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Friday, June 20 • 8:30am - 9:20am
CON9.03 – Implementation of an Interdisciplinary Project in a Large First Year Biology Program (Room A207)

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Malaria. Sustainable agriculture. Bees and pollination.  These and other complex issues facing biologists today can rarely be solved in the isolation of a single perspective.  In recognition of this, science academies have made a clear call for interdisciplinary integration in undergraduate education, and strongly encourage early introduction of these strategies.  However, while much focus has been placed on linking biology with math and the physical sciences, the “equally important connections within biology” are often overlooked.   Furthermore, increasing student numbers in first year classes can pose significant challenges to successful implementation of interdisciplinary teaching practices.

At the University of Guelph, we have transformed the first-year biology experience to include a novel, interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning using a linked, tri-course model.  Briefly, students enrolled in Biological Concepts of Health, Discovering Biodiversity and Introduction to Molecular and Cellular Biology (approximately 3000 students in total) combine during the last three weeks of a given semester to form interdisciplinary research teams.  Together, students use a problem-based learning approach to address a real-world problem from their discipline-specific perspectives and use a concept map to deliberately identify linking concepts and principles between disciplines.  Their findings are then presented at a scientific poster session open to the university community. 

In this session, we will describe the successes and challenges of our course structure and assignment design. The educational philosophy supporting our approach, the resources required for its implementation, our experiences with the logistics of the exercise as well as the response to formal pre-post student surveys will be discussed.  Session participants can expect a useful ‘nuts and bolts’ description of how to execute a similar or modified version at their home institution.  Tangible resources will be provided so that participants can adapt the project design to suit their own educational requirements.  Furthermore, session participants will be asked to engage in an interdisciplinary brainstorming session, designed to mimic the preparations that course facilitators undertake each semester to prepare the ever-changing ‘real-world problems’ assignment.  Over the past four years of delivery, the assignment has evolved and now represents a sustainable design to bring interdisciplinary learning to large number of students in a low-stakes environment.

Friday June 20, 2014 8:30am - 9:20am EDT
A207 McArthur Hall

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