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To address the challenges for improving undergraduate STEM education, Western Michigan University is enhancing the learning experience for undergraduate biology students by making their experience more authentic, more like what scientists do. In "Developing Scientists as Teachers; Developing Students as Scientists: A Dual Approach to Transforming the Culture of Undergraduate Biology Education", we create instructor and student learning communities that focus on engaging students in science practices and meaningful learning. Our dual approach is based on research recommended practices for fostering student engagement and promoting institutional change. We build on the momentum of our prior work to merge research experiences for undergraduates, curriculum development, and professional development. Our primary goal is to increase persistence of undergraduates in STEM majors, with specific focus on biological sciences.
Our philosophy of transformation acknowledges that for students to develop as scientists, scientists must develop as teachers. This project uses learning communities to develop scientists as teachers who embrace the essence of authentic science practices within science instruction. By engaging all students in relevant science research, we develop students as scientists. Students who see themselves as part of the scientific community will more likely persist toward a STEM career. A cultural change emerges as scientist/teacher/student identities are fostered, the outcome of which is a learning environment reflective of real, engaging science.
This project includes the following elements: (1) Curriculum Development. We incorporate research experiences for all biology majors so that students see themselves as scientists from early in their undergraduate program. Students in two introductory biology courses for majors work in teams to design and conduct scientific research. Questions are generated by the students, based on their interests as well as course objectives. Classrooms are transformed into a scientific community where students are scientists: asking questions, conducting investigations, and generating and communicating evidence-based arguments to their peers. (2) Professional Development [PD]. We are establishing learning communities for faculty, teaching assistants, and undergraduate peer leaders. The PD also includes a course for teaching assistants to learn methods of active/inquiry strategies and have ongoing support for implementing these strategies in the courses. We are establishing a science teaching journal club, a "scientists as teachers" speaker series, and summer workshops with follow up for on-site classroom-based support and feedback from peers and experts. The learning communities and PD emphasize strategies of science inquiry, nature of science, and engaging students in science practices that develop science identities. (3) Assessment Plan. Our rigorous assessment plan identifies impacts of the sustainable program. Assessment and evaluation is guided by the following targeted outcomes such as demonstration of knowledge and skills of science practice and an increased identity as a scientist for the student along with developing a teaching orientation toward student-centered inquiry and an increase in self-efficacy for active strategies for inquiry science teaching for the faculty and teaching assistants.

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Susan Stapleton, Ph.D.
Western Michigan University
1903 W. Michigan, Friedmann Hall
Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5202


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