While it was not my first time going to the Society for the Advancement of Biological Education Research (SABER)’s annual meeting, it was my first time going as a post doc researcher for SimBio. With that in mind, I attended talks with the intention of learning as much as I could about integrating our digital learning modules into classrooms. A talk that stood out to me was one of the keynotes by Dr. Justin Shaffer about high structure course design. Shaffer defined a high structure course as a course where students engage with course material before, during and after the class period. These courses are defined as high structure because there are assignments students must complete before class (reading and reading guides), during class (active learning activities like clickers and Kahoot!) and after class (comprehension quizzes and group exams). To ensure students are doing the pre-class work, these activities are around 1-2% of content on exams. The goal of a course designed like this is to make sure students thoroughly understand the material and have ample time to work on it.
Shaffer found that i-Clickers, as well as the gamified learning platform Kahoot!, positively correlated with learning. In addition, students seem to enjoy both clicker and Kahoot! activities done in class. This goes to show that students can learn material as well as have fun, a balance SimBio always keeps in mind when designing modules. This talk stood out to me because a lot of our material can be defined as high structure in that we emphasize knowledge acquisition early in our modules, then incorporate active learning activities that highlight the most important concepts.
It’s hard to talk about high structure courses without mentioning backwards design. One important aspect of backwards design is emphasizing the learning outcomes (LOs) you want students to take away from your course. Another talk during SABER that stood out to me was about just that. Kelly Hennessey gathered a set of LOs from introductory biology classes across the country with the goal of narrowing this list of 100 down to a manageable list that instructors could get through. The goal was to have a mix of objectives that were lower order as well as higher order on Bloom’s taxonomy. They then did a survey of instructors to try and get a consensus of which LOs were essential in intro biology courses. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, introductory biology instructors were much more likely to say lower order LOs were essential than higher order LOs. After all was said and done, they recommend that 75% of an intro course should come from these LO, which works out to 3 LOs per class session.
Asking the Right Questions
Since I spend most of my time working on GraphSmarts Assessments, I found myself gravitating towards talks focused on the various ways of assessing student learning. I find assessments fascinating because there are so many ways of testing knowledge. GraphSmarts Assessments analyzes student graphing skills through performance-based tasks. While this is important, I attended talks that emphasized assessment components that are just as important as performance. A talk by Jermey Hsu was about how the type of question could impact the way a student feels about themselves and their peers in their biology classes. He found that using the second person ‘you’ in a question in place of a peer’s name makes students feel like a ‘science’ person and impacts their affect. Also, when using a classmate’s name in a question, it makes students feel like a question is less complex and gives them a sense of motivation. As we create more assessments, both performance-based scenarios and formative questions within our modules, we will remember that the subject used within a question impacts students’ motivation and affect.