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In the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, current research focuses on developing assessment tools that explore student thinking in biology, enhancing diversity and inclusion in the classroom through instructional changes to include more active learning, evaluating the long-term impact of different kinds of teaching on student retention and professional development in STEM, and creating faculty communities to explore issues such as helping students transition from high school to college STEM courses. These research areas are explored using classroom-based assessments, interviews, observation protocols, and surveys analyzed through quantitative and qualitative methods.
Cornell has a growing and enthusiastic community of scholars who are engaged in Discipline-Based Education Research. Our research programs engage undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, and university faculty. We collaborate with Discipline-Based Education Research scholars in Physics, the Active Learning Initiative community, and the Center for Teaching Innovation. Members of our group participate in weekly journal clubs and research group meetings, and often sponsor events to engage the larger Cornell teaching community. We also collaborate with Discipline-Based Education Researchers at several other institutions, strengthening the questions we can ask and the generalizability of the results.
Biology Measuring Achievement and Progression in Science or Bio-MAPS, is a suite of diagnostic assessments that aim to measure student understanding across a degree program and are aligned with the Vision and Change nationally-validated set of core biology concepts (AAAS, 2011), further elaborated in the BioCore Guide (Brownell et al., 2014).
All of the assessments have been response validated through standard methodologies (e.g., student interviews, expert feedback, and pilot testing at multiple institutions) (NRC, 2011; Bass et al., 2016; Adams and Wieman, 2011). The questions present a scenario and students respond true/false or likely/unlikely to be true to a set of statements.
More information about the development of the Bio-MAPS assessments and how they can be used is found here: Tools for Change: Measuring Student Conceptual Understanding Across Undergraduate Biology Programs Using Bio-MAPS Assessments
We recommend that Bio-MAPS assessments are given to students at several time points throughout the undergraduate major: at the beginning, after the introductory course series, and just before graduation.
All of the Bio-MAPS assessments include questions addressing the five Vision and Change core concepts. However, each assessment focuses on a different area of biology. The assessments are:
- EcoEvo-MAPS (Ecology and Evolution) Summers et al., 2018; Smith et al., 2019
- Molecular Biology Capstone Couch et al., 2017
- Phys-MAPS (Physiology) Semsar et al., 2019
- GenBio-MAPS (General Biology) Couch et al., 2019
We have set up an automated system for administering the Bio-MAPS assessments here.
Publishing Active Learning Lessons
We publish many of our active learning classroom lessons in peer-reviewed journals such as CourseSource because it:
-demonstrates a commitment to high-quality teaching
-fosters an opportunity to collaborate with colleagues
-provides a unique opportunity for us to receive meaningful feedback on instructional materials from peers through the review process
-can help other instructors overcome barriers to using active-learning
Here are several published active learning lessons from the CDER group and Cornell faculty:
Understanding the High School to College Transition for STEM Students
The overarching goal of the project is to conduct fundamental research on how faculty members’ first-hand knowledge of differences in STEM instruction at the college and high school levels can be used to develop the infrastructure, capacity, resources, and expertise needed to work toward a more seamless transition for incoming first-year students in gateway STEM courses. To accomplish this, we survey students about their experiences and host Faculty Learning Communities where gateway instructors can support each other in making changes that align with student needs.
We have an in press paper about student expectations regarding classroom instructional practices:
Meaders C, Toth E, Lane AK, Shuman JK, Couch BA, Stains M, Stetzer MR, Vinson E, Smith MK. What will I experience in my college STEM courses? An investigation of student predictions about instructional practices in introductory courses. CBE-Life Sciences Education. 2019 in press
Development of the Eco-BLIC
We are developing a new assessment instrument, titled the Biology Lab Inventory of Critical thinking for Ecology or Eco-BLIC, that biology instructors can use to measure undergraduate students' critical thinking skills in the context of ecology data collected from field settings. The design of the Eco-BLIC will build from work on the Physics Lab Inventory of Critical thinking (PLIC), which was also developed in the CDER group.
Read more about our plans here: