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Faculty Learning Community Reports

These are the full Faculty Learning Community (FLC) reports with all details and analysis from individual faculty members.

Department-Specific FLC Reports

These brief summaries highlight the specific results by individual faculty members, divided up by discipline. Also included here are reports submitted by our FLC "graduates" who went back for more! Faculty members who have been involved or not involved with the FLC and want to report new results will have their ideas and analysis posted here as a way to continue to share discipline-specific best practices. Don't forget that there can be much overlap in approaches to effectively teaching science and math, so make sure to check out results from disciplines other than your own.

Biological Sciences

S13 Dr. Bengt Allen

In Marine Ecological Processes class (OSI 455), Dr. Bengt Allen adopted an NSF-funded project, C.R.E.A.T.E. (Consider, Read, Elucidate the hypotheses, Analyze and interpret the data, and Think of the next Experiment) to promote the development of scientific thinking, data interpretation, and content knowledge for students who major in Marine Biology.

During a short 4-week period, a 17% gain in students' ability to summarize and evaluate research ideas on two historically challenging papers, evaluated against a well-designed rubric, were observed. Moreover, students self-reported an improved ability to analyze scientific work critically and an increased understanding as to what it means to do scientific research. For Dr. Allen, the CNSM FLC pushed him to try something new to improve student learning and gave him the resources for doing so. He plans to adopt a similar approach in the Ecology of Marine Communities (BIOL 455) class and create an Ecological Concept Inventory to assess student learning in a large lecture general biology class (BIOL 350) in the upcoming semesters.

S13 Dr. Judy Brusslan

In General Genetics (BIOL 370), Dr. Judy Brusslan made a series of problem-solving videos to enhance student learning of difficult concepts.

As the semester progressed on, she noticed an increasing number of students were viewing her videos and requesting for more videos on other topics. When she cross examined students' viewing data and exam scores, she noticed that video viewers had consistently higher scores on four pre-selected exam problems that were deemed challenging. That difference ranges from 1.39 to 6.06 percentage points. Overall, she found the resources provided in the FLC useful and she was motivated to try new technology and consistently consider assessment. The process of video-making helped her to understand students' time constraints as well as to think about different tools that students would consider most useful. As far as making the videos, that is a keeper.

S13 Dr. Houng-Wei Tsai

Dr. Houng-Wei Tsai used an online chat room feature on BeachBoard (Collaborate) to hold six virtual office hours in Introduction to Ecology and Physiology (BIOL 213).

The goal was to maximize instructional support for students during off-grid hours and increase the amount of teacher-student interactions. When he noticed that students were not taking advantage of this alternative way to conduct Q&As, Dr. Tsai researched possible reasons for such poor turnout and observed that a more timely advertisement may have increased students' participation level. Dr. Tsai plans to continue to improve the way of administrating online office hours together with traditional office hours.

S12 Dr. Jesse Dillon

Flipping the classroom to allow for more in-depth discussion of primary literature was the goal of Dr. Jesse Dillon in his marine microbiology course, BIO/MICR 415/515.

The videos replaced much of his lecture, and students noticed a benefit from being able to watch the videos multiple times and "on their own time." Overall, most students believed that the videos "somewhat or greatly aiding their learning," and the class time spent on the literature was greatly enhanced. Dr. Dillon benefited from his FLC experience and will be joining the FLC leadership team to lead the F13 cohort.

S12 Dr. Beth Eldon

In BIOL 211 Introduction to evolution and diversity, Dr. Beth Eldon teamed up with University Advising to implement an "Early Alert" system, which identified students who were at risk to fail in her low completion rate course.

She sent out messages to all students following the first exam using the early alert widget in BeachBoard. Students earning fewer than 60% on the exam were sent to the CNSM Advising Center to discuss learning strategies and ways to succeed. While this did not change the overall grade distribution of the class, nor prevent withdrawals, it did highlight the fact that 20% of students did not return to retake BIOL 211 within three semesters, something that Dr. Eldon is continuing to investigate. Overall, Dr. Eldon appreciated the FLC resources and community interaction, and was grateful for the "forum to reflect on and discuss issues surrounding teaching and learning."

F11 Dr. Ashley Carter

Dr. Ashley Carter effected changes in his Biostatistics (BIOL 260) Laboratory, training five graduate students and himself in TBL- team based learning techniques learned in the FLC.

