On today’s podcast, I’m happy to share a roundtable discussion with three faculty who teach introductory biology courses using a non-traditional model. All three teach what is called studio-style biology, where the lecture and lab portions are not just coordinated, but actually integrated into the same time and space. The course might meet two hours at a shot three times a week, which each class session featuring a mix of mini-lectures and wet lab activities.
My guests are Scott Chirhart, professor and chair of biology at Centenary College; Robbie Bear, senior instructor in biology at Kansas State University; and Justin Shaffer, teaching associate professor in chemical and biological engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Their approaches to studio-style biology are all a little different, and I was glad I could get all three of them on together to compare and contrast their courses.
My three guests have lots to share with anyone interested in how a department can put together an introductory course with lots of moving pieces and a strong emphasis on active learning.
Scott Chirhart’s faculty page, https://www.centenary.edu/academics/departments-schools/biology/biology-department-faculty/
Robbie Bear’s faculty page, https://www.k-state.edu/biology/about/people/faculty/bear/
Justin Shaffer’s faculty page, https://chemeng.mines.edu/project/shaffer-justin/
Studio biology at Kansas State, https://www.k-state.edu/biology/pob/index.html
Assessment of the effectiveness of the studio format in introductory undergraduate biology [at Kansas State] by Montelone, Rintoul, & Williams (2017), https://www.lifescied.org/doi/10.1187/cbe.06-09-0193
Improving exam performance in introductory biology through the use of preclass reading guides [at Colorado School of Mines] by Lieu, Wong, Asefirad, & Shaffer (2017), https://www.lifescied.org/doi/10.1187/cbe.16-11-0320
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Derek Bruff 0:06
Welcome to intentional teaching, a podcast aimed at educators to help them develop foundational teaching skills and explore new ideas and teaching. I'm your host Derek Bruff. I hope this podcast helps you be more intentional in how you teach, and and how you develop as a teacher over time.
Derek Bruff 0:24
You are probably familiar with the standard model for teaching introductory college science courses, like physics or chemistry or biology. There is a lecture portion which usually meets in a big classroom two or three times a week, along with a lab portion, which meets in a dedicated lab space, usually once a week for three or four hours.
Derek Bruff 0:44
This model has a long history, but it also has some downsides. Particularly if the lecture and lab portions aren't well coordinated. On today's podcast, I'm happy to share a roundtable discussion with three faculty who teach introductory biology courses using a very different model. All three teach what is called studio style biology, where the lecture and lab portions are not just coordinated, but actually integrated into the same time and space. The course might meet two hours at a shot three times a week, with each class session featuring a mix of mini lectures and wet lab activities. My guests are Scott Chirhart, Professor and Chair of biology at Centenary College. Robbie Bear, senior instructor in biology at Kansas State University and Justin Shaffer, teaching associate professor in Chemical and Biological Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Their approaches to studio style biology are all a little different. And I was glad I could get all three of them on together to compare and contrast their courses. What follows will be especially interesting to any biology educators in my audience. But I think anyone interested in how a department can put together an introductory course with lots of moving pieces and a strong emphasis on active learning will get something out of this conversation.
Derek Bruff 2:08
Thank you, Justin, Robbie, and Scott for being on intentional teaching, I'm excited to have a conversation with you all about studio style biology instruction. As a mathematician, this is a little bit new territory for me. But I'm looking forward to learning from you guys and hearing about the different ways that you've implemented this at your different institutions. And let's start pretty concrete. So what might a typical class session in a studio style biology course look like? And maybe also, what would students do before during and after class? Because that might be relevant?
Justin Shaffer 2:43
Sure, yeah. So and I'm sure we're gonna hear some different flavors of this answer from Robbie and Scott too. But at Mines for biology and studio format, we really follow the overarching goal of what's called a high structure course design. So that's where we're going to have students get prepared before a class with pre class content acquisition via either reading or video watching, plus pre class assessment, in class a bunch of active learning exercises, activities, and I'll expand on that in a moment. And then after class, review type of assignments, homework quizzes on the weekly basis, and then frequent summative exams, we've actually ditched midterm, the midterm model, we'll just do weekly quizzes now as briefer, more more focused assessments on a weekly basis. So that high structure course design model can apply to any courses. And indeed, I use that in my MP course, I use in my chemical engineering courses too.
