redesigned as virtual labs, enabling NAU to increase lab sections by 50% while maintaining an appropriate representation of wet labs for critical concepts and skills.

Course quality will be enhanced by including real-life applications of concepts; increasing student participation, consistency and coordination among sections, and developing a standard set of learning outcomes. Student progress will be monitored closely using VISTA. When appropriate, students will be contacted and required to meet with the instructor. Emphasizing a learner-centered approach to students, building in ongoing assessment and feedback, and providing individualized assistance will improve students' learning outcomes. Establishing a collaborative climate within the department and with the local community colleges will provide opportunities to engage in professional discussions to improve the teaching and learning in Introductory Biology at NAU and beyond.

Student learning will be assessed by comparing student responses to common exam questions, pre- and post-assessment tests and attitudinal measures. Scores will be compared in pilot and traditional sections and to course data pre- and post-implementation.

The redesign will allow NAU to increase the number of students served annually from ~975 to ~1460, a 50% increase. This increase is made possible by redesigning 33% of the lab sections into virtual labs. This redesign will reduce the cost-per-student from $263 to $174, a 34%projected savings. The cost savings will be used to redesign other introductory biology courses for both majors and non-majors.



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