Chapter 3

The Science of Learning

This chapter offers a brief primer on the concept of active learning, summarizing the growing research base and introducing its applications in a variety of educational settings.33 After outlining some of the general characteristics of common approaches to faculty development programs, it then describes a program developed by the National Academies to apply the concepts in an effort to improve undergraduate biology education. As mentioned in Chapter 1, that National Academies program is the model for a new international project to develop networks of life sciences faculty able to apply active learning methods to responsible conduct and dual use issues. Chapter 4 will repeat much of the basic material presented in this chapter, but in the context of how it was presented and modeled in a real learning situation.

Methods for active learning instruction have been under development and refinement for more than 130 years. A large and growing body of evidence, cutting across scientific disciplines, is demonstrating that modern versions of these methods offer the potential for significantly improved learning in comparison to traditional, student-passive, lecture-based instruction (NRC, 2000; Handelsman et al. 2007; Knight and Wood, 2005; Prince, 2004; NRC, 2011d; Meltzer and Thornton, 2012). A common feature of active learning instruction is that it involves students in their own learning more deeply and more intensely than does traditional instruction. In all cases, the instructional methods (1) are based on, assessed by, and validated through research on teaching and learning, (2) incorporate classroom and/or other activities that require all students to express their thinking through speaking, writing, or other actions that go beyond listening and taking notes, and (3) have been tested repeatedly in actual classroom settings and have resulted in objective evidence of improved learning. Learner-centered environments are more likely to be collaborative, inquiry based, and relevant (Brewer and Smith, 2011). The research suggests that there are many teaching strategies that can support active learning. These range from problem-solving/discussion sessions in class to original investigations that may be student designed. Table 3-1 contains descriptions of a variety of active learning techniques, with illustrations of how they might be used in biology classes.

The methodology has been effective in various settings, from small groups to large lecture-based courses.34 At the college level,

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33 Many of the terms associated with active learning are defined in the Glossary.

34 Engaging students in active learning in large class settings such as lecture halls has garnered much attention from education researchers. A number of techniques, including the use of individual wireless response systems (clickers) that allow students to answer questions anonymously, “think-pair-share” techniques in which students develop their own answers to questions and then discuss their answers with a student next to them (often combined with clicker questions), and similar exercises involving peer learning and engagement have proven to be valuable active learning tools in these kinds of settings. For additional



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Chapter 3 The Science of Learning This chapter offers a brief primer on the concept more intensely than does traditional instruction. of active learning, summarizing the growing In all cases, the instructional methods (1) are research base and introducing its applications in based on, assessed by, and validated through a variety of educational settings.33 After research on teaching and learning, (2) outlining some of the general characteristics of incorporate classroom and/or other activities common approaches to faculty development that require all students to express their thinking programs, it then describes a program developed through speaking, writing, or other actions that by the National Academies to apply the concepts go beyond listening and taking notes, and (3) in an effort to improve undergraduate biology have been tested repeatedly in actual classroom education. As mentioned in Chapter 1, that settings and have resulted in objective evidence National Academies program is the model for a of improved learning. Learner-centered new international project to develop networks of environments are more likely to be collaborative, life sciences faculty able to apply active learning inquiry based, and relevant (Brewer and Smith, methods to responsible conduct and dual use 2011). The research suggests that there are many issues. Chapter 4 will repeat much of the basic teaching strategies that can support active material presented in this chapter, but in the learning. These range from problem- context of how it was presented and modeled in solving/discussion sessions in class to original a real learning situation. investigations that may be student designed. Methods for active learning instruction have Table 3-1 contains descriptions of a variety of been under development and refinement for active learning techniques, with illustrations of more than 130 years. A large and growing body how they might be used in biology classes. of evidence, cutting across scientific disciplines, The methodology has been effective in is demonstrating that modern versions of these various settings, from small groups to large methods offer the potential for significantly lecture-based courses.34 At the college level, improved learning in comparison to traditional,                                                              student-passive, lecture-based instruction (NRC, 34 Engaging students in active learning in large class settings 2000; Handelsman et al. 2007; Knight and such as lecture halls has garnered much attention from Wood, 2005; Prince, 2004; NRC, 2011d; Meltzer education researchers. A number of techniques, including and Thornton, 2012). A common feature of the use of individual wireless response systems (clickers) that allow students to answer questions anonymously, active learning instruction is that it involves “think-pair-share” techniques in which students develop students in their own learning more deeply and their own answers to questions and then discuss their answers with a student next to them (often combined with                                                              clicker questions), and similar exercises involving peer 33 Many of the terms associated with active learning are learning and engagement have proven to be valuable active defined in the Glossary. learning tools in these kinds of settings. For additional 29