Prior to introducing the material, Dr. Carter asked prepared students in the laboratories to work on quizzes by themselves and then together as groups. Overall, students found the TBL to be "somewhat" to "very useful," although they thought that traditional assignments (non TBL) would have allowed them to learn the material in a more effective way. Scores on exams in S12 trended towards an increase as compared to previous semesters, with the main effect of TBL to help the weakest students move from a D to a C grade, and an increase in Dr. Carter's overall teaching evaluation scores. Dr. Carter also discussed several issues that arose using TBL at CSULB, (such as class attendance, level of engagement, participation) which may not be an issue at other institutions. His results and discussion would be useful for others CNSM faculty members working with student groups engaged in problem solving exercises.

F11 Dr. Eric Haas-Stapleton

Using two different approaches for different courses, Dr. Eric Haas-Stapleton made major changes to both molecular cell biology (BIOL 340) and virology (BIOL 416/516).

For BIOL 340, Dr. Haas-Stapleton provided audio recordings of his lectures and PowerPoint slide sets so students could review the lecture as needed. In addition to adding short answer to multiple-choice exams, he also used several low-stakes quizzes to assess student learning. In particular, his use of iClickers+think/pair/share, where students only get the points when >75% of the class had the correct answer is a unique and effective method to encourage students to talk to neighbors to understand a question. While no change was noted in grades or retention rate, both students and Dr. Haas-Stapleton were more engaged with the material and the class in general. In BIOL 416/516, use of assigned group quizzes for team-based learning did have an effect on student success. Dr. Haas-Stapleton devised an effective method for creating balanced learning groups and assigning tasks within the groups. This is a method that can be applied to upper division courses across the CNSM. The learning group activities engaged students, increasing affect, and positively changed Dr. Haas-Stapleton's perspective on teaching.

Chemistry and Biochemistry

S12 Dr. Ken Nakayama

In Dr. Ken Nakayama's Organic Chemistry lecture (CHEM 322A) the number of pre-lecture quizzes was increased, their point value dropped, and a mini-exam given prior to the first midterm to set up expectations of keeping up with study for the course.

These changes produced a huge increase in success on the first midterm, in addition to increasing the overall scores on the standardized ACS final exam. As a result of this trial semester, Dr. Nakayama plans to reduce the number of quizzes in future semesters to transfer the responsibility of learning back onto the students. He is interested in how to successfully motivate and engage students to view learning as an integrated process, not just something that occurs to pass an exam. Dr. Nakayama contributed much to the FLC discussions and benefited from the college-wide interaction and "exchange of experiences and ideas on teaching".

F11 Dr. Stuart Berryhill

In Organic Chemistry (CHEM 322B), Dr. Stuart Berryhill replaced one third of the lectures to devote time to learning groups where students problem solve in class with instructor interaction.

Participation in the learning groups decreased low scores on a National American Chemical Society standardized exam as compared to previous semesters, and increased the average score on the exam. In addition, 77% of students found the learning group activities useful, 81% thought that this activity should be used in the future, and Dr. Berryhill reports that he is "encouraged" with the response and "glad he participated in the FLC."

F11 Dr. Shahab Derakhshan

Enacting a large number of both major and minor changes increased in Dr. Shahab Derakhshan's General Chemistry (CHEM 111A) course.

Dr. Derakhshan provided students with a "recipe for success" that provided a framework on how to approach the class, including requesting frequent student/instructor interaction about the material over email or office hours. Not only did he design major changes for his section, but he also requested to become course coordinator so change could occur across all sections of 111A. These major changes included refining the material taught, designing and using activity sets, reconstructing laboratory sections, better analysis of exam answers, and working with TA and SI instructors. Minor changes included: revamping the syllabus, providing students with ultimate goals before starting each chapter, use of the early alert system, implementing additional office hours (an additional 10 hours a week to discuss graded exams), and including more interactive lecture props (models, YouTube videos). These changes have resulted in an increase in a standardized exam score in chemistry that is almost 4% higher than in previous years, over 16% higher than the national average. In addition, scores on his own exams have increased in S12 as compared to previous semesters, with improvement on some questions up to 20%.

Geological Sciences

S13 Dr. Nate Onderdonk

Dr. Nate Onderdonk replaced a third of his traditional lectures in Introduction to Geomorphology (GEOL 339) with flipped classes.

Quantitatively, this resulted in increased average scores on the pertinent exams. While this increase may be due to the superior quality of the students this time around, he noticed an undeniable difference in the depth of conceptual understanding between two mechanisms of content delivery. In particular, by providing more targeted instructions for students who struggle with the concepts during class, students not only gain a better understanding of those concepts but become more fluent in applying these concepts in novel settings. For that, Dr. Onderdonk has successfully accomplished what a flipped classroom is aimed to alter: the depth of conceptual understanding. For Dr. Onderdonk, who constantly makes modifications to increase the impact of his teaching and student learning outcomes, FLC provided valuable ideas to facilitate this process.

