Nav: Home

Curricular changes show success by fourth year

January 11, 2019

In a four-year study, a group of science faculty finds that student buy-in to a new curriculum, and therefore satisfaction, increases with each successive undergraduate cohort -- and learning gains did not suffer. The researchers say the results of their longitudinal study should help encourage college faculty and administration to create, adapt, and support innovative courses for their students.

Over the past few decades, biologists have learned that the most effective ways of teaching biology are to move away from lecture-based classes and to be more inclusive to students across majors, with student-centered curricula and hands-on discovery as a critical component to learning.

"It takes a long time for programs and institutions to adopt changes," said Suann Yang, an assistant professor of biology at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo. "But because of the strong evidence for better methods in teaching biology, we decided to incorporate them into an innovative curriculum where students are grappling with bigger, complex issues, and try to solve problems using ideas throughout biology in an integrative fashion. To better understand curricular transformations more fully, we also decided to administer assessments for student attitudinal changes in addition to the usual learning gains."

The full study appears in PLOS ONE.

Yang, along with four colleagues, who, at the time, taught at the same small liberal arts college, devised a new introductory course, Integrating Biology with Inquiry (IBIS), that teaches the standard biology curriculum in nine overarching modules, or scenarios. The course was taught to 724 students by 13 faculty members over four years.

"As students work through each scenario, they are integrating their knowledge as they go," said Tarren Shaw, Ph.D., co-author and lecturer of biology at the University of Oklahoma. "One example is that students will study the immune system, the ecology of population growth, and coevolution in a module about disease. This format takes students from the cellular level to beyond the species level, while studying short- and long-term processes, in one scenario."

Together with the scenario framework, the IBIS coursework has students investigating particular questions they design in the lab that are related to the scenario.

"This is very different from conventional, lecture-based classes that are accompanied by cookbook labs, a protocol that all students follow to arrive at the same result," added Shaw. "The IBIS curriculum is not just about learning the biological concepts but how to study it, how to be curious about it, ask questions, and use your knowledge to discover more."

Jeffrey Grim, an assistant professor at the University of Tampa, noted that multiple assessments were needed to measure student learning. "Besides pretests and posttests, we also did fairly extensive attitudinal surveys and other surveys to try to understand how or if students associate any learning they acquired with the curriculum they've experienced. We had success all around -- we had good learning gains, and we also found that over time, students recognized that how they were taught was linked to their understanding of how much they learned," Grim said. "Students were able to increasingly attribute specific components of the new student-centered course to their learning.

"The second part of the story is that change takes time and it's hard," said Grim. "Experts in institutional change theory have established this, but experiencing it firsthand was useful to us, because as individual faculty members who are trying to make changes in the way we teach, it's often very frustrating when students are upset because 'this isn't how my older brother or people in my sorority did it.' Of course, it may not be any harder; it's just different."

The researchers report that all of the analysis shows that there was some resistance at the beginning when students first faced the curriculum change. But after four years, when it became the norm throughout the student body, it was fully adopted by the students.

"We worked hard every year to make the course better. We'd take the course evaluations and address any issues students identified," said Yang. "When we're in the thick of it we tended to focus on what we needed to improve rather than the bigger patterns. But when we were able to look back and see these larger longitudinal trends, we saw that most of our students say the course was really good for them -- that they learned a lot and know why they learned it -- we were super excited!"

The researchers point out that faculty who want to make changes should not hesitate, but everyone in the program should recognize that it will take time. "If everyone shares a goal, then it is important to support each other and stick with it," said Yang.

The researchers are making the IBIS curriculum available as an open educational resource (OER) with support from SUNY Geneseo's Milne Library's Open Services Team. As well as being free to access and download, the curriculum materials are openly licensed so other faculty and schools can adopt and make adaptations. Currently, two modules have been released, with more to be published this year. Each module is centered on a framing scenario that serves to engage students and provide a context for them to explore the intended learning outcomes with an emphasis on collaborative investigation.
-end-


SUNY Geneseo

Related Learning Articles:

Learning with light: New system allows optical 'deep learning'
A team of researchers at MIT and elsewhere has come up with a new approach to complex computations, using light instead of electricity.
Mount Sinai study reveals how learning in the present shapes future learning
The prefrontal cortex shapes memory formation by modulating hippocampal encoding.
Better learning through zinc?
Zinc is a vital micronutrient involved in many cellular processes: For example, in learning and memory processes, it plays a role that is not yet understood.
Deep learning and stock trading
A study undertaken by researchers at the School of Business and Economics at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) has shown that computer programs that algorithms based on artificial intelligence are able to make profitable investment decisions.
Learning makes animals intelligent
The fact that animals can use tools, have self-control and certain expectations of life can be explained with the help of a new learning model for animal behavior.
Learning Morse code without trying
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a system that teaches people Morse code within four hours using a series of vibrations felt near the ear.
The adolescent brain is adapted to learning
Teenagers are often portrayed as seeking immediate gratification, but new work suggests that their sensitivity to reward could be part of an evolutionary adaptation to learn from their environment.
The brain watched during language learning
Researchers from Nijmegen, the Netherlands, have for the first time captured images of the brain during the initial hours and days of learning a new language.
Learning in the absence of external feedback
Rewards act as external factors that influence and reinforce learning processes.
New learning procedure for neural networks
Neural networks learn to link temporally dispersed stimuli.

Related Learning Reading:

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
by Peter C. Brown (Author), Henry L. Roediger III (Author), Mark A. McDaniel (Author)

Hands-On Machine Learning with Scikit-Learn and TensorFlow: Concepts, Tools, and Techniques to Build Intelligent Systems
by Aurélien Géron (Author)

An Introduction to Statistical Learning: with Applications in R (Springer Texts in Statistics)
by Gareth James (Author), Daniela Witten (Author), Trevor Hastie (Author), Robert Tibshirani (Author)

Reinforcement Learning: An Introduction (Adaptive Computation and Machine Learning series)
by Richard S. Sutton (Author), Andrew G. Barto (Author), Francis Bach (Series Editor)

Deep Learning (Adaptive Computation and Machine Learning series)
by Ian Goodfellow (Author), Yoshua Bengio (Author), Aaron Courville (Author), Francis Bach (Series Editor)

The Learning Brain
by The Great Courses

Introduction to Learning and Behavior
by Russell A. Powell (Author), P. Lynne Honey (Author), Diane G. Symbaluk (Author)

Deep Learning with Python
by Francois Chollet (Author)

Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
by Christopher M. Bishop (Author)

Neural Networks and Deep Learning: A Textbook
by Charu C. Aggarwal (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Approaching With Kindness
We often forget to say the words "thank you." But can those two words change how you — and those around you — look at the world? This hour, TED speakers on the power of gratitude and appreciation. Guests include author AJ Jacobs, author and former baseball player Mike Robbins, Dr. Laura Trice, Professor of Management Christine Porath, and former Danish politician Özlem Cekic.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#509 Anisogamy: The Beginning of Male and Female
This week we discuss how the sperm and egg came to be, and how a difference of reproductive interest has led to sexual conflict in bed bugs. We'll be speaking with Dr. Geoff Parker, an evolutionary biologist credited with developing a theory to explain the evolution of two sexes, about anisogamy, sexual reproduction through the fusion of two different gametes: the egg and the sperm. Then we'll speak with Dr. Roberto Pereira, research scientist in urban entomology at the University of Florida, about traumatic insemination in bed bugs.