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What challenges or obstacles have you encountered while working on your project?  What solutions to overcome these challenges did you find?  Are you still facing these difficulties?


Kathleen Archer

Data gathering.  I am getting my data primarily from exams and student evaluations, instruments designed for purposes other than that of providing data for my project.  It has meant a lot of labor to pull out the responses relevant for my study.  I can see ways I might make this easier in the future, but ultimately I can’t do anything to compromise the function of the exams.

James Bader
As with any experiment, the data is not quite as clean as I would like. Although I felt I had a reasonable plan at the beginning of the semester, it turned out to be one of the most disjointed semesters I can remember. Funerals, jury duty, kids who needed surgery, unanticipated trips all resulted in a lack of continuity for me and I'm guessing for the students as well. During the analysis process, there are also cases where I wish I had posed questions differently or collected data differently.
Janet Branchaw
Time - I simply did not have enough of it to devote to doing this project. I collected the data, but did not have the time to engage intellectually with the research in the way that I wanted to. I think that this will be addressed in the coming year as I work to shift (offload) some of my current responsibilities and redefine my position.


Ann Cheeptham: Definitely, a couple of things are challenging but I would vote for "Data Analyzing" at the moment.  At first I thought that coming up with pre/post test questions should not be too much of a challenge..Please read on:-).  My co-author, Dr. N. Flood, and I came up with 5 questions (we use the same set of questions) in each pre/post tests for each field trips.  We ended up with two different field trips in each class (BIOL 220 and BIOL 449).  Everything seemed okay until the time I sat down and came up with rubrics to grade the students’ answers.  Oh..boy and how wrong was I...during the grading, I spent so much time going back and forth and had to come up with how I cannot be subconsciously bias when I marked all these pre/post test answers.  During the struggling: I have come up with a numbers of way /questions making note to myself, maybe next time I will do it differently.  Here are a few: 

1) Are these any chances that too many pre/post tests can make students lax in answering the true knowledge of what they know/ do not know? 

2) Need to find more microbiologists to mark so lessen the bias, if there is any? 

3) What constitutes right answer, really...for example  a number of students answer to the question "what do microbiologists do?" as "protect the world, make the world a better place, or make the world go around..This sort of answers, do they really know what they are talking about or just plain laziness in writing a more academic style.  And this is just an easy example!  So I had to go back again to making rubrics! 

3) If there is no marks associated (incentive) to these pre/post tests question, I just simple wonder "will the answers be similar? 

And the list goes on...but I will save everyone reading time here:-)  This is not a novel assignment :-)  We can discuss more in SD. 