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30 Developing Capacities for Teaching Responsible Science in the MENA Region formal active learning has been used in courses pathways to factual knowledge and deeper that range from introductory undergraduate to conceptual understanding (NRC, 2006b). graduate level. The data show that there is no However, the science education community is significant difference in the positive results now beginning to view the entire course achieved by predominately female or male, and (classroom, laboratory, and field experiences), heterogeneous or mixed gender groups. especially at the introductory level, as an However, the positive effect of small-group opportunity to integrate content with scientific learning was significantly greater for groups processes and skills and to help students composed primarily of African American and understand and appreciate the relevance of Latino students compared with predominantly science to their own lives and that of their Caucasian and relatively heterogeneous groups communities (Labov, 2004; Handelsman et al., (Springer et al., 1997). Additionally, workshops 2006; AAAS, 2011; PCAST, 2012; NRC, 2012a). for teachers and college and university faculty Critical reflection, as called for in the third increasingly use active learning methods. strand, is an essential component of virtually all It has been demonstrated that to be well effective approaches to learning. To date, this is understood, factual knowledge must be put in a the only practice that has demonstrated student suitable conceptual framework. The data show learning gains in understanding the nature of that framing learning in the sciences as four science (NRC, 2006b, 2008). Reflection provides intertwined strands of proficiency provides a students with the opportunity to explore their sound basis for creating effective teaching and level of understanding with other learners (and learning experiences at all levels (NRC, 2007b, the teacher) and helps them become more aware 2011d); these are: of their own levels of learning. Students become able to self-monitor their learning, they plan and  understanding scientific explanations, set goals, and they have many opportunities to  generating scientific evidence, reflect on their learning and adapt as necessary.  reflecting on scientific knowledge, and The value of such “metacognition,” or self-  participating productively in science. monitoring of one’s learning, has been demonstrated by many studies and is a critical A critically important aspect of effective component of effective teaching and learning instruction is the integration of learning about strategies (Zimmerman and Schunk, 2001). process and content. Although this is not always Active learning, properly implemented, the case in practice, science teaching laboratories encourages metacognition. Given the historically have been viewed by many faculty as complexities of the ethical and social dimensions the place to provide valuable and unique in the responsible conduct of science, it is also opportunities for the learner to engage in important to include time for various forms of conceptual materials. Rather than being viewed reflection throughout a course. as an add-on or distraction from content Research shows that understanding is built mastery, the laboratory is one of the many on a foundation of existing conceptual frameworks and experiences. While prior                                                                                           knowledge can support further learning, it may information about encouraging active learning in large class settings for different disciplines, see for example also lead to pre- or misconceptions that act as MacGregor et al., 2000; Allen and Tanner, 2005; Caldwell, barriers to learning. Prior understandings are 2007; Poirier and Feldman, 2007; Stranger-Hall et al., 2010; influenced by culture, which has implications for Wood and Tanner, 2012)