Justin Shaffer 3:33
But with biology, what makes a little bit different is with the studio format, is we're trying to combine some of the laboratory elements with the lesson elements with the activity elements in the same classroom. So we have this unique room, which was built maybe 15 or 20 years ago, or so at mines, where it's kind of this L shaped room. And there's these groups of the seating is really unique, because it's pods of nine, and then each pod, it's kind of like a triangle or meme coming out from the middle, you know, like a star shape. And you have a group of three on each end. So there's three groups of three, and they're connecting this bigger group of nine. And each group of three has their own computer screen, their own laptop, they can use the computer there, they have a sink, they have lab equipment there, they have their pipettors everything. And it's arranged around this room in this L shape. So this room makes it conducive for both lessons, although it's a little difficult. So with the L shape because you can't see everyone at the same time. So I got one of the catch box microphones to help with that even just to hear everybody toss that around the room. But then that also facilitates the lab work as well as the any type of worksheet or activity work we call explorations. They're not a full fledged full fledged lab, but they're more hands on activities and components like that.
Justin Shaffer 4:38
And I need to give a lot of credit here to to my co instructors on this Josh Ramey, Nikki Farnsworth and Susie Beeler, who, especially Josh, he was here before I was at Mines and really helped pilot this method and get this kind of program off the ground. But it really again combines these elements makes it active all around. Whether it's lab work lesson clickers activities or Our exploration type worksheets.
Derek Bruff 5:02
Thanks, Robbie. How does that compare to what your studio style biology course looks like?
Robbie Bear 5:08
Actually quite similar. We have pre class exercises that they do readings, quizzes, all that stuff that come into classroom. We do a short little introductory lecture to what they're doing for the day. And then we built and have a studio manual. That's like 400 and some pages.
Derek Bruff 5:29
Oh, wow, there it is.
Robbie Bear 5:31
Yeah, there it is.
Robbie Bear 5:33
It's probably going to be an OER here soon. But anyways. And so the students once they come into classroom, they have wet lab exercises. And we've spent the last couple of years building our own computer material. So our own tutorials with our own animations, and all that stuff, using a program called Articulate, which is a Human Resource Program that then has an interface similar to PowerPoint. So you go in and build pages that way that export to HTML. So we can do guided questions, drop and drag, all those types of little interactive activities that they can do on a computer. And then, post class, what we tell them to do is we have learning objectives at the start of each class, for them to go sit down and write out a paragraph about each one of those, have their peers look it over, have instructors look it over, have some follow up on that self assessment. And then at the end of each module, which is four classes, we have a capstone activity that they do on the computer, which is watching a video, and then answer some questions associated with that and the overarching concepts within a module as a whole. And of course, within a class at the end of the class period, there is a wrap up lecture to go over the data collected, you know, answering any questions. I will do formative assessment in class with Fake or Facts. Having students reply to discussion boards with the statement is fake or fact and why. And it's a great opportunity to sit down and while they're working real quick, read over what they're writing and get into an assessment of how they're understanding that bigger concept or idea. So lots and lots of assessment built into it to ensure that they're learning.
Derek Bruff 7:25
Scott, what about at Centenary?
Scott Chirhart 7:27
Um, it's similar. In some regards, our classrooms are relatively small, because we're a small liberal arts college. And so we have six tables that are kind of a halfmoon shape. And so there's four at each table. And, you know, everybody kind of has their own setup with microscope, digital cameras, you know, computers, etc. We actually don't do too much in terms of pre lecture material. We meet twice a week for about a three hour period with some breaks, you know, in between for bathroom breaks, but we do lecture and lab together. So what we try to lecture no more than 15-20 minutes and then do some hands on activity. So, you know, we just went through kind of internal transport with plants yesterday as a matter of fact. And so we talked about that for about 20 minutes. And then we set up this transpiration labs where students guided you know, what hypotheses they want, and what variables they wanted to test, whether it was wind or heat, light or dark. We perform the experiment. And then while the experiment was running. You know, we kept continuing the lecture, we came back, we analyzed it, we ran some statistics. And there are videos of every lecture that basically came out of the pandemic, it was something that probably the one good thing that came out of the pandemic, because we did have recorded lectures. So it does allow the students to go back and see things they may have missed. We do have weekly quizzes, we don't have midterms, but we do have exams, probably every four or five periods throughout it as well.
