Public Affairs, The California State University

Revolutionizing Biology Courses to Enhance Student Learning

By Stephanie Thara

As part of CSU’s commitment to improve student success and completion rates by using innovative online technologies, the CSU launched eAcademies, a series of mini-conferences bringing CSU faculty from across the state together to look at incorporating proven course redesign practices into classes that have high failure rates.

Biology eAcademy attendeesFrom October 21 to 23, faculty from biology departments at multiple CSU campuses gathered at the CSU Chancellors’ Office for a Biology eAcademy. Biology professors—specializing in everything from evolution and DNA sequencing to zoology and botany—discussed and collaborated on ways to integrate technology into class curriculum to enhance student learning.

“We are looking for ways to engage the 21st century learner,” said Kathy Fernandes, director of learning design and technologies for CSU Academic Technology Services. “Our focus is to improve student success. By encouraging students to engage through technology, they have more time to do tasks and really learn the principles of biology.”

The workshop opened with a discussion about how online learning can be an effective way to meet students’ needs for immediate feedback, high levels of engagement, media rich environments and instant access to information and data. Faculty were also introduced to new tools and approaches, such as hybrid courses, flipped classrooms, fully online degrees and the CSU’s Affordable Learning Solutions initiative.

Evolution LabThe eAcademy featured presentations from professors who have utilized virtual resources and completely redesigned their class curriculum. Robert Giacosie of CSU Dominguez Hills described how he translated several traditional courses into fully online courses for the CSUDH Department of Biology, while Bob Desharnais and Paul Narguizian of Cal State L.A. detailed how they developed and launched interactive inquiry-based lab simulations into their classes. Desharnais and Narguizian shared how they turned a traditional wet lab into a sophisticated virtual lab where students can perform countless experiments in half the time as in-class labs and use numerous variables and resources that would not otherwise be available to the university.

Throughout the event, attendees posed questions about opportunities to integrate the online tools into their curriculum, gave feedback about how to improve existing course redesigns and collaborated on how to effectively assess the success of blended/online learning.

“What’s great about this eAcademy is that faculty from the same discipline were able to come together and discuss problems they’ve encountered and share different pedagogical models that they’ve used,” said Fernandes.