Introductory Core Redesign

Summary of Biology Core Redesign Project

The SJSU Biological Sciences Department is in the process of redesigning the core introductory biology sequence to align with the best practices in biology pedagogy as described in the Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education report. Introductory Biology is a two semester series with a high failure rate (20-30%). Our goal is to improve student performance in the course and student preparation for success in the major. We are supported by a California State University Program in Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB) Curriculum Grant.

We have reorganized the lecture topics to focus on the core competencies and concepts identified in the report and are making an effort to emphasize depth and not breadth of information. We have adopted a low-cost digital textbook, Integrating Concepts in Biology by Campbell, Heyer, & Paradise, which emphasizes experimental data and the core concepts. We are also developing active learning activities for the lecture, including reading pre-quizzes [pdf] and in-class case studies and clicker questions [pdf]. We are also incorporating more inquiry based laboratory activities [pdf]. Finally, we are also taking advantage of university resources to offer peer mentor facilitated homework session (supported by the Project Succeed grant).

To assess the success of our redesign and aid in our understanding of the student population that takes these courses, we are administering two validated concept inventories, the Biology Concept Inventory (BCI) and the Test of Scientific Literacy Skills (TOSLS), and a demographic survey at the beginning of the first course and the end of the second course. Pre-test scores from the previous version of the courses (BIOL 1A and 1B) indicate that first generation college students (1st Gen) had lower scores on average than students who are not 1st Gen on the TOSLS, but not BCI. Under-represented minority students (URM), which comprise African American, Alaskan or American Indian, and Hispanic/Latino students, had similar scores as non-URM students on both the TOSLS and BCI. This suggests that 1st Gen students, but not URM students, are entering Introductory Biology with poorer preparation. Overall pass rate in BIOL 1A was 80%, however, both 1st Gen and URM students were less likely to pass BIOL 1A (1st Gen = 71%, URM = 69%, 1st Gen & URM = 64%). We will be assessing the effect of our redesign on overall student performance in the core sequence as well as its effect on the achievement gap.

Additional Resources