Derek Bruff 8:55
Okay, now, again, mathematician here, haven't taken biology since 10th grade. I also know the studio style, at least that name, I think comes from the world of physics where they started combining lectures and labs together. I can imagine a physics lab in a classroom, right with, you know, enough kind of space around the tables to drop some things and maybe turn on some circuits. But you guys have talked about pipetting. And something about transpiratoin. I think you got that word. I think of a biology lab as I think what you call a wet lab. So tell me more about that. What does it look like to do a lab in a classroom?
Robbie Bear 9:41
I will, I will say like our ecology stuff is computerized and models and everything like that, but when we get to cell biology the microscopes are out, they're making slides and doing all that stuff. The samples are in the back of the room. They go back, make their slides take it back to their table because there's four students at each table. Um, then when we're doing tests for biological molecules, you know, they're going back and doing Benedicts tests, they're doing iodine, they're doing all that stuff, running enzymatic assays, they do that. So all this general lab stuff, we make it happen, you know, even transpiration, you know, we have demos set up for them to work on that. Respiration of, of organisms, you know, we make little respirameters and [???] and put beetles in there and close it up and let them respire, you know, and just all that, you know, everything, we all those little exercises and make it happen. You know, we have 80 students in our classroom, to teaching faculty graduate student or two and practicums, which are undergrad teaching assistants that come back and help teach the class all in there, working with the students and moving around and making sure they learn.
Scott Chirhart 11:01
I'll say at least, you know, when I was doing my doctoral teaching at Texas a&m, it was very different in terms of how the labs were set up. But with this here, you know, even though it's studio format, you know, we haven't lost any of the wet labs. Again, yesterday, we did plants, but then we got to animals, we're doing dissections on the table. And so every group of four is doing their dissections through their earthworm through their grasshopper through their rat, all the things that, you know, we're prior said, you know, in our first semester of introductory biology, we're going through all the indicator solutions, the Benedict's test the [??], it's all those at the table. So, you know, wet labs aren't, you know, really lost, you know, because of the studio format. I think it just makes it small, smaller, and much more, you know, together much more collaborative. Rather than having a professor the front demo it, then everybody does it, or one person, does it, I think it's much more interactive that way.
Justin Shaffer 11:58
Yeah, and we're in the same boat for sure. So for our the bio one course that I teach, which is mostly molecule cells, genetics, we do a lot of molecular experiments. So we do recombinant plasmid work restriction, enzyme analysis, address, lecture freezes, typical things like that. We also introduced CRISPR, and recently years in a lab. And we also try to model drug delivery via hydrogel generation and preparation and drug release kinetics. But again, it's the the flexibility of being in that space, where you have the time to both do the some lesson introduction, like you were saying, Scott, plus the actual lab work and kind of switch back and forth. So or even these activities we have, we have this one where it's like protein folding, and sees that kind of long tubes that are squishy, and you can bend them up and put little amino acids on it to model a protein folding structure or just doing some microscope work.
Derek Bruff 12:51
Thank you, that's, you still use a lot of words I don't entirely understand. But I do. That does paint a better picture of you know, what I think of as a biology lab, but but in a classroom space. But I think you're also anticipating my next question, which is, what value do you see in this approach over kind of more traditional separated lab lab and lecture structures? Can you speak a little bit to that? What what does this allow you to do? That, that maybe is harder to do in a more traditional lab setting?
