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1. Context & Problem


The course at the heart of my research question is GBIO 103, the non-majors biology course offered by the Department of Biology, as a part of JMU's General Education Program.  I have been teaching this course for 11 years and have developed a course that explores 3-4 topical areas in depth using a variety of teaching strategies (in-class active learning, JiTT modules, process-based projects, etc).  I hope that this course design helps my students acheive the General Education objectives for the Natural Sciences component of the curriculum.  There are eight objectives that students should acheive after completing all of their course work in the Natural Sciences (see list below).  My course targets a subset of the objectives indicated by bold text.

  • Describe the methods of inquiry that lead to mathematical truth and scientific knowledge and be able to distinguish science from pseudoscience.
  • Use theories and models as unifying principles that help us understand natural phenomena and make predictions.
  • Recognize the interdependence of applied research, basic research, and technology, and how they affect society.
  • Illustrate the interdependence between developments in science and social and ethical issues.
  • Use graphical, symbolic, and numerical methods to analyze, organize, and interpret natural phenomena.
  • Discriminate between association and causation, and identify the types of evidence used to establish causation.
  • Formulate hypotheses, identify relevant variables, and design experiments to test hypotheses.
  • Evaluate the credibility, use, and misuse of scientific and mathematical information in scientific developments and public-policy issues.

During the fall 2007 semester, I decided to create a learner-centered environment in GBIO 103 where I allowed the students to:

  • Select some of the content of the course
  • Choose office hours
  • Negotiate the point value of certain assignments
  • Be a part of the dialogue about assessment strategies for each unit
  • Use student-response systems (clickers) to assess their learning during class
  • ok, I changed too many things at once, but I couldn't help myself!
Problem / Question:  The Big Picture

Does a Learner-Centered Environment increase or impact student

  1. awareness of their ability to understand and process scientific information
  2. attitudes about science and civic engagement regarding scientific issues
  3. performance on exam questions that assess higher-order cognitive processes
  4. skill development on projects based on finding, evaluating and reacting to scientific information
  5. reactions to the learning environment
  6. retention of skills acquired during their experience of GBIO 103

Why do some students unable to respond to this environment?  What is the profile or skill development of students who succeed vs. those who struggle?


Problem / Question:  The Post-SoTL Institure "Focused" Picture

What is the impact of letting non-majors control aspects of a general biology course?

Basic Information :

-Course - name and number:   GBIO 103

-Semester(s):   Fall 2007, Spring 2008

-Student population (i.e. Biology/Biotech, Majors, etc.):   Non-Majors

-Number of students:  75-85 per semester

-Level of students:  Freshman, Sophomores, Juniors & Seniors

Scholar Implementation Plan

-IRB Completed Fall 2007, extensions filed.  New IRB needed for Spring 2008

-Data collection:  Multiple surveys implemented during Fall 2007, may contain enough data for one paper.  I want to implement some other surveys (i.e., SALG) for the Spring 2008 cohort, but that survey will address a different question.

-Preliminary data analysis:  I will begin coding the qualitative data from the Fall 2007 surveys this semester and analyze the quantitative data I have from surveys and exam scores.