Helping struggling students in introductory biology: a peer-tutoring approach that improves performance, perception, and retention.
ABSTRACT: The high attrition rate among science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors has long been an area of concern for institutions and educational researchers. The transition from introductory to advanced courses has been identified as a particularly "leaky" point along the STEM pipeline, and students who struggle early in an introductory STEM course are predominantly at risk. Peer-tutoring programs offered to all students in a course have been widely found to help STEM students during this critical transition, but hiring a sufficient number of tutors may not be an option for some institutions. As an alternative, this study examines the viability of an optional peer-tutoring program offered to students who are struggling in a large-enrollment, introductory biology course. Struggling students who regularly attended peer tutoring increased exam performance, expert-like perceptions of biology, and course persistence relative to their struggling peers who were not attending the peer-tutoring sessions. The results of this study provide information to instructors who want to design targeted academic assistance for students who are struggling in introductory courses.
Project description:In entry-level university courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, students participating in associated laboratory sessions generally do better than those who have no related lab classes. This is a problem when, for various reasons, not enough lab sections can be offered for students and/or when students opt out of optional available lab courses. Faced with such a situation, this study evaluated the efficacy of the peer-led team-learning (PLTL) instructional model as a potential method for narrowing the achievement gap among undergraduate students electing not to enroll in an optional laboratory component of an introductory biology course. In peer-led workshops, small groups of students participated in solving problems and other activities that encouraged active learning. Students led by peer leaders attained significantly higher exam and final course grades in introductory biology than comparable students not participating in PLTL. Among the introductory biology students who opted not to enroll in the optional lab course, those who participated in PLTL averaged more than a letter grade higher than those who did not. This difference was statistically significant, and the PLTL workshops almost entirely closed the achievement gap in lecture exam and final grades for students who did not take the lab.
Project description:Active learning methods have been shown to be superior to traditional lecture in terms of student achievement, and our findings on the use of Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) concur. Students in our introductory biology course performed significantly better if they engaged in PLTL. There was also a drastic reduction in the failure rate for underrepresented minority (URM) students with PLTL, which further resulted in closing the achievement gap between URM and non-URM students. With such compelling findings, we strongly encourage the adoption of Peer-Led Team Learning in undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses.
Project description:Although undergraduates have long held a role as teaching assistants for introductory science courses at liberal arts colleges and universities, educational institutions often do not provide these students with opportunities to explore science teaching and pedagogy. At Brandeis University, we designed an internship course to help increase the motivation, understanding, and knowledge of teaching pedagogy for undergraduate teaching assistants that is offered concurrently with their teaching responsibilities. Weekly sessions with faculty mentors are guided by readings in current science education literature, and throughout the semester students are asked to develop new course material based on the pedagogical frameworks discussed. To evaluate the effectiveness of this course, we surveyed students at the close of the semester. We found an overall increase in student confidence levels with regard to teaching and better awareness of the difficulties faced in science education. All students who participated in the course expressed interest in participating in future educational internships. We believe that the Educating Young Educators internship has the potential to be a catalyst for personal and professional growth from a novice into an informed young educator.
Project description:Women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Evidence suggests the microclimate of the classroom is an important factor influencing female course grades and interest, which encourages retention of women in STEM fields. Here, we test whether the gender composition of small (8-9 person) learning groups impacts course performance, sense of social belonging, and intragroup peer evaluations of intellectual contributions. Across two undergraduate active learning courses in introductory biology, we manipulated the classroom microclimate by varying the gender ratios of learning groups, ranging from 0% female to 100% female. We found that as the percent of women in groups increased, so did overall course performance for all students, regardless of gender. Additionally, women assigned higher peer- evaluations in groups with more women than groups with less women. Our work demonstrates an added benefit of the retention of women in STEM: increased performance for all, and positive peer perceptions for women.
Project description:Gender disparity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is an on-going challenge. Gender bias is one of the possible mechanisms leading to such disparities and has been extensively studied. Previous work showed that there was a gender bias in how students perceived the competence of their peers in undergraduate biology courses. We examined whether there was a similar gender bias in a mechanical engineering course. We conducted the study in two offerings of the course, which used different instructional practices. We found no gender bias in peer perceptions of competence in either of the offerings. However, we did see that the offerings' different instructional practices affected aspects of classroom climate, including: the number of peers who were perceived to be particularly knowledgeable, the richness of the associated network of connections between students, students' familiarity with each other, and their perceptions about the course environment. These results suggest that negative bias against female students in peer perception is not universal, either across institutions or across STEM fields, and that instructional methods may have an impact on classroom climate.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Multiple laboratories now offer clinical whole genome sequencing (WGS). We anticipate WGS becoming routinely used in research and clinical practice. Many institutions are exploring how best to educate geneticists and other professionals about WGS. Providing students in WGS courses with the option to analyze their own genome sequence is one strategy that might enhance students' engagement and motivation to learn about personal genomics. However, if this option is presented to students, it is vital they make informed decisions, do not feel pressured into analyzing their own genomes by their course directors or peers, and feel free to analyze a third-party genome if they prefer. We therefore developed a 26-hour introductory genomics course in part to help students make informed decisions about whether to receive personal WGS data in a subsequent advanced genomics course. In the advanced course, they had the option to receive their own personal genome data, or an anonymous genome, at no financial cost to them. Our primary aims were to examine whether students made informed decisions regarding analyzing their personal genomes, and whether there was evidence that the introductory course enabled the students to make a more informed decision. METHODS: This was a longitudinal cohort study in which students (N?=?19) completed questionnaires assessing their intentions, informed decision-making, attitudes and knowledge before (T1) and after (T2) the introductory course, and before the advanced course (T3). Informed decision-making was assessed using the Decisional Conflict Scale. RESULTS: At the start of the introductory course (T1), most (17/19) students intended to receive their personal WGS data in the subsequent course, but many expressed conflict around this decision. Decisional conflict decreased after the introductory course (T2) indicating there was an increase in informed decision-making, and did not change before the advanced course (T3). This suggests that it was the introductory course content rather than simply time passing that had the effect. In the advanced course, all (19/19) students opted to receive their personal WGS data. No changes in technical knowledge of genomics were observed. Overall attitudes towards WGS were broadly positive. CONCLUSIONS: Providing students with intensive introductory education about WGS may help them make informed decisions about whether or not to work with their personal WGS data in an educational setting.