Scott Chirhart 13:21
I'll jump in, I'll say at least for me, when I taught labs at a&m, one of the biggest complaints with the students was they didn't see the connection. You know, they're there someplace and lecture, but they're doing something different in lab, and then maybe they get to it two weeks later in lecture. And at least here, you know, as the professor, we're doing both a lecture and lab together, so we can make them see the connection, we can make them see the significance, we can make them see the relevance to it. And then not only do that, but relate it and build upon it throughout the semester. And so I think it really provides kind of that, you know, foundational work of thinking like a scientist, and, you know, you think about a question and designing a, an experiment to do it, and then them seeing the results and, you know, in smaller, you know, pieces and so, I think, at least for me, I think it allows the students to understand why they're doing something and why it's important and what the relevance is, and let them come up with their own conclusions, and things of that nature.
Robbie Bear 14:19
I'll go next. So, when I was an undergrad, you know, and and my undergrad advisor will probably attest to this. I would ask, ask often, so why do we have one place lecture and we go to a lab and do something totally different? There was no connection, and I kept asking why. And he was like, that's the way we do it. Because that's what we do it and I was like, why? And, you know, as I bought into that, you know, it became theory in one location and application in a different you know, and when I got to the community college and got my own classes and stuff like that, I continued to And I, I talked about that as being an important way of teaching and everything like that. And when I'm my bosses at the community college, or the Vice President of campus was like, so why don't you do it together? You know, why don't you teach these together? And I was like, Oh, that's a fantastic idea. And all those ideas when I was younger, pop back in my head. And so I was starting to think about that at the community college I was at, and trying to figure out how to do it. But you know, 18 years ago, I met folks here at K State who were doing it, they were coming out of a audio tutorial course.
Derek Bruff 15:41
Oh, right. I read about that, that
Robbie Bear 15:43
we're putting headphones on
Derek Bruff 15:44
It was very 1980s.
Robbie Bear 15:46
Derek Bruff 15:50
they were listening to the lectures on like, cassette tapes or something.
Robbie Bear 15:54
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Robbie Bear 15:55
And I talked to, you know, former alumni are like, Yeah, we used to sit there, and then, you know, press the play button and fall asleep and wake up. And you know, little clicker was at 350 instead of three, you know, and anyways, and so they got a grant here at K State to move to a studio model. And so I came in about six years after they started it, and then they able to contribute to it since then, it was like a perfect fit would just pop right up in there. It was, and, you know, it's just, I've loved every minute of it. Yeah.
Derek Bruff 16:30
How about you, Justin? What, what's, what's the value in the studio model? As you see it?
Justin Shaffer 16:34
Yeah. So again, the connection piece is really strong there, being able to have the control over both parts lecture in the lab and kind of seamlessly work them together. Also, we have a lot of support in this course, I'm not sure if Robbie and Scott, you have the same but we have ta graduate students usually graduate students Yeah, but sometimes undergrad, usually we have myself plus three TAs for group of 60. So it's about one to 15. And that really helps facilitate that learning environment, whether it's more lesson based, or the the lab based activities.
Justin Shaffer 17:07
However, and I don't want to come off as saying I don't, I'm not a strong proponent of studio model. I do think there's a lot of benefits, but I'm not completely sold on the studio model as being the way to go for intro bio. Here's why. So I've taught intro bio at four different universities, four different models for lab. Some we didn't even have a lab that some it was, you know, this person ran the lab, this person ran the lecture completely uncoordinated. Some were more uncoordinated. now at Mines. I do both. But like I started off saying the beginning, I think it's this high structure course design. And really being carefully having a course carefully designed is what's important. And so we've actually experimented. Now the last this is our third semester, we've kind of switched away from using this classroom, I've mentioned this L shaped classroom that holds 60 students, we were doing it two hours a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, two hour blocks. And we've now switched to what you might call a more traditional three hours, when one lab session a week, like on a Tuesday, then you have Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 50 minutes, I still do both, I still teach both sections. So I still are able to make sure everything really controls well.
