Saturday, December 22, 2012

ER > Using Multi-Node Tools for Student Success in Non-Major Science Classes

Key Takeaways

  • General biology challenges many first-year students with a new technical language, foreign concepts and massive amounts of content, threatening their progress toward completing college.
  • BioBook, an interactive e-text designed for non-majors biology courses, relies on a Root-Branch-Leaf node structure that organizes content knowledge and provides a study-test-study-test pattern of learning.
  • Tools embedded in BioBook give students multiple ways to engage with the content and instructors multiple ways to evaluate student progress before failure occurs.
  • Designed to develop in an iterative fashion, BioBook will also have a price designed for sustainability without imposing financial burdens on students.

BioBook aims to create deeper student learning and engagement, with the goal of improving persistence and success in general biology — a barrier to graduation for many students. General biology can be extremely challenging because it combines a new technical language, foreign concepts, and massive amounts of content. Unfortunately, many students face this hurdle in their first year, in classes too large to provide individual instruction.

An interactive e-text, BioBook relies on a simple yet powerful node structure that both organizes content knowledge and provides a scaffold for assisting novice learners. Using this node structure, students follow different paths as they explore and interact with new knowledge Students can approach topics in the way that makes sense to them, rather than the order dictated by textbook authors. BioBook also teaches students how to learn using a pattern of study-test-study-test that can produce greater learning gains in nearly any topic area.

Addressing Learning Principles with a Root-Branch-Leaf Structure

To develop BioBook, we built a multidisciplinary team at Wake Forest University that includes expertise in biology (Dan Johnson), biophysics (Jed Macosko), and learning sciences (Kristin Redington Bennett), plus our technology partner, Odigia. This team planned and designed BioBook in the winter of 2010 in anticipation of the February 2011 Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) grant proposal deadline.  In April 2011 our team was notified that we received a Wave I grant to create a tool to combat students' barriers to learning in general biology. We had only three months to work with Odigia, who provided the platform, did the programming to solidify the design of the tools, revised wireframes, and added biology content. We successfully rolled out the pilot version of BioBook in late August 2011 and are currently collecting data and analytics on its implementation with 12 instructors and over 300 students at four regional institutions.

Figure 1 shows the overall structure of BioBook. Our intent is to help students engage with the material, reach the learning goals, and consistently check their understanding with self-tests and by posing questions to other students and to their instructors. With the BioBook model, students and instructors can identify problems before failure occurs.

Bennett Figure 1


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