Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

The collaborative, community-building, results-oriented approach

A car ride to a PKAL meeting at Beloit College sparked a conversation leading to a collaborative, community-building, results-oriented approach in courses.

Our experience with change can be traced back to a car ride to a PKAL meeting in Beloit, 1994. As we traveled to and from the meeting, we had time to reflect on how we grew to love science, our experiences as professional scientists, and how these contrast to the way students were being taught in our classes. We saw a gap. We resolved to fill the gap, beginning with our classes and ourselves. We restructured our biochemistry and developmental biology courses to have flexible schedules so that the two met sometimes together. We also made them research focused in collaboration with a locally based international scientific company.

This was viewed as a radical approach and with a lot of skepticism, but we persisted. Especially problematic was the lack of resources and institutional barriers. With creative resourcing through collaborations and grants and by ignoring institutional structures, we progressed. Observing the enthusiasm this cultivated in our students and in us, we developed a capstone research course that involves students at varying levels of expertise. Students mentored each other and worked as peers with faculty and collaborating scientists. We became a team of learners. The success of this approach grew into a new majors program in biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, which has now grown to one of the largest in our college.

The collaborative, community-building, results-oriented approach developed in the courses is integral to the new major program. Our success in working with science students across disciplines drew university administration attention and we were asked to develop a general education science program that was similarly learner centered and interdisciplinary. Accordingly, we began change with ourselves, grew to include other science faculty and are now reaching to the general faculty with our views of change.