Justin Shaffer 18:10
But the reason we made the switch, one was sometimes the two hours isn't enough for the labs, when we do need a little bit more time and students felt really rushed. Also the room that I mentioned, due to our specific structure, in terms of the facilities, it's not the best for the lesson delivery at times. So we're trying this out a little bit and collecting data along the way. And we're seeing seeing some positive results in terms of either equal if not greater student learning as well as student affect, they seem to like this model a bit more, it feels a little bit more relaxed a bit more. And they also feel a say it feels a bit more organized in their minds, because they know what's happening here. And they know what's happening here, but they still see the connection between the two. But in the biology space, we're just going to take advantage of that laboratory space for those types of things that we can't easily do in a traditional classroom. But as long as you have that connection between the two, I think it can work seamlessly, we might go back to the more you know, the Monday, Wednesday Friday two hour model after we evaluate our data here after the spring. But it's been interesting to see the how the two models and I've been happy in both scenarios. So we'll just let the data play out and see what happens.
Derek Bruff 19:17
well, and I'm reminded that, you know, most colleges and universities assign classroom space, not based on pedagogical strategies, right? So what I'm hearing from you're kind of back to the basics model is you have a space for lecture and instruction. And then you have another space for lab and activities. And what I like about that is you're being targeted about how you use those spaces, right, you're doing the thing in the room that the room is supposed to be doing. And, but I think that's true of the studio style as well. Right? The idea is that you've got a physical space that supports these types of interactions that you're trying to create. And I would imagine it would be next to impossible to do this in a traditional classroom for all three of you. Yeah, I'm seeing nodding heads, what, let's say a little bit more about the space itself, what I'm wondering are there affordances, in the spaces where you teach these courses that you think are, are maybe more important to the ways that you're teaching them.
Justin Shaffer 20:24
I'll start there, this time. Um, so our room is the way it's designed, again, with the benches, they're not, you know, rectangle benches, or these kind of spokes on a wheel pod type style. So the students are really able to sit together on their little end, with three students per and then they have a larger group of nine to work with. So the space really facilitates the instruction, they have their own computer that they can work on that would facilitate stuff, because a lot of our work is computational as well to support the the wet lab data collection. And so that just giving them that little space, there's really helpful versus I've had an anatomy lab and my past University was more of the long benches style, and you just kind of sit three or four to the side of the bench, and that you couldn't really lean over together and work. So the room was thoughtfully put together so that you'd have on kind of this end, rectangle, three of the sides, or the three chairs. And then the fourth side is the screen and the sink, so they can really look together on a common space. And that really facilitates that, again, lab work and data collection and their sense of community. Because they're always there looking at each other. And looking ahead at the board together, you know, they're actually looking at each other all the time in this space, which helps them work together well, but then they work in the same groups in the lesson type as well, you know, so they're, they're carrying this group work over, whether it's a lab activity experiment, or a more traditional lesson with clickers and other type of group work.
Robbie Bear 21:43
Yeah, I'll follow up and say it's extremely important the design of the room and teaching this way. We do the science majors in our main room that's got four students to each bench and everything like that. And right when the pandemic hit, I started a non science majors studio biology, and the only room I could get had the long rectangular benches, for them to sit at all facing forward, you know, and getting them to work in groups bigger than just a pair of them is very difficult because of the way the room is set up. And so often, what ends up happening is they're working in little pairs, instead of groups of fours, or sixes or whatever. So it's kind of it's more difficult to, to do it in that room where you have a long benches instead of the little pods that they can work in as groups. So the setup of the room, and that's extremely important.
Scott Chirhart 22:43
Yeah, I'll just reiterate both with, you know, Justin and Robbie said, you know, the, the halfmoon shape, as I said that we have, you know, gets them facing each other builds that sense of community. Our Introductory Biology sections, both the first and second semester include both majors and non majors. So it's good because they get a mixture of both. Now, I'll be honest, the second semester, not many non majors take, some of them do, that found an interest in biology, particularly that first one, building that sense of community, as I said, because they actually end up doing a semester long project together. So that's something that again, in a traditional setting, they may not, you know, have that collaboration, there are some hindrances to it, at least the way it's set up with ours, you know, I don't know, you know, particular for Justin's tables, or, you know, what Robbie has, there is limited space. So, you know, on those tables, if I have the microscope with the digital camera and the computer and then something else, it's tight, it's tight with those four people around that table. And so I find myself a lot of times having to have things on side tables and shuffle.
