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Pre-SoTL Institute

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Teri Balser

University of Wisconsin, Madison, Madison, WI

Assignment #1: Introductions

1) Describe your teaching responsibilities and the type of student you

I am an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. This is the end of my 7th year at Madison. My tenure home is in the Soil Science Department, and I am an affiliate with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, the Microbial Doctoral Training Program, and the Office of Human Resource Development. I am a Soil Microbiologist/Ecosystem Ecologist by training.

I teach several classes. Undergraduate level: Upper level Soil Biology (40 students mostly juniors-seniors), I team-teach in the honors biology track (75 students, mostly juniors), and I teach Intro Environmental Studies (150-200 students, non-science majors, freshman through seniors). At the graduate level: I offer a Teaching Large Classes Seminar, a Microbial Communities and Global Change Seminar, I team teach a class on Women and Leadership in Science, Medicine and Engineering, and I teach a short course on Workplace Skills for graduate students in the Institute for Environmental Studies and the Agroecology program. Finally I am active in outreach teaching, bringing soil ecology workshops and presentations to local community groups and Wisconsin farmers.

2) Describe what you would like to take home as a result of attending
the institute

As a result of the SoTL institute I would like to have a clearer idea of how I can assess the efficacy of the various teaching methods I try (group projects, active learning, journals and reflection, interested in team testing). I would also like to learn how I can best support faculty development and biology education on my campus.

3) Tell us about your interests outside of the classroom and a book that
you've read recently

I supervise a large research lab and spend most of my non-teaching time reviewing papers. However, I love to ride bicycles, play music and read. I play early music and saxophones for weddings and in local big band jazz ensembles. Recently I read (and loved) Richard Light's 'College Students Speak Their Minds', and am currently enjoying Fred Pearce's book about climate change called "With Speed and Violence". However, when I read purely for mindless pleasure I tend to read science-fiction and fantasy, and I will confess to owning a Playstation2 and really want a Nintendo Wii!

Assignment #2: Reflections

1) How would you describe your “research problem(s)” to the Research Scholars group?

I enjoyed the articles quite a bit. In particular I benefitted from re-reading the Bass article (I was assigned it last summer, but it sunk in better this year), and considering the larger nature of my teaching ‘problem’ or interests. My overarching teaching problem is creating lifelong learners – engaging them with the material and having them understand what it means to be a learner. I work to address this problem in my classroom in four ways:
1. Connecting classroom learning with their lives, experiences and goals
2. Engaging them so they are motivated to learn
3. Making learning strategies transparent and accessible so they see how they can best learn new things
4. Helping them develop awareness of themselves as learners – encouraging reflective practice in my classes

Specifically, my Biology Scholars project will address these by assessing the use of groups and group discussion to engage the students, help them connect the classroom and their lives, and by asking them to keep a learning journal during the semester. I tried a pilot of this in class this past year, and I am eager to carry it further, and in a slightly new direction based on the previous results.

2)What theme(s) based on your readings, resonate with your “problem” and/or your proposed approach to address your problem?

The themes that resonated for me most were the ideas related to going beyond the content of a course – how do we teach to the larger goals? I also really enjoyed considering the analogies between my own research and my research about teaching that were themes in the Bass and Benson articles.

3) Which of the 12 properties of SoTL in microbiology education proposed by S. Benson’s article are particularly relevant to your project at this stage?

The properties most relevant at this stage seem to be 1, 4, 10, 11 and 12. As I am developing the project, I need to be reflective (1), engaged in teaching (or at least thoughts about teaching) (10), and seek what has already been done so that I can build on it (4). In addition, I will benefit from engagement with my colleagues in this and other disciplines (11) as I design the project. Ultimately, the project should maintain fidelity throughout (12).

4) Do you have any questions/concerns/comments that have evolved from your reading?

I had a question about the Figure in the Benson article – I would love to see/discuss examples of each scenario in the figure.

5) What do you see as tangible products to be developed as a result of your Scholars experience within the next 12 months?

Products: an article about learning in a broadly multidisciplinary classroom, for sure. A revised syllabus. A topic for graduate seminar course on teaching.

6) What do you see yourself presenting at the follow-up session at ASMCUE 2009?

