How a faculty member designs and implements a new active learning biology course in-person and online




McConnell, Myra

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Traditional science classroom lectures focus on the instructor in the front of the room as the primary information source. In active learning classrooms, students gain more control over their knowledge construction by engaging in activities that combine content knowledge with applying critical thinking skills to solve current science issues. Examples of active learning activities can include case studies, concept maps, and group work. Students who participate in active learning-based courses have higher academic success and higher self-confidence. Active learning also lowers the achievement gap for underrepresented minority groups. The purpose of my research was to examine the process of developing and implementing a new active learning-based biology course. Additionally, I explored how an exemplar instructor transitioned the new course to accommodate emergency remote teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic. I used a qualitative, case study design to capture faculty reflections on course development and later implementation. I generated data from semi-structured interviews, journal entries, and classroom observations from the course taught in both an in-person and following transition to an emergency remote teaching setting. I created hierarchy steps steering decision making for course design drawing upon theory of critical thinking in higher education. I used these steps to explore the process by which a faculty member created an upper-level, active learning biology course. Then, I used the fidelity of implementation framework to compare the original course design to class implementation. I found the instructor used textbook and research resources most frequently in course content design, and teaching site resources most often for supporting active learning components. The faculty also relied upon colleagues to support classroom space usage as well as obtain additional tips about pedagogy beyond the resources. The faculty relied upon prior instructional experience and educated prediction to determine the amount of content appropriate to cover in any given class period. The faculty also designed their course in a way that anticipated student needs in terms of prior knowledge, frequently asked questions, prior evaluation feedback, extension opportunities, community dynamics, and equity. When implementing the designed course, I found that the faculty most often demonstrated adaptable instruction, followed by maintaining fidelity, with limited events of low fidelity. Additionally, I found that when moving to emergency remote teaching the faculty used essentially the same approach to transform the course to the online format. However, when they could not pivot in-person curricula into the online learning management system, the faculty elected to draw upon best practices for online education, adding, adapting, or removing content. This case study approach documented the process an instructor used to build a new university active learning biology course and transition the course to an online platform. Furthermore, this research analyzes the relationship between course design and implementation. Overall, results of this case study may provide a best practices model for other faculty designing courses for either in-person or online environments, ultimately enhancing student learning outcomes.



active learning, biology


McConnell, M. (2021). How a faculty member designs and implements a new active learning biology course in-person and online (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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