Scott Chirhart 23:48
And, Justin, I'd love to say that we have lots of left help lab help, but it's the professors that are doing the prep. We do have some student workers that clean some dishes that sometimes pull stuff out for us. But yeah, we're kind of putting things all over the room when we have to kind of shift things in and out. So it's good, but there are some hindrances to it as well, depending on what you're trying to structure. You know, I think what Justin said about having a highly structured class that can be successful, you know, however you implement it, I agree. And we don't teach the studio format past intro bio, because we think that we need more pedagogical time to focus in on concepts for higher level learning in some of those classes like advanced cell or comparative anatomy, just not enough time, as Justin said, felt rushed. So again, that students get a mixture of it by the time they end up graduating from here.
Derek Bruff 24:39
let me do a quick lightning round. So first cuz some of you have mentioned some of this and some of you haven't, Justin, how many students and what's your normal group size?
Justin Shaffer 24:52
Yes. So we have the lab space is a maximum of 63 The way it works so in the groups have three each. So we have 21 groups of three Max.
Derek Bruff 25:03
Gotcha on that kind of star configuration table. Great. Robbie. Yeah, total students and typical group size
Robbie Bear 25:10
80 and 4. So 20 tables.
Derek Bruff 25:15
Gotcha. And Scott,
Scott Chirhart 25:17
six tables of four, so maximum 24. Now we have multiple sessions running, you know, but yeah, they capped off at 24.
Derek Bruff 25:26
And there were at one time is a max of 24. Yeah. Okay. And Robbie, you showed us a giant studio manual, not not a lab manual, a studio manual.
Robbie Bear 25:40
Yeah, so we went Open Stax put together their series of books, we adopted it very early, very quickly.
Derek Bruff 25:47
Those are open educational textbooks
Robbie Bear 25:49
educational resources. We jumped on that really fast. Because the way we go through the course, we're having them read, like, read this chapter, read chapter three, only section 2.2. And you know, all that stuff. And it was very confusing. And so we're able to take that OpenStax resource and model it to what we teach in the order we teach it in. So every class became a chapter in our E text. And we built that. Once OpenStax started changing their format of doing the editing and stuff, we basically just took everything. And now we're gonna start publishing through our publisher in our library here. So we're gonna take all that and dump it in there and go that particular route. And so, you know, the advantages of having your own e text and being able to do that is is fantastic, because you can hone it to what you're doing. Customize it exactly to what you're doing. the studio manual, you know, that grew out of the audio tutorial course. And then we've just been building and adding to it over over the years. And then, you know, that's this, which is printed, and cost of printing is going up, etc. So we may be going through more of a digital format with that.
Derek Bruff 27:08
Justin, what about your curriculum
Justin Shaffer 27:10
we currently have, you're using Open Stax biology, like Robbie, he's using it. But like Robbie said, too, sometimes it doesn't have everything you need, or it's in the wrong order. So that's why we use reading guides for our students as well. So these are just Word documents that I put together that ask students a series of questions as they're reading, so they make them more active readers. Has tables to fill out drawings to make things like that. And I published on this a few years ago in CBE showing their efficacy in intro bio, or students that the more often you do them before class, the better you do on exams. And I share that day with my students do to convince them to do them, because these are just optional study aids really, but they do bring a lot of bang for the buck if students work on them. So it helps take that larger tome of the textbook and condense it down a bit. And so what's really important helps me it helps us be a little bit more transparent. And what we want our students to know.