Karen Curto
My project was really a series of challenges to identify the content, build the lesson plan, reinforce various aspects of the problem in an order that built on the previous ideas and gave students appropriate work to demonstrate the application of their new knowledge.  I started with the idea of having students create analogies, but found these added an unnecessary level of information that often interfered with comprehending cell signaling. I thought concept map construction and use would be straight forward and easy for my students to construct with samples and practice. Instead they were complicated and time consuming to make. I felt they became a burdensome assignment and replaced them with instructions to create simple diagrams. If I want to use concepts maps, it will require more instrcution and practice with this format.
I would change many of the questions  I asked in my surveys (in hindsight) to be more informative about what they know coming into the course and what they know when they leave. I need to learn more about assessment and surveys design.
Jonathan DavisAs my community college aggressively recruits more and more persons to attend college in order to keep our enrollment growing, the range of abilities that students bring to a course is literally changing semester by semester so that now I have everything from students who are very competent to students who literally can barely write their name on a page even under direction of the instructor. This desire to increase our enrollment no matter what the consequences are is seriously degrading the education of ALL my students. Still, in the fall, my general biology I course was a diverse but good group, i.e., most students, regardless of their abilities, seem to know why they were there and most were willing to try (and I was able to get funds to hire one of my better students from the fall to serve as my tutor in the spring). But this semester in the same course I have the lowest achieving group of students I have ever had in 20+ years. Probably half the students do not have the competencies to be in any college course of any kind, and most clearly have no idea why they signed up for the course.
Lianna Etchberger
I had two big challenges. The frist one was finding the time to plan my project and to analyze and interpret the data. My other challenge was focussing on a specific problem (as you will probably be able to tell from my poster). I spent most of my time at the summer meeting trying to whittle down the problem of high attrition to a tangible question that could be addressed and analyzed. Other biology scholars, especially Mary Pat and Jenny, were very helpful in helping my identify my study problem. I still think too big, but I'm getting a little more focused.
Ron Gerrits: I had a major challenge obtaining IRB approval. It wasn't anything related to my submission, but the fact that our IRB met very infrequently and the chair seemed overworked. In general it points to the need for people to start IRB submissions early, with the expectation that it might take a while.
My other challenge was recruiting subjects. Because I performed a retrospective study on past students, I had to recruit them to take the survey. Even supplying pizza was not enough to get much of a turnout. In the end, I had to learn to move the survey online for the students to take. It was a bit of effort, but the return was better. I would recommend that those doing similar studies investigate an online option to surveying. In retrospect, I would also have asked some questions differently -- but fairly happy with the way things worked out.
Trudy Gillevet
My two biggest challenges were 1) too much data and not being focused enough in the initial question
2) time.  For the first one, talking to others really helped refine my question so that I could focus on analyzing only the data that was relevant to my current study.  I think I collected as much information as I could and then at the end it was "ok--now what do I do with all of this?!" Next time I will know how to ask better questions!
For #2, I think it would be really helpful if we had the summer "down time" to conduct our data analysis, rather than having to do it all under the radar during the busiest time of the semester. I think it was a common feeling amongst scholars that we were under a lot of pressure at the end of the semester to tie this all up.  I am looking forward to seeing my project with fresh eyes in the next month, since I am not teaching summer session.
Wendy Heck Grillo: Like many others, one of my biggest challenges was data analysis.  I had to analzye exam scores, final grades (with and without quizzes), survey results, study logs, etc amongst 4 sections.  I had to eliminate the 5th section of BIOL 1101 from my study because the instructor who was not giving daily quizzes all of a sudden decided to give daily quizzes mid-semester.  I have had some difficulty with finding a statistician to help with the analysis. I was suprised when I had to include statistics in my abstract in order for it to be accepted.  Luckily, my colleague's husband helped us in a pinch.  I still need to find a colleague in the Math Dept. to help with the statistics.  Another problem I realized after the end of the Fall semester was that I did not give the students a survey to gather their thougths and perceptions about the daily quizzes.  In addition, I didn't even think about following up with them this semester to gather that data either.  Not sure if it is too late.  Anyway, based on my data from the Fall semester, I was hoping to continue the daily quizzes in the Spring semester for my 2 sections of BIOL 1101 (A colleague was teaching the 3rd section).  I was only able to do this for the first 4 weeks or so.  My colleague who was teaching the other section became extremely ill and I had to eventually take over his section.  It was only suppose to be for 3-4 weeks, but since his health did not improve, it became a permanent situation.  So, I stopped the daily quizzes in order to lessen the confusion for the students and to lessen my burden.  I do plan on continuing the daily quizzes this fall semester. 
Caron Inouye
 The first major obstacle was our furlough program and reduction in lab support and class meeting frequency, resulting in the inability to do what I originally proposed in the lab portion of my course.  However, I was able to turn my research efforts to the lecture component of my course, which was rather serendipitous, because it resulted in a nice study of team activities in a large lecture course.  My first and foremost challenge this year was being too overloaded and overcommitted (this seems to be a persistent problem for me).  I'm a walking stress case, and it's been hard on my family and my health.   I was frustrated with how little of what I envisioned accomplishing actually got accomplished.  However, with more time (which I should be able to eke out once I've submitted my Spring quarter grades on June 15th), I will be able to do a few more analyses to strengthen my results (I hope to get some input on this at our meetings) and do a more thorough background literature review, in order to get my manuscript out this summer. 
Lisa Johansen
My biggest challenge is getting student buy-in.  My two projects are looking at the use of virtual communities - in a very simple manner - to help students connect with others and tackle the course material.  In the fall I used a Blog for my biotech course.  Though the several of the students found it useful they also felt it was "just another thing to do" and so instead of using it to it's full potential - by looking at it daily or every few days - they left it to the last minute (surprise surprise) and then it was a burden.  This spring I used a site called "" to allow students to "discuss" primary literature before coming to class and presenting it.  When it was mandatory it was used, when it was optional it was not used.  I am really torn between "I know what's best for you - so do this" and "OK - you figure out how you learn best - take care of the learning strategies yourself"
Jodie Krontiris-Litowitz

I encountered 2 problems:  The first  challenge was trying to find appropriate journal articles for first year students.  In the end, I discovered that the challenge was not finding the “right” article but rather finding the “right” way to incorporate the article and desired reading skill into my curriculum.  The second challenge was trying to find some constructive outcome in my data.  My assessment, test scores, did not show any significant difference with treatment.  However, I decided to look at subgroups of my student population, high performer, low performers, etc., to see if there is any evidence of improved learning. 

