Curriculum Change in
By Linda Heath and Phyllis Laine,
Department of Biology
In 1996 the Department of Education released the nation’s
first educational technology plan. Its goals include students and
faculty access to information technology and the skills to use it to
media services advised us in room planning,
equipment ordering, installation and maintenance of
media equipment. When we considered new equipment
purchases, they came to us with a sampling of
options, so we could see how things work in our
the same year the National Research Council introduced the National
Science Education Standards. These
standards recommend science be taught by inquiry. Research shows
that students retain more content information when they design and
perform experiments, than when they do confirmation experiments.
In addition, studies show that teachers taught by the inquiry
method teach more science to their own students.
Each fall XU’s department of biology teaches approximately
300 non-biology majors, including pre-service teachers, in 12
sections of Life Investigations Laboratory. After receiving funds
from the National Science Foundation we began revising this course.
In fall 1999 we taught one pilot section, spring 2000 two sections,
and fall 2000 six instructors taught 13 sections.
The two major changes were: (1) to make the laboratory
experiences “inquiry-based” where the students, working in
cooperative groups, become responsible for asking scientific
questions, as well as designing and conducting experiments and (2)
to introduce greater use of information technology to enhance
background knowledge, analyze data, write science journal articles,
and present findings.
We’ll share with you some of
the lessons learned during this exciting and sometimes frustrating
takes a village". Xavier's support was essential for this
major curricular change. A Wheeler award in 1995 supported a
workshop to introduce inquiry-based teaching to science faculty.
Next the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences through normal
travel funds, supported travel to Clemson University where
investigation labs for over 1200 non-biology majors were being
As we developed our NSF proposal, the grants services
office and associate vice president provided editing,
copying, budget guidelines, criticism, cheerleading,
handholding and put the pieces together for the
required matching funds.
After receiving the NSF grant (DUE 9950373), the
laboratory in Albers 303 had to be changed. Computers
for six student teams, plus others for information
searchers and student presentations were installed.
The course materials were stored on the Local Area
helped in room planning, installing and purchasing
equipment, plus on-going maintenance and
troubleshooting. People on the HELP desk should be
on our Christmas card list. Academic computing and
telecommunications services set up network folders,
assigned rights to them, wired and connected us.
service and systems was involved in many ways.
physical plant, electricians, carpenters, and locksmiths all worked
with us as we remodeled the room.
Career Services coached us through hiring student technology helpers
and accounting kept us honest. Library staff advised on how to
document electronic resources and store materials on electronic
reserve. An instructional technologist employed by X-CEED and the
university taught us more about technology then we ever intended to
know. Our department secretary worked with us through many rewrites
of the grant and lab manual. Our lab technician tolerated many
changes in the orders of materials and supplies and coordinated the
logistics of 13 sections.
Yes, it does "take a village" and XU has that village of
many competent, cooperative people. You'll need them.
can teach an old dog new tricks."
Of the six instructors teaching the lab this fall, five of us have
over 150 years of combined teaching experience! How did we learn the
instructional technologist met with us weekly and was in the lab
with us during the first pilot.
all the pilots a 'tech-helper' was in each of the labs. These
were Xavier students who needed minimal training.
2000 we had a weeklong workshop for the instructors who were
teaching the lab in fall 2000 to "practice." Many
others in the department also attended to share what they were
doing and to learn what new equipment was now available to our
taught their classmates and us. We found ourselves saying,
"I've told you all I know about this...software, hardware,
etc...if you know a better, a different way, please let us
know". Then if you'll let them, they'll teach the rest of
the class! Several times students ended up teaching Excel
techniques, both informally to their own teams and to the entire
informal ways included an ever evolving "Tech Tips"
notebook in the lab, notes in faculty mailboxes, visits to each
other's offices and instructions written on equipment. We also
practiced during our weekly lab prep meetings.
Lab scientists are used to teaching the use of equipment, so this
wasn't a stretch. The frustrating part is not having the time to
perfect your own skills before you have to teach it. Give up all
thoughts of perfection!
sage on the stage to guide on the side."
Inquiry is an approach that takes both content and process. It
requires the student/teacher relationship to change. You have to
become a facilitator, a role for which most of us have no training
and little experience.
work in cooperative groups of 3-4. In traditional labs we
normally work with individuals that may be in groups, but
all are working on the same thing. In an inquiry lab the
instructor interacts with up to six groups working on entirely
different methods to answer a question.
classroom must be created where both a student and instructor
learn together. No longer can we refer students to the lab
manual for the answers. It takes practice to become a resource
along with textbooks, Internet resources, and instruction
students will know more than you do. This of course happens in
other classes, but when students are the experts on their
experiment and organism, it is more obvious. This has to become
'ok'. As one of the instructors said, "I'm used to making
my mistakes in my office, before I come to class." Our NSF
evaluator said faculty might struggle with "teaching
issues" more than with "student learning" issues.
do you learn to teach in a way you've never been taught? Our
Cindy Geer, science educator in XU's department of education,
helped during the summer workshop. She explained the theory
behind the new pedagogy, presented tips on teamwork in
cooperative groups, and talked about how to assess group work,
non-traditional assessment techniques , and the role of
instructor as facilitator.
workshop included "experiencing" inquiry. All
participants did the first few labs, working in groups,
designing their own experiments, and presenting them.
meetings of all instructors were a time to debrief from the
previous week's lab, share ideas of what worked and didn't, and
to prepare for the upcoming week.
the pilot program we also learned:
need to sit to the side of the room during team presentations so
the students didn't talk to just the instructor.
misinformation is evident during oral presentations. When
grading multiple-choice questions, you may know that Sally
missed #17, but not that she thinks dextrose is a protein, not a
can often build a better oral argument than a written one,
indicating a need to improve writing skills.
you want students to ask higher level thinking questions, you
need to model that in your own questioning.
After using a new pedagogical technique in one class, you will think
differently about how you teach all your classes. You'll have
another skill, another weapon in your teaching arsenal. You will
grow as an instructor.
We've been through three semesters, but the course continues to evolve.
Some of the things we're still working on/struggling with are:
to provide ongoing training to faculty. Next fall, due to
departmental retirements, we'll have two new instructors.
to improve the quality of the student's questions.
to strengthen faculty skills as facilitators.
to make the technology more of a tool, so that we spend less
time teaching Excel or how to save a Word file, and more time
evaluating the tables, graphs and journal articles.
When the local network was slow or down, students had to save their
work temporarily on disk or the computer's hard drive. We're
thinking of using the web-based BlackBoard5 system fall 2001.
only faculty who are interested.
With a major curricular change the first time through, no matter how
prepared you think you are, you'll be reacting. The second and third
time, the ride seems less bumpy. And one you're on the roller
coaster, strapped in, and climbing, try to enjoy the ride!
Heath and Phyllis Laine are lab instructors in the department of
to the Lesson Learned series have been selected by their deans to
share their experiences in the classroom, describing a teaching
technique or exercise that they have found to be effective.
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