I see myself presenting results from the study – and discussing challenges and strategies associated with creating learners in the classroom.

7) What will you need to develop these products?

What I need? Time. Career stability. IRB approval. Relevant literature to read and build from. I would like to learn more about ways that I can assess student learning gains and more specifically, student awareness of their own learning. Survey instruments are new to me, as are most qualitative research techniques.

Assignment #3: Annotations

My interests this year are centered on the use of groups and digital collaboration to foster problem solving and environmental literacy in my large introductory environmental studies class. My goal is to track students development in problem solving and their comfort with increasingly complex (increasing shades of gray) during the semester. Below is a selection of papers that have been useful at this point:

  1. King, P. M., & Kitchener, K. S. (1992). Assessing Reasoning Skills. In Developing Reflective Judgment - Understanding and promoting intellectual growth and critical thinking in adolescents and adults (pp. 75-98). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

This chapter discusses reflective thinking and how it can be measured. The authors first propose a list of desirable features in a measure f reflective thinking, and examine and evaluate a suite of existing measures. I found their description of well-versus ill-structured problems useful in honing my thinking about the nature of environmental problems. They discuss reflective and critical thinking, and evaluate two tools for assessing critical thinking skills (Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal and the Cornell Critical Thinking Test). Finally they describe four models for development of reasoning. I found the chapter very useful as a way of framing the developmental stages my 1st-5th year’s students may undergo, as well as a starting point in considering how to assess their reasoning skills.

  1. Anderson, W. L., Mitchell, S. M., & Osgood, M. P. (2008). Guaging the gaps in student problem-solving skills: assessment of individual and group use of problem solving strategies using online discussions. Cell Biology Education-Life Sciences Education, 7, 254-262.

This paper describes a tracking method developed at the University of New Mexico to monitor student use of problem-solving strategies in a large introductory biology class. For the past three years the instructors have been using interactive online Problem-Based Learning case discussions. Because of the challenge in a large class of monitoring student learning and progress, they developed a tracking method to monitor individual and group problem solving strategies. They present their assessment rubric and discuss the problem solving roles the students take-on. They found that students became rapidly facile in the use of the discussion boards and they report that their tracking system allowed them to identify groups in need of intervention.

  1. Morse, D., & Jutras, F. (2008). Implementing concept-based learning in a large undergraduate classroom. Cell Biology Education-Life Sciences Education, 7, 243-253.

This paper reports results from an experiment explicitly introducing learning strategies to a large first-year undergraduate cell biology course. The authors wished to see if awareness and explicit use of strategies had a measurable impact on student performance. They evaluated student concept maps produced pre- and post-instruction in the concept mapping strategy. They evaluate student effective use of concept maps and find that many students are unable to produce an adequate concept map both before and after instruction. They discuss the importance of providing feedback to students about the validity of their use of the strategy. They report the use of groups and generating a consensus map to provide feedback and improve student concept mapping.

  1. Nelson, C. (1989). Skewered on the unicorn's horn: The illusion of tragic trade-off between content and critical thinking in the teaching of science. In Enhancing critical thinking in the sciences (pp. 17-27). Washington DC: Society of College Science Teachers.

This paper discusses the Perrys model for the development of thinking modes and seeks to reconcile it with a model of scientific reasoning. The author then uses Perrys scheme to divide critical thinking tasks and the teaching choices that facilitate them into four groups. Each group is accessible to students at a different Perry level. 1) Fostering precise thinking; 2) Fostering the recognition of fundamental uncertainty; 3) Fostering an understanding of theory selection; 4) Fostering an understanding of the roles of values. Within each of these groups is a task, for example delineate the fundamental problem falls within group 2.

  1. Klymkowsky, M. W., & Garvin-Doxas, K. (2003). Bioliteracy and teaching efficacy: what biologists can learn from physicists. Cell Biology Education-Life Sciences Education, 2, 155-161.

In this paper the authors describe the Force Inventory Concept and the development of the analogous Biology Concept Inventory (BCI). They discuss the definition and importance of bioliteracy for society. They argue the utility of a consensus Inventory for biology education. Much as the inventory did for physics, they argue, the BCI will allow for the standardization necessary to produce
bioliterate citizens.

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