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The Science of Learning 31 TABLE 3-1 Examples of Learning Objectives and Active Learning Techniques  Biology Example and Instructions Objectives Brainstorming Answering the following question in large Brainstorming elicits responses from large group. One person records answers. Optional: audience and aggregates them into a single list. It Arrange the list into two or more categories provides the instructor and students with an (e.g., abiotic vs. biotic factors) overview of the group’s collective knowledge. By separating the brainstorm list into two or more Question: What does a plant need to survive categories, students evaluate how well they understand the role of each response in a specific context. Case study and decision making Read the following case. Write a paragraph to Cases engage students in solving a problem in a explain what the patient should do next. Justify real-life context. To solve them, students need to your recommendation with biological reasons. evaluate what they know about infectious disease, causal agents, and antibiotic resistance; Case: A patient expressed eye irritation, which apply that knowledge to the case; and determine the doctor diagnosed as conjunctivitis. what additional information is needed to make a Antibiotic treatment alleviated the symptoms recommendation. within a few days, but the symptoms returned two weeks later. The doctor recommended taking antibiotics again. “Clicker” questions Answer the following question on your Clicker questions require students to gauge electronic response keypad. whether they understand a concept or topic, thereby engaging students in the ensuing Question: Which organisms are most distantly activities (e.g., lecture) about that topic. related? (a) bacteria and archaea; (b) plants and animals; (c) plants and fungi; (d) humans and fungi Group exams Work with a group to discuss the following Group exams engage students in working statement. Write your answer individually. collaboratively to identify creative solutions to a problem. Writing individual answers requires Statement: Explain the role of aflatoxin in liver students to evaluate how well they understand cancer. the topic and its underlying concepts.        

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32 Developing Capacities for Teaching Responsible Science in the MENA Region Mini-map Arrange the following terms in logical order. Mini-maps engage students in developing a non- Explain (using arrows or words) how the terms verbal representation of a concept. The process relate to each other. of developing a visual arrangement requires students to evaluate different ways that terms Terms: tRNA, DNA, protein, mRNA, amino can relate to each other and to appreciate that a acid, translation, transcription, replication, biological process may not be unidirectional or promoter linear. One-minute paper Write for one minute to answer the following One-minute papers engage students in question. articulating their knowledge about a topic or Question: What about the structure of DNA applying their knowledge to another situation. suggests a mechanism for replication? By writing their answer in one minute, students need to evaluate the most important and relevant components of their argument. Pre/post questions Write for one minute at the beginning and end Pre/post questions can take many forms, of class in response to the following statement. including one-minute papers or clicker Explain any differences between your responses. questions. They engage students in thinking Statement: Describe two mechanisms that a critically about a specific question or problem. bacterium can use to harm a plant. By comparing pre/post responses, students evaluate whether and why their answers changed during the class period. Strip sequence Use your textbook as a guide and work with a Strip sequences engage students in recognizing partner. You write the important steps in cause and effect and in determining the logical meiosis; your partner writes the important steps sequence of events. When students derive their in mitosis. Cut the steps apart and scramble the own strip sequences, they need to evaluate the order. Each of you should try to put the other critical steps in the process. person’s steps into the correct order. Discuss. Statement correction Discuss with a partner what is wrong with the Statement corrections engage students in following statement. Propose an alternative evaluating what concepts are misrepresented statement that is correct. and in determining what information they need Statement: “I don’t want to eat any viruses or to correct it. bacteria, so I refuse to buy foods that have been genetically modified.” SOURCE: From Scientific Teaching by Handelsman, Miller, and Pfund. Copyright © 2007 by W.H. Freeman and Company. Used with permission.