Justin Shaffer 27:57
As far as the lab, though, we have a mix of things. Some are totally homegrown labs, Nikki Farnsworth I mentioned, she developed a lab on hydrogels and drug delivery. So based on her own research, so we do that one, Josh and I have cobbled together one on recombinant DNA and plasmid preparation, looking at fluorescent bacteria and how it's changing the restriction digests patterns can lead to different outcomes. And then we also rely on some publisher resources. BioRad, for example, has some great kind of ready to go labs we do one, we modified one from their CRISPR lab and one from their PCR for genetically modified organisms. So we're kind of grabbing a few different places. But I'd really like Robbie's idea to have your own kind of manuals in house to make this a little bit more self contained. Because we're, every every time we teach every semester, and we got to, you know, tweak things a little bit, put it all together, but maybe at some point, we'll get to a point where we're happy enough to do what you're doing. Robbie, that sounds really cool.
Robbie Bear 28:53
It's a lot of work.
Derek Bruff 28:56
I can imagine I can imagine. Yeah. Let's talk about the students for a minute. Well, I guess a couple of questions. What do you tell your students about how to learn and succeed in this course? And how do students respond to this format? That may change over the semester as they get used to it, but But what do you what do you what advice do you give to students? And how do they respond to this this class?
Scott Chirhart 29:24
I mean, I'll start. I can say one thing is, they're a little hesitant at first, because it's something kind of new something they're not used to also being that close together in a group. Not they're not necessarily used to that either. But I will say that once they finish the freshman cycle, and then they have to go to the upper level labs, they miss it. And so they're like, Oh, can we have other courses like this? We have to explain them. The labs are a little bit more intense. We're trying to get different objectives.
Scott Chirhart 29:53
I will say at least what I tell them in the very first semester is we're trying to teach them how not only To be able to be good students, but good scientists, and like, you know, trying to train the idea of the scientific method, having them design the experiments. And as I alluded to before, you know, they do a semester long project, but kind of gearing them up to have the tools for that. And, you know, I also told them, we're trying to get them to kind of study and think in small pieces, you know, rather than having like, you know, as Justin said, like a midterm or something, you know, we're trying to do, at least in the first semester, a quiz every day, so they're trying to digest it and understand it before we move on. And then we start to space that out. And the second semester, it's a quiz every three or four days. And then you know, as we get to some of the upper levels, it is some of those traditional midterms. So we're teaching them how to study, how to kind of be students, how to be scientists, how to think and get laboratory skills, and, as I said, overall, very, very positive, the only thing they don't like is it ends after their freshman year.
Derek Bruff 30:55
That's good feedback, though.
Robbie Bear 30:57
Very similar. You know, initially, the students are pretty hesitant about what's going on. But what ends up happening is, there's a good chunk of students, probably a third or more, that just absolutely fall in love with it, think it's the cat's meow. And, of course, often, that's the higher achieving students as well. A lot of motivation there, there's half the group, we're like, hey, it's college. And then then there's the squeaky wheels, that we have at the other end, which is, you know, I have to teach myself, even though, you know, the student teacher ratio is one to 20. But, you know, often what I'm telling them is we're putting learning on to you as an individual, and it's one of the key things they need to do is learn how to learn, and do it on their own. And I, you know, I tell them walk up to and say, you know, when you get a job, they're gonna hand you a manual and say, do some work. They're not gonna lecture to you about how to do it, you know, you're gonna have to figure this stuff out and understand it, you know, pull all these ideas together and synthesize and understand and analyze whether or not you did it correctly. And I said, that's what we're going to teach you. And so therefore, we get a good bit of buy in, and you know, those are the students, that just knock it out of the ballpark and come back and help teach the course. You know, and then there's the squeaky wheels that want to just sit in the back of the room and listen to you talk. We don't do that.
Derek Bruff 32:29
Yeah, not gonna happen. Any other advice you would give department that is considering a move to studio style?