Mary Mawn
I initially found it hard to narrow down my study question.  I had a broad sense of the type of research that I wished to pursue, but these interests needed to be narrowed down in order to design a more manageable project.  I now have a clear sense of the questions that I will pursue now and in future research. A second challenge related to seeking Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for this project.  Given the relatively short timeline for this year-long research residency, I needed to “hit the ground running” soon after the SoTL Institute. I found that I had to quickly develop my research protocol and study instruments; however, it took time to develop these materials.  As a result, I was not able to submit my IRB application as quickly as I planned.  Once these specifics were worked out (this ended up being several months), I submitted and received IRB approval for this work. Finally, and as many of my BSP colleagues have noted, time is always a challenge. With my Dean’s support, I was able to collaborate with an adjunct instructor, Cathy Gleason, who also teaches the course under study (Genetics).  She helped immensely with data collection and analysis, but at this point we’ve only been able to analyze a subset of the data.  We will continue to work on this project in the coming year.
Kristina Obom
I faced several challenges in my project.  The first was in design.  I didn't think through the design completely and did not collect all the data I should have.  The solution, teach the course again and gather the appropriate information.  Second, I collected survey data with written responses, that I was not sure how to analyze.  My colleagues in BSP provided some support.  The last challenge is small numbers and it is difficult to overcome that when you only have 12 students in a class. 
Iglika Pavlova
Like Ann, in two words: DATA ANALYSIS. I feel that I have undertaken a complex project (which I love), and generated complex data (because a lot of student essays, lots of writing; still I think this is the right assessment to do for thinking, and definitely for the class itself), and feel the difficulty especially when time is at a premium. Just taking it one day at a time. Trying to focus on an issue, go step-by-step. Trying to make the most of it on my own, though ultimately the best would be to work with collaborators. I will focus on these issues in the coming year.
Julie Reynolds
The biggest challenge I have faced is assessing whether or not my "treatment" group (students working with the rubric I developed) is different than my "control" group (students who did not work with the rubric).  My hypothesis is that these groups are not significantly different, but since students self-select into these groups, it is important to look for differences in the groups that would explain differences in learning outcomes.  I had to work with the university registrar to see what academic and demographic data they have, and what the university policy is about its use.  Eventually, I had to agree to work with our Office of Assessment so that people in that office are the only ones who see the confidential data (of course, our IRB protocol had to be amended once I figured out what was possible).  This solution is working, but the extra people involved adds time onto every step.  
Miriam Segura-Totten
One challenging aspect was the logistics of how to teach the class to best collect the data. Basically, I had to coordinate how to include the literature discussion aspect of the study without overloading students in the course. In the end, we decided to do away with the "wet lab" component of the course and do the article discussion aspect instead.
Another challenging aspect turned out to be designing exam questions at the Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation levels of Bloom's. In the end, I don't think we'll end up using this assessment, for two reasons: 1) I'm not convinced that the pre-/post- exam questions are equivalent in difficulty, and 2) students who performed very well during the semester did not study hard for the final exam since they could get away with that and still do well in the class, and that invalidated (in my mind at least) the post- questions.
Conrad Toepfer
My biggest problem was not having a time machine to go back and collect data from previous years of the course I redesigned.  One of my concerns was declining performance on lab practicals.  I was well into the redesign of the course before I realized that my grades from previous years had grade-adjusted scores for the lab practicals.  The best I was able to do was say that this year's students scores were not significantly different from the grade-adjusted scores from previous years.  I'd much rather be able to say, "the new approach resulted in a 20% improvement in lab practical scores," but I don't have the data necessary to say that.  Not much I can do about it now but I'll certainly try to think of additional ways of collecting data the next time I do the course.
Jacqueline Washington
 My most challenging issue was and still is data analysis.  There aren't enough hours in the day to do all that I would like to do.  Students also got a little overwhelmed or lazy about completion of daily reflections about class.  They did not like having to complete the reflections every day.  I also had the issue of finding the right type of clicker questions to stimulate discussion and encourage higher order thinking skills.  This is one area that I will continue to persue. 
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