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SoTL Institute Presentation

Table of contents
  1. 1. Context
  2. 2. Problem
  3. 3. Question
  4. 4. Evidence Needed
  5. 5. Plan


I teach a required introductory genetics course with lab for Biology majors.  The course typically has 20-24 students per section, and is offered in the fall (1 section) and the spring (2 lab sections, with a combined lecture).  The course has students from second semester freshmen to second semester seniors. 

Worcester State College is located in central Massachusetts in an area with significant biotechnology industry.  Massachusetts has recognized the importance of this industry, and recently undertaken a study called the Life Sciences Talent Initiative to find what would be required to keep this industry strong in the state and support future growth.  Many of your students stay in the area and find jobs in the life sciences.  Many of these jobs will require some working knowledge of genetics.

Research options (called independent study) for students at Worcester State College are limited, and only a few students from the biology department find research.  Complicating the issue is the fact that independent study does not contribute to the required courses for the Biology major.



Students are apprehensive regarding genetics and their ability to learn the subject.  They don’t see it as a topic in which they will be employed or generally relevant to their lives.  Consequently many student put off genetics until their senior year.

The current lab structure reinforces aspects of theses attitudes and preconceptions.  The lab presents a buffet of techniques, without providing an indication of how those techniques might be incorporated into research.  This results in students being disengaged in lab experience.

Evidence of this as a problem is mainly anecdotal and/or based on my own informal observations.



Does incorporation of a research project into the introductory genetics lab experience affect students' attitudes and confidence regarding: genetics, research in genetics, and their ability to participate in research?


Evidence Needed

Evidence would consist of Pre/post surveys that address student concerns, confidence preconceived notions, and attitudes.  These surveys would consist of Likert scale and open-ended responses.  Ongoing formative assessment (open-ended questions) throughout the semester could be mined for during the semester.  Possible additional forms of data could include focus groups, and follow-up survey administered to prior students in subsequent years.



   Plan A
 Plan B
 FALL 2008
 Maintain current lab structure Change lab to incorporate research project
   Administer surveys to obtain baseline  Work out the possible problems/wrinkles associated with the change
     Pilot survey
 SPRING 2009
Change lab to incorporate research project
 Run 1 lab with old method, other lab with the new research project
   Administer surveys
 Administer surveys
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428.12 kB14:58, 18 Jul 2008dbarnardActions
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I like plan A better than plan B for all the reasons you gave plis it will give you more time to get everything together. You will already have the survey in place from the Fall and there for are just focusing on changes in lab only in the spring. Also, you would be prepping 2 different labs in the spring - that would exhaust me. I also can't teach the same material in two different ways at the same time, and if they are both in the same lecture, you would not be able to refer the lab during lecture, which is something I do.
Could you run a mini focus group this summer with some students who might be around campus before you make up the survey. They could give you comments in the focus group that might affect some of your survey questions.

If you think about doing long term studies, you might want to look at Baxter-Magolda's work where she follows students up to 10 years after they graduate.

For another datapoint, perhaps you could have them write a reflective paper on their perception of the benefit of the lab at the end of the year.
Posted 12:45, 18 Jul 2008
I like the main question a lot, and I like the idea of using the Fall for baseline. Question: are the students qualitatively similar to those that take the course in Spring? (Will they be an appropriate baseline?) Can you do pre- and post in Fall and use that as the null hypothesis - you would expect little change. You could compare the degree of change between Fall and the two Spring sections. ((You already discussed this some.... )) I.e. I like Plan A.

One thing I'm not as clear about - what will you ask them, specifically, in your surveys that will indicate to you that you've achieved your goal? What other sources of evidence can you use? I'd love to see more detail about your formative assessment, related to this.

Posted 12:46, 18 Jul 2008
HI Daron,
Have you evaluated students' assignments or exam answers to find out their overall understanding of genetics? Doing this might give you a more detailed picture of what they think about genetics and how they think to complement your anecdotal evidence.

What about getting alumni to come along and give a lecture or at least a talk about how genetics is used in their work? Perhaps this could incorporate a particular genetics concept that you normally teach.
Posted 12:46, 18 Jul 2008
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