Kipp Herreid and Nancy Schiller at the University at Buffalo have established the premier collection of case studies for teaching science, at the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science (NCCST). The driving impetus is the belief, backed by evidence (e.g., Freeman et al. 2014), that active learning trumps lectures, and that case studies are perhaps the best form of active learning. The NCCST site has amassed over 500 case studies, peer reviewed, that are widely used by science teachers in high school and colleges all over the world.
However, many instructors worry that spending class time on case studies will short-change students with respect to coverage of the material. This concern is especially pronounced for freshman biology. Freshman biology encompasses a tremendous breadth and diversity of topics, attempting to survey the entirety of life! Freshman biology is also the only college science course that a majority of college students will ever take. The one or two semesters will be the culmination of science education for millions. What students learn in intro biology courses truly matters, for both the students and for the nation. How can we resolve the tension between breadth of topical coverage and depth of reasoning skills?
The recent emergence of the flipped class suggested to Kipp and other Biology instructors that we may have our cake and eat it, too. The flipped model, where students learn content outside of class, frees up class time for case studies, where students can explore topics in depth and develop critical reasoning skills.
I flipped my intro bio class in the fall of 2011, first with online lecture videos, then with supplementary web pages that covered all my former lecture content. I then used class time for various active learning activities, including a number of case studies that I developed or adapted from the NCCST site. I found that students in the flipped class showed significantly higher performance on exam questions with higher-order cognitive skills (Blooms taxonomy levels 3 or higher). Many of my colleagues who also teach intro biology, at Georgia Tech and at many other colleges and universities across the country and around the world, have also flipped, either in whole or in part.
Still, most faculty, even those practicing active learning, are hesitant to flip their classes. When I poll faculty at teaching seminars and conferences, the biggest barriers they cite are the lack of time and resources. Indeed, both recording my lecture videos and searching for or developing case studies and other in-class activities nearly consumed me that first semester I flipped. But what if faculty could get a list of the best available videos and case studies, for each topic they are likely to teach? Wouldn’t such a resource enable many more faculty to flip their classes? Kipp Herreid and Nancy Schiller convinced the National Science Foundation to fund such an effort.
Therefore, over three years, faculty with case study experience and/or flipped class experience will gather here at Buffalo to develop case studies designed and intended for use in flipped introductory biology classes. Kipp has identified 12 major topic areas in introductory biology courses. Each year, the faculty will survey the available video resources and case studies in 4 of the 12 topic areas. The stated goal is that, at the end of the 3 years, all 12 major topic areas will have video resources and case studies that will address all essential or important subtopics within each major topic area.
In this first year, the four topics are cells, ecology, evolution, and genetics/heredity. All four of these topic areas are included in Georgia Tech’s Biol 1510, Principles of Biology course. I am in the genetics/heredity group, with four wonderful colleagues. Thus far we have worked through two exhausting days to define all the essential and important subtopics in genetics, identify any available quality videos (that we would use in our own classes) that address each of these topics, and identify any existing case studies for each subtopic. The five of us have each taken on the development of videos and case studies that fill in the gaps – where videos and case studies for essential or important subtopics are missing. We are learning about how to make and edit animations and videos, and about copyright and intellectual property issues and permissions. We will go back and develop, review, revise, and submit, videos and case studies in the next 6 months. I will blog about my efforts, so readers can learn from my mistakes and successes. I hope readers will also contribute their wisdom and knowledge. Stay tuned.