Project description:Recent advances in genomics and structural biology have resulted in an unprecedented increase in biological data available from Internet-accessible databases. In order to help students effectively use this vast repository of information, undergraduate biology students at Drake University were introduced to bioinformatics software and databases in three courses, beginning with an introductory course in cell biology. The exercises and projects that were used to help students develop literacy in bioinformatics are described. In a recently offered course in bioinformatics, students developed their own simple sequence analysis tool using the Perl programming language. These experiences are described from the point of view of the instructor as well as the students. A preliminary assessment has been made of the degree to which students had developed a working knowledge of bioinformatics concepts and methods. Finally, some conclusions have been drawn from these courses that may be helpful to instructors wishing to introduce bioinformatics within the undergraduate biology curriculum.
Project description:This study describes the implementation and effectiveness of small-group active engagement (GAE) exercises in an introductory biology course (BSCI207) taught in a large auditorium setting. BSCI207 (Principles of Biology III-Organismal Biology) is the third introductory core course for Biological Sciences majors. In fall 2014, the instructors redesigned one section to include GAE activities to supplement lecture content. One section (n = 198) employed three lectures per week. The other section (n = 136) replaced one lecture per week with a GAE class. We explored the benefits and challenges associated with implementing GAE exercises and their relative effectiveness for unique student groups (e.g., minority students, high- and low-grade point average [GPA] students). Our findings show that undergraduates in the GAE class exhibited greater improvement in learning outcomes than undergraduates in the traditional class. Findings also indicate that high-achieving students experienced the greatest benefit from GAE activities. Some at-risk student groups (e.g., two-year transfer students) showed comparably low learning gains in the course, despite the additional support that may have been afforded by active learning. Collectively, these findings provide valuable feedback that may assist other instructors who wish to revise their courses and recommendations for institutions regarding prerequisite coursework approval policies.
Project description:Early research experiences must be made available to all undergraduate students, including those at 2-yr institutions who account for nearly half of America's college students. We report on barriers unique to 2-yr institutions that preclude the success of an early course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE). Using a randomized study design, we evaluated a CURE in equivalent introductory biology courses at a 4-yr institution and a 2-yr institution within the same geographic region. We found that these student populations developed dramatically different impressions of the experience. Students at the 4-yr institution enjoyed the CURE significantly more than the traditional labs. However, students at the 2-yr institution enjoyed the traditional labs significantly more, even though the CURE successfully produced targeted learning gains. On the basis of course evaluations, we enhanced instructor, student, and support staff training and reevaluated this CURE at a different campus of the same 2-yr institution. This time, the students reported that they enjoyed the research experience significantly more than the traditional labs. We conclude that early research experiences can succeed at 2-yr institutions, provided that a comprehensive implementation strategy targeting instructor, student, and support staff training is in place.
Project description:Objective:To survey current community health nursing (CHN) courses offered in baccalaureate nursing programs in the mainland of China from the perspective on information available on websites of colleges and universities. Methods:A descriptive research design was used. Data were collected from the official websites of colleges and universities providing baccalaureate nursing programs in the mainland of China. A checklist was applied to identify academic year, type of course, credit, and class hours for both theory and practice teaching of CHN courses including Community Nursing, Geriatric Nursing, Rehabilitation Nursing, and Health Education. The prescribed textbooks were consulted for teaching content. Results:Colleges (n = 16) and universities (n = 26) offering baccalaureate nursing programs with accessible online information for curriculum setting were recruited. The results showed that most of the accessible educational institutions (92.86%) have offered three to four investigated CHN courses. Community Nursing, Geriatric Nursing and Rehabilitation Nursing are generally offered to juniors, while Health Education is offered in half of these institutions in different academic years. Community Nursing is mainly offered as a required course with 2 credits, while Geriatric Nursing, Rehabilitation Nursing and Health Education are provided as elective courses with fewer credits. Around half of the institutions have practice hours for Community Nursing, Geriatric Nursing and Rehabilitation Nursing courses. However, the proportion of practice hours in the courses is generally less than 50%. The teaching content focuses on clinical care competencies instead of complementary competencies. Conclusion:It was revealed that CHN education in China is still in its infancy from website information of colleges and universities. CHN courses should be included in curriculum design, and teaching reforms and innovations should be taken to prepare nursing students to practice in primary health care and community settings.