Planning will be supported for a Research Coordination Network for undergraduate biology education centered on two effective teaching approaches: case studies and problem based learning (PBL). Using these approaches, students collaboratively analyze a scenario (the case or problem) that presents a biological issue within a realistic setting. Students then conduct investigations and report their findings. With cases or PBL, undergraduate students learn as much content as with traditional methods while developing superior skills of question formulation and data analysis. A core planning group of 7 experts on Case Studies and PBL will meet three times to identify existing resources, areas to be developed, and questions to be answered by the proposed Case Studies and PBL Network. Additional stakeholders will be invited to the second meeting to provide perspectives from different types of institutions, subdisciplines of biology, levels of faculty (including future faculty), geographical regions, and underrepresented groups. Initial planning has identified two important goals for the Network. The first is rigorous research on learning and teaching with cases and PBL. The second is development of faculty and curricula, especially as they address new dimensions of undergraduate biology education, e.g., quantitative biology, bioinformatics, and cyberlearning. Additional planning supported by this project will result in a full RCN-UBE proposal to support the Case Studies and PBL Network. This project is supported jointly by the Biological Sciences Directorate and the Division of Undergraduate Education.

Project Report

This planning grant (NSF 0957359), received in February 2010, supported development of a full proposal for a Research Coordination Network for Undergraduate Biology Education (RCN-UBE) centered on two effective teaching approaches: case studies and problem based learning (PBL). A core group of seven experts from several leading U.S. projects on these pedagogies collaborated to design the RCN-UBE on Case Study and PBL and submitted the final proposal in August 2010 (NSF 1062049). This network is designed to stimulate work in two directions, both of which address the Intellectual Merit of this project. The RCN UBE on Case Study and PBL will encourage work by participants in two directions: (1) research on case study and PBL effectiveness in a wide variety of institutional settings, and (2) providing a space where individuals using or wanting to use these pedagogies (such as faculty educators, administrators, developers, researchers, etc.) can find key information, opportunities, collaborations and support for their work as well as share their own questions, experiences, and findings. During the planning process, we used survey and thematic notes collected data from stakeholders in order to inform the design of the network, further addressing the intellectual merit of the project. The Broader Impacts of the Planning grant for the RCN-UBE Case Study and PBL Network were to facilitate communication among a diversity of researchers, practitioners and developers about the features of the network. Before writing the final proposal, the grant supported a one-day meeting of 34 invited stakeholders focused on how an RCN-UBE on Case Study and PBL would assist their work. We deliberately asked for input and reaction to our preliminary design from the group. The stakeholders represented a wide range of institutional types (research universities, regional comprehensives, liberal arts, and two year colleges), biological subdisciplines, geographical regions (urban, rural, Midwest, West and East) and underrepresented groups (almost half of the participants, including African Americans, Southeast Asians, and Hispanics). With their help, we designed a network with the following goals: to facilitate online and face to face collaborations among researchers and practitioners; to engage faculty, including future faculty (graduate students and post docs) in the activities of the network; to organize and simplify the dissemination of resources, findings, and opportunities; and to stimulate innovation in curriculum using case study and PBL to address changes in undergraduate biology education. The planning grant supported three face to face meetings of the core planning group: to see how we might work together, to identify areas to be developed, to identify existing resources, and questions to be answered, to plan the stakeholders’ meeting, and to develop the final proposal. Multiple electronic meetings and information exchanges among members of the group occurred between the face to face meetings. A website was created to facilitate this interaction, and domain names for the network were obtained. As described above, a one day stakeholders’ meeting was held to help the core group rethink, polish and expand their concepts of the RCN-UBE. With this broadened perspective, the core group completed their proposal for the Case Studies and PBL Network. The following quotes are characteristic of the participant responses to this effort: "One of the main challenges in the Minority Serving Institutions environment is the wide variety of backgrounds that are brought together. The Network could feature topics that cater to specific cultural topics or needs, or show how to adapt and adopt cases to specific cultural needs." "The Network could act as sort of eHarmony for Case Study/PBL researchers by pairing those with similar research interests, or by pairing those who could help one another through complementary means." "The Network can facilitate research through assessment tools, which will highlight what isn’t working so that other can be aware of what’s been tried."

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Program Officer
Diana Anderson
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Southeast Missouri State University
Cape Girardeau
United States
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