Gateway biology courses at many universities and colleges are taught largely in a passive, instructor-centered, lecture style (Carmichael, 2009; Freeman et al., 2014; Snyder et al., 2016). A traditional lecture is the approach that is often favored by faculty because it is how they learned, and/or they have received little or no pedagogical training that would offer rationale for use of alternative teaching practices (Ebert-May et al., 1997; Gregg et al., 2013). Traditional lecture practices fail to adequately prepare undergraduate biology students (Gregg et al., 2013; Freeman et al., 2014) compared to student-centered approaches (Handelsman et al., 2004; Knight and Wood, 2005). Further, traditional learning/lecture techniques are not well suited to fostering an inclusive learning community, which can further disparage students of marginalized backgrounds (Haak et al., 2011; PCAST, 2012; Eddy and Hogan, 2014), as measured in equity gaps.
Faculty Learning Optimizes Student Success (FLOSS) is a multi-institution initiative to support faculty instruction and student learning in introductory biology courses. Faculty and instructional staff representing University of California, Berkeley (UCB); California State University, East Bay (CSUEB); and Berkeley City College (BCC) will develop a Community of Practice (CoP) to boost student achievement and to narrow observed equity gaps via faculty professional development in active, student-centered teaching practices.
The CoP proposed here will meet three goals: 1) to foster, in faculty participants, a deeper understanding of the academic and social barriers to learning in their students; 2) to provide faculty participants with critical pedagogical theory (how students learn) and with practices to promote deeper learning and greater engagement in diverse student learners; and 3) to improve the classroom experience and increase student achievement while reducing existing equity gaps. FLOSS participants will engage in eight interconnected sessions during a semester (Cohort 1 in Spring 2021; Cohort 2 in Fall 2021) to use, refine, and share practices and strategies in a collaborative environment. Expert guest speakers will model dynamic, hands-on activities and interactive discussions of learning theory. Participants will implement evidence-based, high-impact practices, geared toward stimulating engagement and promoting problem-solving skills and critical thinking in their students.
Proposed outcomes for faculty participants include enhancements in pedagogical knowledge, instructor confidence, and student achievement, persistence, and retention in introductory biology courses. Beyond this, the proposed project will extend new knowledge and insights to a wider group of UCB, CSUEB, and BCC STEM faculty and staff. Evaluation of program success will involve focus groups and surveys to understand the student experience in student-centered teaching environments; grade assessments of students in target courses will identify whether student achievement has increased and equity gaps have diminished. Ultimately, the project goal through the planned program of faculty professional development is the translation of improved teaching strategy and confidence in pedagogical practices to measurable improvements in student success.
During the project period, FLOSS will include at least 15 faculty and will impact approximately 1,400 students.