S12 Dr. Lora Stevens

Dr. Lora Stevens took some risk to improve two courses, GEOG 240 and GEOG 465, that already showed high passing rates.

Although she already used an interactive format for her lectures, Dr. Stevens' participation in the FLC reinvigorated her approach to teaching and added additional interactive ideas to her arsenal of pedagogical techniques. Despite time being an issue, as it is for all CNSM faculty members, Dr. Stevens was able to incorporate multiple in-class exercises to increase student learning. In addition to content specific material, Dr. Steven's found it necessary to teach some basic academic skills, for example on note-taking, to enhance the success of her students. This flexibility was important, and her students ranked these in class activity sessions as very helpful.

Mathematics and Statistics

S13 Dr. Will Murray

Dr. Will Murray asked his Calculus II Honors (MATH 123H) students to give lectures on pre-selected topics with the intention to increase students' engagement with the materials and overall understanding of the topics.

Along with the use of online homework, the pass rate of the course was 80.7% (21 in 26) in contrast to the average pass rate of 70.1% when the class was taught in 2004 and 2005. Seeing the reactions of his students before, during, and after those lectures, he realized that more cares should have been given in preparing students for such activities. Having made this change to his normal teaching routine, it allowed Dr. Murray to recognize that some experiments will succeed while some will likely to fail; however, we can learn from both and take good ideas and suggestions from both. More specifically, he realized how much our current student population is different from that of ten years ago. He is excited to try more ideas suggested in the online readings and by his fellow FLC participants in future classes.

S12 Dr. John Brevik

Dr. John Brevik incorporated a "flip" of a different kind in his MATH 123H Calculus I course: he moved the in class exercises that he usually reserved until the end of the class period to the very start of the class period—and used them as "warm ups".

Using ideas and feedback generated by the FLC community, Dr. Brevik created heterogeneous groups to solve these problems and was pleased with the overall result. Starting the class period with a problem solving opportunity increased the "energy level" of the class, and Dr. Brevik noticed that students took the problems seriously and became "invested in the answers". Taking part in the FLC was also beneficial for Dr. Brevik, who noted that it was a "tremendous learning opportunity."

S12 Dr. Chung-min Lee

Employing a three-part hypothesis, Dr. Chung-min Lee enhanced learning in her MATH 370A Applied Mathematics I course.

Dr. Lee required students to take pre-class quizzes, created online practice quizzes to replace her in class quizzes, and added the possibility to correct missed exam problems. These strategies increased learning in a semester where her population started off less advantaged than previous semesters. As a testament to the long lasting learning effects of being able to correct errors on an exam, Dr. Lee found that final exam scores increased on problems that were similar to question missed on the original exam. This enhancement was only observed among students who took the opportunity to actually correct and re-do the missed question. Students were pleased with most of the changes and felt that Dr. Lee's modifications did enhance their learning, despite their hesitation to embrace pre-class quizzes. Dr. Lee plans to work on this and other small issues as she continues to refine her course for future semesters.

F11 Dr. Jen-Mei Chang

Dr. Jen-Mei Chang made experimental changes to her teaching technique and class design that improved grades and retention rate in both Calculus III (MATH 224) and Introduction to Linear Algebra (MATH 247).

Dr. Chang created an online question-and-answer board via the website Piazza, and changed easier in-class quizzes to more challenging take home problem sets. The goal was to increase interaction among students and to encourage them to work for solutions themselves, rather than just receive an emailed final answer. These small changes had a large effect—with pass rates increasing by nearly 20% in MATH 247, a stunning achievement. Interestingly, students with the greatest use of Piazza (both contributions and views) earned the highest scores in the class. Dr. Chang found participation in the FLC to "rekindle" her passion for teaching and thought that it would have an "everlasting" positive impact on her desire to be a great educator.

F11 Dr. Xuhui Li

Dr. Xuhui Li reformed the GE course Precalculus Algebra (MATH 113) by incorporating an online program (ALEKS) with self-paced mathematics tutorial/practice exercises, by making lectures more dynamic with multimedia, and by using learning groups during lecture to actively involve students in problem solving.

