Getting to know your students: Instructing Biology majors versus non-majors

By on March 2, 2021

This learning community aligns with CIRTL’s mission of enhancing excellence in undergraduate teaching because it will highlight the differences between majors and non-majors in the field of Biology, and how to overcome them to insure an inclusive learning environment for all students. Research has shown that some of the major obstacles facing non-majors when taking a Biology class is relevance, confidence, interest and background. It is important for instructors to discuss and identify pedagogical approaches to deal with these obstacles to enhance the learning and understanding of non-Biology majors.

Learning Community: Getting to know your students: Instructing Biology majors versus non-majors

Getting to know your students: Instructing Biology majors versus non-majors
Location: Life Science Building, Room B07
All meetings will be held from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM
Community Leader: Marelize Snyman , PhD Student, Biology

Meeting Schedule:

Monday, September 23rd

  • Introduction to CIRTL
  • Introduction to learning community and goals:
    • Explain the idea behind the learning community.
    • Goals:
      • Identify the main differences between majors and non-majors.
      • Identify obstacles (and their cause) that non-majors face when taking a Biology class.
      • Identify techniques and pedagogical approaches from literature that can promote student learning with a special focus on non-majors. 
      • Create a list of techniques and approaches that GTA’s can use to enhance the learning of both majors and non-majors that can be easily implemented.
      • Identify ways to enhance the curriculum that would promote the learning of non-majors.
      • Identify ways to bring the ideas to the upper administration.
  • Proposed reading for next meeting:
    • Do Biology majors Really Differ from Non-STEM Majors by Contner et al. 2017. (This article will introduce the topic and provide a little bit of background information to the members).
  • Learning Outcome:
    • Understand the main idea behind CIRTL and be able to recognize the value of learning communities.
    • Recognize that the teaching of majors and non-majors should be approached differently.

Monday, October 7th

  • Discussion Questions:
    • What are the major differences between majors and non-majors? (Background, motivation, expectations etc.).
    • What are some of the major problems that non-majors might face when taking a Biology class?
    • How do the major differences contribute to the problems that non-Biology majors might face in class?
  • Open Discussion
  • For next meeting:
    • Identify techniques and pedagogical approaches that have been used to promote the learning of non-majors from literature.
  • Learning Outcome:
    • Recognize differences between major and non-major students.
    • Describe the major problems that non-majors might face when taking a Biology class and how these differences contribute to the problems.

Monday, October 21st

  • Discussion Question:
    • What techniques and pedagogical approaches have been used to help promote the learning of non-majors?
  • Open Discussion
    • Members discuss some of the pedagogical approaches that they identified in literature.
  • Learning Outcome:
    • Describe different techniques that can be used to create a more effective and inclusive learning environment for non-major students in Biology.

Monday, November 4th

  • Discussion Question:
    • What are some techniques that GTAs can use in their own classroom to create a more inclusive learning environment and promote the learning of non-majors?
  • Open Discussion
  • Learning Outcome:
    • Describe techniques to promote an inclusive learning environment of non-majors that can be easily implemented in class without major changes.

Monday, November 18th 

  • Discussion Question:
    • How could differences between Biology and non-Biology majors be recognized in curricular design and instruction in general?
  • Open Discussion
    • Each GTA will be given the opportunity to discuss their respective course curriculum and how it may be improved to accommodate non-majors? Should an entire new course be created to accommodate non-majors?
  • Learning Outcome:
    • Identify areas where course curricula could be improved to promote the learning of undergraduates.
      • Relate improvements to own course.

Monday, December 2nd

  • Discussion Question:
    • After discussing how the needs, goals etc. of non-majors vary from biology majors and identifying different approaches and techniques to help advance the learning of non-majors, what would be the next steps?
      • Bring new ideas to lab coordinators? Would they be receptive? Is there a way to test these ideas to see if they are effective?
  • Open Discussion
  • Learning Outcome:
    • Identify ways to bring the suggested changes to the upper administration.
      • Identify ways to test if the identified techniques and approaches to promote non-major learning would be effective.