TLEF snapshot: A blended approach to biology

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Blended learning to enhance student learning experience in a large undergraduate Biology laboratory course

The Biology 140 blended learning project will capitalize on blended learning to 1) develop and incorporate appropriate scaffolding resources and opportunities to practice and connect the fundamental elements of scientific inquiry/investigation and communication and 2) raise student motivation and perceptions of the relevance of their lab activities by making explicit connections to current research at UBC.

How did the idea for this project emerge?

Kathy Nomme: In Biology 140 we are introducing students to investigations in biological sciences. There are many skills that undergraduate students need to develop including finding appropriate information, critically reviewing information and developing means of testing their ideas.  We already have some support materials in place, but the TLEF will allow us to tailor instructional interactive tutorials that will better guide students in developing these skills. Over the course of 20 or so years, [the course has] accumulated all kinds of supports and add-ons and activities that actually made the course very full. It came to a point where we were asked to review the course, to get back to its essential components and make sure that we were providing the students with sufficient scaffolding so that they could be more successful.

Pamela Kalas: What was unique about how this project emerged is that really the need for revision emerged from student and TAs feedback. It’s not often that feedback from students is taken so seriously as to go forward and revise a whole course. The other side of it is UBC flexible learning initiative and the idea of using or making the best possible use of online resources to see if we can support students better. We want the materials to be enticing. The students have to be motivated to watch the video, do the tutorial.

Natalie Schimpf: In addition to the fact they felt the workload was really high, they felt that expectations and clarification around assignments and assessment wasn’t as clear as they would like it to be, and we’ve got preliminary data to suggest that that’s improved drastically.

How will this project help enrich student learning? How will it impact teaching?

NS: I think [students] will feel more supported because although there was a lot of supporting materials before, I don’t know that it was quite as targeted and as aligned with what we were expecting them to do.

KN: On impacting the teaching, it probably will take the pressure off some of the instructors, some of our TAs because the quality of the lessons will be consistent throughout. The students are all going to get the same message — how they interpret that information will be a different story. How will it impact student learning? I think it’s going to make it more interesting for them.

PK: I feel also for the TAs and people coming in to teach the course, that these online materials can serve as references. I remember the first time I taught the course. TAs and instructors could also watch the online material ahead of time that should clarify issues around language and structure of classes as well as add to the consistency.

What are your main goals with this project?

NS: To give them an authentic experience or first exposure to science and biology research.

KN: We want the students to learn something, but we don’t want them to be overburdened. We want them to enjoy what they’re doing and inspire them to carry on, to pursue their own interest. We want to make sure the TAs and other instructors get something out of this, so that they are not overburdened, and so we only get the best TAs wanting to come and teach in the course. I think for us too, we want to see students progress and seeing the benefit of what we are trying to teach them.

PK: Another thing we are trying is to include and make references to some of the biology research that happens at UBC. We are trying to do that through video interviews with some of the researchers who do work that relates to what students are doing in the lab so that they realize that they’re not just going through the motion, but they use the same techniques for their research.