Using the Principles of SoTL to Redesign an Advanced Evolutionary Biology Course

Michael deBraga, Cleo Boyd, Shahad Abdulnour


A primary goal of university instruction is the students’ demonstration of improved, highly developed critical thinking (CT) skills. However, how do faculty encourage CT and its potential concomitant increase in student workload without negatively impacting student perceptions of the course? In this investigation, an advanced biology course is evaluated after structural changes (implemented in 2010) met with a poor student evaluation of the course and the instructor. This analysis first examines the steps used to transform a course to encourage CT and then explains how it can be assessed. To accomplish these goals, the instructor collaborated with an educational developer to redesign the course using a philosophy informed by SoTL. This approach, as we see it, represents a set of principles that demand transparency in the development and application of strategies whose aim is to encourage student learning. However, the SoTL approach would be insufficient to simply promote a set of strategies without some mechanism for evaluating its efficacy. Therefore, we designed a “Graded Response” (GR) multiple-choice test to measure CT development and hence to properly evaluate whether the strategies embedded in our SoTL-informed course redesign have adequately met our goals.

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