Paper Session Abstracts

Development of a Departmental Written and Oral Communication Plan
Robin White, Westfield State University

In order to streamline the instruction of written and oral communication in the Biology Department at Westfield State University, I have worked with our Writing Across the Curriculum Coordinator to develop a detailed Written and Oral Communication Plan.  This plan includes specific guidelines for written and oral communication instruction at all course levels.  During this session, I will describe the steps necessary to develop and implement such a plan, including data collection, curriculum mapping, collaboration with the curriculum committee, and assessment.

Promoting Critical Writing Skills in Introduction to Biology
Justin Golub, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

We have all found with increasing frequency that students are entering college unable to demonstrate the skills needed to critically assess written material, or express an idea in writing, in the STEM fields.  They have learned these skills in high school, most often in other subjects, and struggle to apply them to the sciences when given the challenge.  I have spent several years implementing and fine-tuning assignments to teach students critical reading and writing skills in the Introduction to Biology Course at MCLA.  These assignments are a minimal part of their grade, but let them make the connections to apply these skills in the sciences.  These assignments also give students an opportunity to practice these skills.  Skills included are: i) finding information on a topics and critically assessing the reliable of that information (i.e. information literacy), ii) clearly explain complex ideas in writing, and iii) writing formal arguments expressing their view points, and supporting these viewpoints with factual information.  Introduction to Biology includes two written lab reports, and these assignments are designed to feed into those lab reports.  For example, the topic for the information literacy assignment is the same as the first lab report, so that students are finding useful information they can reference in their report.  While not quantified, the changes in students writing observed suggest students have increased confidence in their writing.  Further reinforcement through practice of these skills are critical to students continuing to improve.

Scaffolding Scholarly Skills in Large Introductory STEM Courses
Lena Ficco Fitchburg State University

Too few students seem familiar with locating and identifying scientific papers and most seem to struggle with effectively reading, evaluating, integrating, and writing about the scientific findings contained therein. Couple this observation with class rosters of 80–100 students per semester and today’s professor is tempted to rely on/resort to multiple choice based assessments despite interest in high impact teaching practices designed to promote critical thinking and creative problem solving. This presentation summarizes one professor’s endeavors to maintain high academic standards of evidence based university level writing and demonstration of science content mastery in a large introductory level biopsychology course while meeting today’s public university student where they currently are.

Introducing Critical Reading and Writing in an Entering Majors Seminar
Ann Billetz and Justin Golub, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The ability to critically read and write are essential skills for STEM majors.  We have established an Entering Majors seminar in our department to help students develop these skills early in their career.  We begin the seminar introducing the students to literature search techniques and the ability to differentiate between primary and secondary literature.  Students are placed into groups and each group chooses a topic to research.  Each group selects a popular, primary, and review article.  During class, we present strategies for reading and evaluating their chosen articles.  We then introduce scientific writing and presentation skills.  Each group prepares a poster and presents the information gathered on their chosen topic.  Skills in reading and writing are continually developed throughout our curriculum.

Updating the Microbiology Curriculum:  Implementing a CURE, removing prerequisites and using Open Educational Resources.
Amy Sprenkle, Salem State University

Microbiology at Salem State was historically divided into the Allied Health Professions/Nursing Microbiology and an upper level Biology major’s laboratory capstone elective.  The Nursing course was well enrolled with highly motivated students, since it is a requirement for the BSN.  The upper level elective was problematic for many reasons; students and administrators balked at the twice a week lab schedule, it carried a pre-requisite of 3 BIO and 4 CHE courses, and expecting the student to design and implement a microbiology laboratory research project without first having had the fundamentals of the microbiology lab, including aseptic technique, was difficult to accomplish in one semester.  In an effort to maximize ever-dwindling resources in a ‘vintage’ laboratory environment, while at the same time providing the widest range of students with exposure to authentic, accessible, microbiology research experience, we have consolidated our offering to one 300-level microbiology course with three lecture hours and 2 lab hours per week, with the pre-requisite of one semester of Biology and one semester of Chemistry.  The curriculum is based in the Tiny Earth Network CURE, uses OpenStax Microbiology as the lecture text, and OneNote as a platform for electronic laboratory notebooks.  Aligning the curriculum with Tiny Earth maintains the focus of clinical microbiology and the problem of antibiotic resistance for the nursing majors, while introducing all to important STEM education foundational skills of reading the literature, writing and communicating data over which the student has ownership and buy-in, and the arithmetic of classical microbiology laboratory protocols.

Embedding Authentic Inquiry and Skill-Building into Introductory Organismal Biology Labs
Tess Killpack, Salem State University

Explicit and targeted instruction in scientific inquiry, particularly in the context of experiential learning in inquiry-based lab courses, can improve introductory student sense of science identity and self-efficacy, and increase retention of STEM majors. Therefore, we engaged in a curricular redesign of the Introductory Organismal Biology (BIO131) laboratory course at Salem State University. The goals for the course redesign were to (1) transition lab activities to scaffolded inquiry experiences to increase authenticity of the course research experience and to facilitate development of experimental design skills; (2) increase student skills in data analysis and scientific communication, which will be useful for future science courses and careers; (3) increase positive attitudes & dispositions related to science, including sense of science identity, self-efficacy, and research project ownership. We created a free online lab manual and weekly iterative lab activities that engaged students in hypothesis generation, experimentation, collaborative data collection, and data analysis with a new model organism each week. The weekly assignments were scaffolded to build scientific skills in graphing, statistical analysis, scientific writing, and connections to the published literature. The lab course culminates with a 3-week student-designed group project, in which students design and carry out a novel experiment, analyze the data and find relevant literature, and prepare and present scientific posters. We are currently studying the impact of the course redesign on skill development and attitudes toward science among introductory lab participants.

Productive Failure in the Math Classroom
R. Shelley Stahl, Bridgewater State University

As a result of the prevalence of math-phobia across all levels of the academic system, many students enter a math class with a fear of failure and an unwillingness to try at the risk of being wrong. However, any mathematician will tell you that the pursuit of truth almost always begins with some false starts and some wrong answers. The fact that failure is a necessary step towards success is something that needs to be taught explicitly to students. This presentation discusses current research in math anxiety. We also discuss methods of supporting students toward the confidence to take a risk and being comfortable in being wrong, as a means of ultimately achieving success in mathematics.