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Flipping the class: Improving Critical Thinking and Analytical Skills in a Large Introductory Cell Biology Class

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The Swanson School of Engineering, Bioengineering program, has experienced a surge in enrollment in the past six years. This increase in enrollment, coupled with a new emphasis on critical thinking and analytical skills development in bioengineering students, prompted Lance Davidson to rethink the delivery of his introductory cell biology course.

Biological sciences are taking more quantitative approaches to problem solving. As a result, Davidson says, “we now need to bring mathematics and the physical sciences into the squishier parts of biology and medicine.”

This new emphasis requires greater guidance on quantitative analysis and critical thinking. Developing these competencies means increasing in-class guidance from instructors.  Davidson and Stuckenholz’s ACIE project, “Assessing the Flip: Reengineering a Large lecture Course in Bioengineering” involves redesigning “Introduction to Cell Biology II” using “flipped classroom” techniques.  Class time during the existing course focuses primarily on developing fluency in core concepts of molecular biology.

In the redesigned course, students will focus on core concept fluency outside of class while most in-class time will be devoted to solving quantitative problems and analyzing experimental design. Davidson and Stuckenholz are using their ACIE grant for the project “Assessing the Flip: Reengineering a Large Lecture Course in Bioengineering,” to develop both dimensions of the course redesign: online learning modules and in-class materials. The online modules, equipped with self-assessments and comprehension quizzes, focus on core concepts.  Processing core concepts prior to class will permit greater devotion building critical thinking skills in-class through solving quantitative problems and analyzing experimental design.

Davidson welcomes the opportunity to optimize class time with Pitt’s “spectacular” bioengineering students. He likens working through problems with his students during class time to “illuminating the path” and characterizes the logic of cell biology and its applications as a knowledge “gem.” This ACIE awardee takes teaching very seriously and reaffirms that Pitt’s most valuable resource is its instructors.

By Carolyn Barber, CIDDE


SEPTEMBER 2013

Contents:

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Flipping the class: Improving Critical Thinking and Analytical Skills in a Large Introductory Cell Biology Class

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