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The Science of Learning 33 the development of curricular materials that may Even though much of the research cited and be used to teach responsible conduct of research the examples referenced above have occurred in for international audiences (NRC, 2008). The the United States, a growing number of importance of engaging learners’ prior countries are undertaking efforts to reform and understanding as they learn new material is an transform the way that science is taught. important insight from the science of learning Collaborations between U.S. and non-U.S. (summarized in NRC, 2000). universities are assessing the effectiveness of Faculties are adept at designing curricula to active learning in a variety of contexts. A study engage students in key scientific practices: talk conducted simultaneously in Sweden and the and argument, modeling and representation, United States suggests that curricula that actively and learning from investigations (NRC, 2008). engage the student do appear to make a They are less facile at course design with active permanent change in their conceptual learning as a goal. Most instructors first select framework. As long as 2½ years after the the textbook, then compile the course syllabus instruction, students had a “good” grasp of and assignments, construct the examinations, concepts (Bernhard, 2001). A review of the and finally describe learning goals and literature finds there is broad but uneven objectives. Active learning courses are best support for the core elements of active learning designed when the first step is the identification (Prince, 2004). “Students who learn in small of goals and objectives and then the syllabus. groups generally demonstrate greater academic This “backward design” process (Wiggins and achievement, express more favorable attitudes McTighe, 2005), also called reverse design, is toward learning,” and remain enrolled in intended to ensure that learning objectives science, technology, engineering, and inform instructional and assessment strategies mathematics (STEM) courses and programs “to through explicit articulation of these two critical a greater extent than their more traditionally components of the learning process and then taught counterparts” (Springer et al.,1997:42). integrate them into the design of the course at Conferences of international scientific the outset. unions and other professional organizations Assessment of student learning should be now routinely include sessions that feature both formative and summative. Formative symposia, workshops, or other sessions that assessment is generally low stakes (either none emphasize teaching and learning. The or a small portion of the student’s grade) and is International Brain Research Organization used regularly throughout the learning process, (IBRO), a global network for neuroscience providing feedback to both students and faculty research, organizes “Teaching Tools about student learning and academic progress. Workshops” that assist African countries in Summative assessment, conducted at the end of adding or improving the teaching of the block or course, provides information about neuroscience. The workshops include both student learning gains and the overall success of content and teaching methods, with a strong the effort. Both formative and summative focus on learner-centered approaches.35 The assessments should be used for subsequent 2012 Lilly Conference on College and University course/curriculum restructuring. Without Teaching, which draws participants from the assessment that is closely aligned to learning                                                              objectives, it is difficult to determine the 35 Further information is available at http://dels- effectiveness of the curriculum. old.nas.edu/USNC-IBRO- USCRC/activities_workshops.shtml#past.  

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34 Developing Capacities for Teaching Responsible Science in the MENA Region United States and overseas, chose the theme or to any of the sciences. It often serves as the Evidence-Based Learning and Teaching to reflect best opportunity to interest students in a that approaches to teaching and learning should biomedical research or other life science careers. be based on scholarly activity.36 Additionally, the According to the 2003 National Academies IEEE International Conference on Teaching, report Bio2010: Transforming Undergraduate Assessment, and Learning for Engineering Education for Future Research Biologists, (TALE) is held each year in the Asia-Pacific however, teaching practices have not kept pace region and complements the Frontiers in North with advances in scientific research about America and the EDUCON in Europe/Middle learning (NRC, 2003). Consequently, the East/Africa conferences.37 At the primary and gateway through which most students pass is secondary level, IAP–The Global Network of antiquated, misrepresents the interdisciplinary, Science Academies, has promoted what it calls collaborative, evidence-based culture of science, “Inquiry-Based Science Education” since 2001 and fails to implement current knowledge about through activities led by the Chilean Academy of how people learn. Bio2010 identified faculty Sciences.38 The next section describes the model development as a crucial component in used for the project that is the subject of this improving undergraduate biology education and report. the authoring committee suggested the development of a “Summer Institute” to bring life sciences faculty together to work on PUTTING RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE39 improving education. This Summer Institute would focus on integrating current scientific Introductory science courses at large universities research and appropriate pedagogical in the United States serve as the portals that approaches to create courses that actively engage connect undergraduates to frontiers in research students in the ways that scientists think. The and scientific ways of thinking. An introductory committee further recognized the need for undergraduate biology course might be the only ongoing reinforcement of teacher development exposure many students have to the life sciences, and the benefits of interactive activities to produce participants who would be fully able to                                                              use their new pedagogy and content knowledge 36 For further information, see http://cml.esc.edu /node/629. effectively. 37 The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional association headquartered in New York City with more than 400,000 members in more than 160 Characteristics of Faculty Development countries, now uses IEEE for everything but formal, legal Programs matters. For further information, see www.tale- conference.org/ tale2013/venue.php. 38 Over the years, dozens of programs across all the For further information, see www. interacademies.net/Activities/Projects/12250.aspx. STEM disciplines have been implemented to 39 A version of the text in this section appeared in the letter build the capacity of faculty to teach effectively. report of the planning meeting for this project, Research in They are a subset of the more general category of the Life Sciences with Dual Use Potential: An International “train-the-trainer” programs in which more Faculty Development Project on Education about the Responsible Conduct of Science (NRC 2011e:14-19). The experienced educators seek to impart knowledge material has been lightly edited and updated to reflect or skills in a way that can be sustained after the developments since the meeting. The section entitled initial encounter. The newest programs, such as “Characteristics of Faculty Development Programs” is new some of those described in this report, draw on material prepared for this report.

