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Introductory Biology Course Redesign

The University of Missouri implemented opportunities for faculty to redesign courses to be more effective and engaging for student learning. Uninspiring courses have been cited as a frequent reason that students pursue majors outside of STEM. Teaching approaches that emphasize passive listening and rote memorization have a particularly negative impact on the recruitment and retention of students from underrepresented groups in STEM, including women and minorities. Research on science education has identified three characteristics of STEM educational programs that are associated with increased success and persistence: active learning strategies that engage the students intellectually, participation in learning communities that foster group learning and self-identification as scientists, and early authentic research experiences.

To address this, faculty at MU redesigned Biology 1010, a course that many non-science majors take to fulfill their science requirement. The course now features a series of online modules that students complete as homework assignments. Each module focuses on a particular topic and consists of a variety of Web-based readings, videos, group activities, and assessments. For example, in one module, students learn about the cellular processes involved in alcohol metabolism. In another module, they focus on the evolution of human mate choice preferences. In doing these modules, students can learn science in a way that directly relates to their daily lives.

Before redesigning the course, many talented students who might have considered a career in one of the STEM fields were put off by the impersonal lecture-style course. The new course format helps students understand the collaborative nature and process of science and ultimately recruits more students into STEM majors. The response from students when the course was first tested was overwhelmingly positive. Students received better grades and had a greater understanding of course material. Most importantly, they indicated that the modules showed them how to apply science to relevant current issues. Plans are now underway to redesign the introductory course for biology majors course into an active learning classroom with inquiry-based labs.