As a result of these changes, midterm scores improved, in particular for those students who completed the entire ALEKS learning modules. The same increase was also observed in those students who participated in all of the in-class exercises and discussions. These changes are sustainable and he plans to encourage future students to fully partake of the opportunities for learning in the class to increase their scores. For Dr. Li, the FLC was "helpful" and he was encouraged by finding many other STEM faculty members in the CNSM who were "interested in and devoted to improving teaching and learning."

Physics and Astronomy

S13 Dr. Yohannes Abate

Dr. Yohannes Abate was interested in understanding the source of students' misconceptions in fundamental concepts in his 140-people General Physics class (Physics 100A).

To gain such insights, he was convinced that a careful assessment with a variety of tools was necessary. In particular, he selected problems from the Physics' Force Concept Inventory to design appropriate in-class exercises and out-of-class assignments through the mediums of group quizzes, iClicker questions, exams, and social homework platform. He collected raw responses from these instruments and performed scantron item analyses to help him answer two questions that he raised: (1) Do students have more difficulty in learning concepts or solving problems? (2) Why do students develop misunderstandings and why such misconceptions persisted even after repeated instructor interventions? What he found out through the analyses was that students had a hard time with problems that require the use of equations that are derived from fundamental physics concepts and problems that require comparisons. This was an eye-opening experience for Dr. Abate. He was fully convinced that a thoughtful design of assessment prior to instruction is essential to a meaningful learning experience for students and determined to adopt such practice in his future classes.

S13 Dr. Michael Peterson

Dr. Michael Peterson aimed to use Social Homework, an instructional platform that was developed by a group of physics professors on campus, to increase students' abilities to do quantitative and critical reasoning in his large lecture Electricity and Magnetism (PHYS 152) class.

Despite the technical glitches of the system, a majority of the students appreciated the opportunity to do team work and felt that the Social Homework problems added a great value to the course. To his surprise, Dr. Peterson noticed in the course of solving these problems that some students were capable of performing at a level beyond his expectations. To this end, he believes that the social homework platform serves as a canvas for students' creativity and allows them to become seasoned problem solvers through collaborative work. Although an aggregated result on the effect of the system is not yet available, Dr. Peterson is convinced that the idea of Social Homework brings positive values to the existing course and will be implementing it in his upcoming PHYS 152 honor's class. Overall, Dr. Peterson liked the fact that FLC provides a medium for the avid teachers to share and contribute ideas on best practices of teaching and learning.

S12 Dr. Andreas Bill

Dr. Andreas Bill introduced a team based learning technique that allowed students to dig deeply into Mathematical Methods in Physics (PHYS 560A).

Student groups researched one of the following topics: Green functions, Hilbert spaces, integral transforms, ordinary and partial differential equations, complex analysis, distribution theory and group theory. The first group that presented went into great detail, and "definitely broadened the perspective" on why this topic was covered in the class. Due to the length of time for the presentation, the other groups did not present; however, Dr. Bill was eager to continue with novel approaches for this class in future semesters. He plans to flip part or all of the class to allow for the rich discussions that this course deserves. Overall, Dr. Bill found that the FLC gave him "a reason and opportunity to try something new and be bold about it."

F11 Dr Jiyeong Gu

In Electricity and Magnetism (PHYS 340A), Dr Jiyeong Gu made two major changes to her class that fostered student engagement and participation.

By not providing power point copy of her notes, she encouraged students to take their own notes during class. They did just that, stopping to ask her for clarification, and becoming engaged in the lectures, which had not happened in previous semesters. She also reduced her lecture time to allow for three full periods of group problem solving, which also encouraged student interaction and critical thinking skills. These two changes resulted in midterm scores that were the highest ever on comparable exams from the last three times that she has taught the course. Dr. Gu plans to continue these changes, and follow-up with additional hands-on problem solving opportunities for students.

F11 Dr. Thomas Gredig

Dr. Thomas Gredig devised a method to harness the student love for social media, and converted it into a productive homework discussion board that mirrored problem solving in traditional homework for General Physics (PHYS 100A).

Creation and implementation of the "path to solution" discussion boards were predicated on the belief that students have an innate desire to learn. While Dr. Gredig's surveys of students indicate that the final grade, not understanding the material, was the most important student goal, students did realize a benefit from posting and reading solutions to homework problems. Students readily used the site with a total of 5045 views and 2060 comments for the 71 enrolled students. He also worked with Dr. Jim Kissel of Science Education to study the pattern of seeking help for homework problems, finding that students trust "expert" answers on more than peer-to-peer solutions. Dr. Gredig's analysis of his data and ideas for future semesters can be applied across STEM classrooms that encourage students to seek the pathway of problem solving rather than merely naming the solution.