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The Science of Learning 35 the science of learning to inform the faculty they will need to make in their own development programs themselves, infusing the classrooms. workshops/meetings/ institutes with active  …all of the program leaders recognize that a learning principles and practices. A report one-time workshop is unlikely to produce the released in 2013 on The Role of Scientific kind of expert teaching competence required Societies in STEM Faculty Workshops (Hilborn, of an effective instructor. The programs use a 2013), for example, provides descriptions and variety of mechanisms to continue interactions initial assessments of a number of programs run among the participants (peer mentoring and coaching) and with the program leaders. by major U.S. professional societies. Although (Hilborn, 2013:6-9) the programs vary in terms of a number of features, such as their target audiences (e.g., Together, these and other programs offer a junior versus senior faculty, type of institution), number of different models for undertaking length (e.g., from a weekend to a week to 10 faculty development. days), and location (e.g., standalone or as part of a professional society meeting), they also share a One Model in Detail: The National Academies number of major characteristics. Summer Institutes in Undergraduate  Simply stated, the goals of all the STEM faculty Education in Biology (NASI) programs discussed here are to develop expert competence in teaching, to enhance faculty One substantive result of the recommendation views of teaching as a scholarly activity, and to in BIO2010 was the development of the annual promote the use of evidence in evaluating the National Academies Summer Institute for effectiveness of teaching practices. Undergraduate Biology Education (NASI).40  All of the initiatives promote, either explicitly This institute is designed to model the scientific or implicitly, the importance of “scientific teaching principles on which it is founded and teaching.” draws on the expertise of both participants and  The meetings generally consist of a mix of presenters. plenary sessions, often carried out with NASI provides a venue each year for teams interactive engagement techniques—to model of faculty from primarily research-intensive what the leaders hope the participants will universities to meet for five days of in-depth implement in their home institutions—and discussions, demonstrations, and working smaller breakout and discussion sessions. sessions on research-based approaches to  While many effective pedagogical practices cut undergraduate biology education. The idea is to across disciplines, their effective generate the same atmosphere as a Gordon implementation requires broad knowledge of Conference or a Cold Spring Harbor research the discipline and its modes of discussion and course, but with the topics being issues in argument. Hence, all of the programs education rather than, for instance, described here have the participants think bacteriophage genetics. Current research in about (and in some cases practice) effective pedagogical methods within the context of the effective pedagogical practices in undergraduate discipline. This method builds on the content science education, active learning, assessment, knowledge of the participants and prepares                                                              them more directly for the teaching decisions 40 For additional information see http://academiessummerinstitute.org and an article by Pfund et al. (2009).  

