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ASM-CUE 2009 - Presentation

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This is what I submitted! (1807 characters)

Creating a Learner-Centered Non-Majors Biology Course: Getting Back More Than You Give Away!
C.A. Hurney
. James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA.

Learner-centered teaching in its fullest form represents more than creating a course where students are engaged.  Rather, it represents a shift in the balance of power, function of content, and/or responsibility for learning in a course.  This poster explores how I created a learner-centered environment in a large (75 students) non-majors biology course with an emphasis on increasing the students’ scientific literacy skills.  Prior to implementing a learner-centered environment, I taught the first unit in a teacher-centered format rich with a variety of strategies designed to engage the students in learning (e.g., collaborative activities and clicker questions).  To make this course learner-centered, I shifted the balance of power to the students in three ways.  I implemented strategies that allowed students to select course topics for the rest of the semester, allowed the class to determine the types of assignments and points allocated to these assignments for each unit, and let students individually decide, prior to receiving grades, the weight of exams and projects.  Mid-semester survey results indicated that students valued the learning impact of most of the assignments and chose to utilize all of them during the rest of the semester.  However, they decided to increase the number of points allocated to the clicker questions.  One of the topics selected by the students was the Biology of Cancer, which is a unit I have taught before.  Exam results from the learner-centered version of this unit were higher than the teacher-centered exam scores.  Survey results from the end of the semester, indicated that 65% of the students agreed or strongly agreed that choosing the topics enhanced their learning of course material.  Students also reported that they put more effort into the parts of the course that they had weighted more heavily.  Finally, survey results support that students are more reflective of the learning environment, confident in their ability to learn biological topics and more interested in biology than they thought they would be.  From the perspective of the instructor, well what can I say?  It was amazing!

 

First Version of Abstract (1845 characters)

Creating a Learner-Centered Non-Majors Biology Course: Getting Back More Than You Give Away!
C.A. Hurney
. James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA.

Learner-centered teaching in its fullest form represents a philosophical shift in how both the instructor and students approach the learning goals of a course.  Designing a learner-centered course involves making shifts in the role of the instructor, balance of power, function of content, and/or responsibility for learning.  This poster addresses the problem of creating a learner-centered environment in a large (~75 students) non-majors biology course.  The instructor implemented strategies that allowed students to select course topics and allocate points to assignments and exams.  Prior to implementing the student-centered environment, the first unit was taught in a teacher-centered format rich with a variety of strategies to engage the students in the learning process (e.g., collaborative activities and clicker questions).  After the first unit, the students selected the content of the course based on several news stories assigned from a biology news website (www.biologynews.net).   Survey results indicated that students valued the impact most of the activities had on their learning and choose to utilize all of the activities during the rest of the semester.  However, they decided to increase the number of points allocated to the clicker questions.  Students were also given the power, prior to receiving grades, to determine whether exams or projects carried more weight for their individual course grade.  Results from the end of the semester, indicated that 65% of the students agree or strongly agree that choosing the topics helped them learn the course material better.  Students also reported that they put more effort into the parts of the course that they had weighted more heavily and although they would prefer deciding how to allocate points after receiving their grades, they understood why it was more effective to make the decision before the assignment or exam.  Finally, survey results support that students are more reflective of the learning environment, confident in their ability to learn biological topics and more interested in biology than they thought they would be.  From the perspective of the instructor, well what can I say?  It was amazing!
 

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Viewing 7 of 7 comments: view all
Hi Carol,
I think that you could delete the first two sentences and start with: "This poster addresses the problems ..." I would find it easier to understand the context of your study if you described the overall learning objective of the course and how you related this to the topics that you assigned from Biologynews. Your SOTL institute ppt has the learning objectives phrased more about learning science than biology per se. Is this correct? I can see why you would do this in a learner-centred course, but I would like to see something on what the content was - or how you decided. Also your sotl presentation mentions that you have exam results data and I feel that this is missing from the abstract - an idea of how effectively the students actually learnt biology as distinct from what they thought about the course. But all-in-all a nice study to enthuse other teachers!
Posted 00:42, 15 Feb 2009
(Continuing from Comment #1): And a nice study to awe other teachers! My left brain fears this approach, but my right brain wants to try it. I agree: some data would be valuable. However, I like the first two sentences. I think they set up the philosophy of the research well. To make room for data, how about reducing this section:

"Results from the end of the semester, indicated that 65% of the students agree or strongly agree that choosing the topics helped them learn the course material better. Students also reported that they put more effort into the parts of the course that they had weighted more heavily and although they would prefer deciding how to allocate points after receiving their grades, they understood why it was more effective to make the decision before the assignment or exam."

so it reads something like this:

"End-of-semester results indicated that 65% of the students agree or strongly agree that choosing the topics helped them learn the course material better. Students stated the weight of grading helped them focus their efforts."

I think the details about how they prefer to allocate points after grading, but understood why this wasn't logical can be held back for the poster itself. If you still need more room, the last two sentences could go too. You might also try putting just one space between the end of a sentence and the beginning of the next instead of two (my high school typing teacher is rolling over in his grave).

I have a class or three that would benefit from this approach -- I am going to try it on a small scale later this semester! Thanks, Critical Buddy!
Posted 10:10, 15 Feb 2009
Carol you are SO enthusiastic it's infectious. How about, instead of "The instructor chose...", use "I chose"? (There's a "choose" in there somewhere where you meant the past tense, too.) Maybe a few fewer words, but this could just be me. For example, "Students valued effects of activities on their learning" (or something akin) instead of "Survey results indicated that students valued the impact most of the activities had on their learning..." You have such cool results, let them shine! Also, are you going to say more about how, exactly, you turned student-chosen topics into learning material?

Best, Anne-Marie
Posted 16:56, 15 Feb 2009
Carol - this is great! You have done something incredible here-MOTIVATED the students to want to learn. That comes across in the abstract. When you make the poster, you may want to focus a little bit on what you think are the keys points that gets the student buy-in. When in the course do you see the scales tip from teacher-centered to student-centered, or maybe that is a presentation in its own....
Posted 08:02, 17 Feb 2009
Thanks for all of your insightful comments. I am approaching this presentation and subsequent manuscript as a "what is" question. I don't have lots of quantitative data and I am not yet in the position to measure learning outcomes. And to be honest, I am still in the process of analyzing the gobs of survey comments I collected from my students. I do have exam data, but I found it difficult to incorporate into the abstract since I can only compare scores from the units where the students selected topics from previous iterations of my course and this only happened once! So, I will rework the abstract to incorporate the learning goals of my course and try to give more insight into the data I collected without promising more than I can really deliver.

Thanks so much! You guys are awesome! edited 10:04, 17 Feb 2009
Posted 10:03, 17 Feb 2009
Cant wait to see the poster at the meeting. Sherri
Posted 10:50, 17 Feb 2009
Hi Carol,

I agree you've done a great job, both with the work itself and also the abstract.. CAn't waitto see the final presentation. I do have one minor suggestion. Since your abstract seems to have a nice flow of logic where you first describe what you have done and then talk about your findings, I would suggest that you move the sentence:
"Students were also given the power, prior to receiving grades, to determine whether exams or projects carried more weight for their individual course grade. " two sentence up just before the sentence that starts with "survey results indicate..." since this is also a sentence about what was done in the course and not a result. I just think it will flow better..

See you in May,
Didem
Posted 19:57, 17 Feb 2009
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