Robbie Bear 32:40
I have to admit, I, I went on to rate my professor and looked up, Scott and Justin just to see, And what I also found out is you guys are really good teachers. And the common thread was empathy. Yeah, is it you listen to your students, you understand the students and what they're going through, and everything like that. And that's huge. You know, we are multisection, we have five sections in the spring and seven sections in the fall, there's variation in scores, and the exams and stuff like that. And variation, and T valves amongst instructors are all teaching the same stuff in the same room. And it's empathy. It's how you present yourself to the students, how you're interacting with the students and answering their questions and all that stuff. And, and connecting with them. And understanding where they're coming from is huge, huge, huge, huge,
Scott Chirhart 33:35
I think Robbie is 100% on point. The two things I would say is one, I would reemphasize what Robbie says we don't put actually anybody teaching in that studio format that does not have that empathy or does not have that want or desire to help the student. Because it does take a little bit more work than your traditional like, you know, offset lab here and so forth. Because it's a lot more hands on. It's I don't say it's negotiating with the students to get them to do it. But again, you're prodding and pushing and challenging. And so we are very diligent and how we pick the people that are teaching it. The other thing I would add is buy in from the department, you know, if you're not doing this yet, you know, convincing them this is what we want to do so that they're supportive, they're giving the resources, they're not bad mouthing or talking about it, like you know, they're talking to in an exciting way to the students. Even when you're recruiting, you know, we talked about hey, this is a really cool, you know, way that you're gonna see biology when you come in. But I think buy in is a massive tool for success for the program.
Justin Shaffer 34:33
Yeah, I agree with all that. And thanks for bringing up that idea of empathy. Robbie from the Rate My Professor. I think, too, for the first this is probably a first year students taking these courses, right. So you want to be really welcoming and introducing them to the university entrance into the major, making sure they understand kind of how to succeed overall. You know, Derek, I just was listening to the beginning of the podcast that dropped today on the hidden curriculum, and that's an idea right of how to get students to come to office hours and succeed, especially those low income first gen students. So I think that whoever's teaching these studio courses, again, primarily first year students are in these courses, we need to be aware of these issues and helping out and so of our team, myself, Josh, and Suzy, we're all teaching faculty. So these are our, our primary concern with teaching, Nikki's research faculty, but she cares a ton about teaching as well. So we make a really great team for for bio one here to help students succeed no matter what the format.
Justin Shaffer 35:32
The other piece of advice that I would say is, for a department thinking about this before you have put together a budget proposal, right and drop it to your CFO for, you know, 10s, if not hundreds of 1000s of dollars for a retrofit or new lab space. Think about what you actually need. Look at the literature on this, like we discussed earlier, and see if you can make use of what's already out there and still document gains there. I think having all the you know, the fancy stuff, and new space would be amazing, especially to help you know, university presidents show off visibility, look how we're committed to, you know, building our biology program or other courses. But I think you can do a lot of the, if not all of the benefits from a more traditional setting, as long as you have the right people involved, the right structure for the class, and you're really transparent with your about your students what you're trying to do.
Derek Bruff 36:22
That's great. Thank you. Thank you, all three of you for coming on the podcast. This has been really great. I've enjoyed getting to know your world a little bit and have hopefully you guys get to know each other's worlds as well. Thanks so much for being here and for sharing your experiences with our listeners.
Derek Bruff 36:37
That was Scott Chirhart, Professor and Chair of biology at Centenary College, Robbie Bear, senior instructor in biology at Kansas State University, and Justin Shaffer, teaching associate professor in Chemical and Biological Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Thanks to all three of my guests for coordinating their schedules so we could have this conversation. My colleagues in the biology department at the University of Mississippi have started a project to shift their introductory course for non majors to a studio style course. And I know they're very interested in what Scott Robbie and Justin had to share. And I really appreciated what they had to say about the role of empathy and student success and these critical introductory courses.
Derek Bruff 37:21
We took a little detour near the end of our conversation into our efforts at asking students to write down advice for succeeding and of course, advice that could be shared with future students. If that sounds interesting, you can find that bonus clip over on the intentional teaching Patreon. See the show notes for a link to that as well as to more information about our guests, including Justin's paper on pre class reading assignments.
Derek Bruff 37:46
This episode of intentional teaching was produced and edited by me Derek Bruff. See the show notes for links to my website. The signup form for the intentional teaching newsletter which goes out most Thursdays, and my Patreon which helps support the show. For just a few bucks a month you get access to the occasional bonus episode, Patreon only teaching resources, the archive of past newsletters and a community of intentional educators to chat with. As always, thanks for listening
Transcribed by https://otter.ai