Students studying outside the library

Biology Department receives national recognition

Award recognizes revisions in first-year curriculum to improve outcomes

Dr. Ellen Goldey 382x255
Dr. Ellen S.Goldey, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Biology and chair of the department, works with students in the laboratory.

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Wofford College’s Department of Biology has received national recognition for revisions in its first-year curriculum designed to improve students’ knowledge and skills in the discipline.

The department, chaired by Dr. Ellen S. Goldey, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor, recently received the Exemplary Program Award from the Association for General and Liberal Studies (AGLS). The winning proposal was selected by a panel of nationally recognized general education leaders, accreditors and AGLS Executive Council members.

Wofford transformed its first-year curriculum in biology with a new first-semester course, Biological Inquiry. Motivation for the change included the national call for transformation of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and the need to align introductory science courses with the college’s “general education” objectives.

“The project reflects the close collaboration among a team of professors and students,” Goldey says, “and our targeted outcomes fall into three categories – deepening content knowledge, developing research skills and improving dispositions toward biology.

“Traditionally, introductory coursework in biology emphasized memorizing lots of content, but research has shown that to build the competencies that students need, they must engage in the practices of the profession,” she continues. “So, our students read the primary literature, conduct open-ended experiments, use statistics to analyze their data, and work in teams to interpret their results and communicate their findings through professional research posters. We’re also using best teaching practices, thus de-emphasizing lectures in favor of engaging students in guided inquiry.”

Underscoring the importance of this work, approximately half of all incoming students (270 this year) enroll in Biological Inquiry their first semester, and the major represents nearly a quarter of all graduates. “We’ve rigorously assessed the outcomes of this work, and compared to the course it replaced, Biological Inquiry leads to significant gains in all targeted areas,” Goldey notes.

According to AGLS, “The judges gave high praise to Wofford biology faculty for their thorough and creative work in assessing scientific learning, especially considering how many students pursue degrees in biology and how important learning in biology is to so many additional majors. While the application is written with modesty, the effort and results are outstanding. One judge noted that Wofford approached the assessment of biology as if it were a scientific problem. All the judges praised the department’s use of multiple means of assessment that validate student learning, and they appreciated the quality and value of the poster project, the deep analysis of the results, and the honest reporting of the mixed feelings of the students.”

Dr. David S. Wood, dean of Wofford, congratulated the entire biology department faculty on the award. “The work done with first-year biology over the past several years has been exemplary, and it is wonderful to receive such high praise and recognition. The student experience has been greatly enhanced by the faculty’s efforts to improve the outcomes, and the biology department has inspired and encouraged other departments to continue to do serious self-assessment to make changes to improve student learning outcomes in their areas.”

Wood specifically recognized all of the faculty and staff in the Department of Biology for their achievement: Dr. Stefanie H. Baker, Dr. G.R. Davis, Dr. Ellen S. Goldey, Dr. Stacey R. Hettes, Dr. Tracie M. Ivy, Dr. David I. Kusher, Dr. John F. Moeller, Dr. Robert E. Moss, Dr. Douglas A. Rayner, Dr. George W. Shiflet, Dr. Charles F. Smith, Dr. Natalie W. Spivey and Lisa P. Thomas. Goldey and Moeller will accept the award and present on the program during a special session at the annual conference of AGLS, on Sept. 20 in Portland, Ore.

The goal of the AGLS Awards program is to serve two national general education needs: to recognize creative program accomplishments produced by faculty and administrators committed to ongoing improvement and to disseminate effective program improvement ideas and models.