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36 Developing Capacities for Teaching Responsible Science in the MENA Region and diversity are woven throughout the week, to teaching and student learning will continue to creating a forum for participants to share ideas be collected and analyzed. and develop innovative instructional materials Participants at the Madison NASI were that they are expected to implement when they selected based on a rigorous application process return to their own campuses. overseen by a National Academies committee; Initiated with a pilot institute in 2003, NASI applications for the regional institutes are convened annually during the last week of June monitored by the local organizing committees on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, using similar criteria. There is a particular Madison from 2004 to 2011. The target emphasis on including pretenured as well as audiences have been faculty and academic senior faculty as members of the team. NASI leaders from universities where large courses, also trains a cadre of mentor/facilitators who especially at the beginners’ level for both life work with participating teams each summer. sciences majors and for students with other Many of these facilitators are NASI alumni, career goals, provide significant impediments to selected for this honor based on observations of reform. Most universities have sent a team of 2-3 their performance during the institute they people to one institute. Others have sent attended. multiple teams (of different people each year) Although an individual regional institute over two or more years. NASI has been may reorganize the schedule to some extent, supported primarily through funding from the each institute typically consists of a series of Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI; plenary sessions in the mornings and facilitated through summer 2011) with additional support small group activities during the afternoons. All from Research Corporation for Scientific plenary sessions model the kinds of evidence- Advancement and the Burroughs Wellcome based active teaching and learning that the Fund. Institute stresses for improving undergraduate Based on NASI’s success, HHMI provided a education. Topics include subjects such as active new award to the program that has enabled its teaching, how people learn, formative and expansion to up to eight institutes each year in summative assessment, teaching to diverse regions across the United States. Four regional student populations, mentoring, and working institutes were organized in 2011, seven in 2012, with colleagues to improve teaching and and another seven in 2013.41 These regional learning. institutes adhere to the structure and emphasis Each small group typically consists of of the Madison NASI but also expand the pool of participants from three university teams and educators beyond faculty in research-intensive focuses on producing a “teachable tidbit” in universities, participants (e.g., graduate students some broad area of biology or interconnected and postdoctoral fellows in addition to junior disciplines (e.g. biology/chemistry, and senior faculty), and areas of expertise biology/mathematics). A tidbit is a module that (beyond a primary focus on the biological integrates aspects of classroom, laboratory, or sciences). Data about the participants in these field experiences, assessment, and techniques to institutes and how they change their approaches help diverse student populations learn more effectively. Small groups are given time to                                                              interact with each other during the week to 41 Links to general information about the regional institutes critique each other’s tidbits as they are and the dates and locations of regional institutes in a given developed. Each team then presents its “tidbit” year are available at http://academiessummerinstitute.org.

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The Science of Learning 37 on the next-to-last day. Each tidbit is peer- From its inception, NASI has also been a reviewed by other participants, facilitators, and research project. Self-reported data from members of the organizing committee. participants are collected and analyzed regularly All resources and products of each NASI are to determine the impact of this initiative (e.g., collected on an Academies portal and made Pfund et al., 2009). In addition, HHMI sponsors available to all participants, current and a midyear meeting for one representative from previous. each university team approximately 6 months Over the course of the NASI program (2004- after their NASI participation to measure 2012) 710 people have participated from 167 success, challenges, and new activities that have institutions in 46 states and the District of emerged from their participation. The data and Columbia. Because so many of these participants information gained are used in a constant serve as instructors in large lecture-style courses, process of adjustments and iterations to improve collectively they have taught more than 250,000 the NASI; the current version bears only a undergraduates. modest resemblance to the original institutes. The National Academies recognizes the This commitment to continuous assessment and commitment of these participants by naming adjustment as needed for faculty and students as each an “Education Fellow in the Life Sciences” well as courses and programs is another for the year following their attendance at NASI. hallmark of active learning. Chapter 4 describes Participants also identify key academic leaders how the lessons of active learning and the NASI on their campuses who are notified about the approach and experience were applied to new honor. material in a new setting.  

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