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College- and university-level biology teaching in the United States is highly regarded as producing some of the best researchers and clinicians in the world. However, attrition in undergraduate science education is high (Seymour, E. and N. Hewitt, 1997. Talking about Leaving: Why undergraduates leave the sciences. Westview Press), and biological literacy rates among the general U.S. citizenry are acknowledged to be low. Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education has recently called for significant changes in the learning experiences of all college biology students (AAAS, 2011). However, for decades, the vast majority of university biology instructors have taught with little to no formal pedagogical preparation, with little opportunity for collaboration in teaching, and limited access to assessment evidence gauging student conceptual change.

Together, as a strong collaboration between the San Francisco State University Science Education Partnership & Assessment Laboratory (SFSU SEPAL) and the SFSU Department of Biology, we will implement Biology Faculty Explorations in Scientific Teaching (Biology FEST), a multipronged faculty development program that will enhance faculty pedagogical expertise, provide support for iteratively changing their teaching, engaging in regular discussions of student assessment evidence, and building infrastructure to support comprehensive curricular reform in the future. The overarching goal of the effort is to produce students who are scientifically curious and literate leaders in society regardless of their eventual career emphases. Biology FEST has the potential to transform the learning experiences of the approximately 5,000 students (almost 20 percent of the SFSU student body) each semester who are enrolled in majors and nonmajors biology courses. Through this initial effort, we aspire to prepare biology faculty pedagogically through scientific teaching for more comprehensive curricular reform.

The Biology FEST effort has grown out of strong interest by biology faculty (more than 85 percent) in learning about pedagogical developments. Biology FEST activities will engage both tenure-track and nontenure-track faculty who teach across all curricular areas in majors and nonmajors courses by (1) enhancing pedagogical expertise of biology faculty through explorations in scientific teaching, (2) providing intellectual resources to support biology faculty in iteratively improving their teaching, (3) engaging faculty in design and analysis of assessments across the biology curriculum, and (4) fostering infrastructure development to move toward more extensive curricular change.

Biology FEST will facilitate annual faculty development activities, including scientific teaching workshops, scientific teaching summer institutes, teaching squares, classroom research partnerships, and assessment community gatherings. In addition, six classrooms will be equipped with instructional technology systems to support implementation, and two scientific reaching postdoctoral fellows will collaborate with faculty in developing common program-level assessment tools and synthesizing results annually. In addition, project leadership and an external evaluator will follow the impact of Biology FEST on faculty themselves.

The proposed Biology FEST effort represents the first phase of a long-term effort to fundamentally transform the learning experiences of all students taking biology courses at this diverse, public, urban institution, which enrolls almost 30,000 students each year. There is a wonderful confluence of events at SFSU at this moment: local expertise on effective biology teaching through SEPAL, an enthusiastic biology faculty eager for change, and the infrastructure to collect assessment evidence from large numbers of students. Biology FEST has the potential to be a national model for engaging research-active faculty in collaborative explorations in scientific teaching toward the goal of improved undergraduate student biology learning.

For More Information

Kimberly Tanner, Ph.D.
San Francisco State University
Department of Biology
1600 Holloway Avenue Hensill Hall
San Francisco, CA 94132-1740


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