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Transforming the Teaching and Learning of Science Using C.R.E.A.T.E.

Innovation Showcase

December 2011, Volume 6, Number 9

by Sally Hoskins and Kristy Kenyon

We invite community college science faculty to apply for a one-week workshop to learn the C.R.E.A.T.E. teaching strategy: Consider, Read, Elucidate hypotheses, Analyze and interpret data, and Think of the next Experiment. The goal of the C.R.E.A.T.E is to use the real language of science—the journal article—as an inroad to understanding “who does science, how, and why?” In a C.R.E.A.T.E course, students are challenged to take charge of their own learning by focusing on intensive analysis of primary literature. The intent is to help students:

  1. experience authentic processes of science, in particular discussion and debate about experimental data and their interpretation, including grey areas;
  2. recognize the creativity and open-ended nature of research through their own efforts at experimental design; and
  3. gain insight into the diversity of people who undertake research careers, i.e., not common stereotypes depicted in popular culture.

In sum, the C.R.E.A.T.E. approach simultaneously demystifies and humanizes research science.

In the C.R.E.A.T.E. strategy, faculty use modules of related journal articles that reveal the arc of scientific initiatives. These initiatives may reflect the progression of research from a single laboratory or may connect work from different laboratories focused on a specific topic or hypothesis. Using the novel combination of C.R.E.A.T.E. tools, including concept mapping, cartooning, figure annotation, and data transformation, students dissect the elements of each paper. Substantial content knowledge is reviewed as students consider the biological principles underlying the techniques used in the studies, as well as the overall context of the scientific question being addressed. For example, in reading a module of papers focused on genetic control of regeneration, students review cell division, gene expression, cellular development/differentiation, and the roles of stem cells, revisiting and consolidating concepts previously encountered in other courses, but now re-encountered in an applied context.

In class sessions, the faculty member can leverage his or her experience and deeper understanding of the research process to guide an active discussion of the data obtained, the interpretations of data, and their potential significance. In completing each aspect of the C.R.E.A.T.E. strategy, students develop transferable reading and analytical skills, build their ability to articulate and defend ideas, and develop the metacognitive ability to define what they do and do not understand. At multiple points in the semester, students propose new avenues for investigation based on their interpretations of the paper they have just read, and vet each others’ proposals in an exercise designed to mimic the activities of bona fide grant panels. For many students, this is the first encouragement they have received to be creative in a science classroom. These sessions help students see the open-ended nature of research projects and hone their argumentation skills as they pitch and defend their preferred experiments.

The final, and critical, part of this strategy is connecting students with the scientists who authored the papers of each module. Students develop an email survey of 10-12 questions for the scientists who wrote each paper. Questions range in content from those that focus on the research to those that address the motivations and personal narratives of the scientists. Each author responds to the same questions; author responses provide novel insight into the people behind the papers, thus helping to humanize the research process. The range of responses to the same questions helps students recognize that scientists are a diverse group of individuals, much like the students themselves. Students gain a much more authentic view in learning the personal and practical aspects of becoming a scientist, and the rewards and challenges of a life in research.

Overall the C.R.E.A.T.E. strategy prepares students to confidently approach any future science course with improved critical analysis skills and deeper understanding of the nature and rewards of research careers.  Student post-course comments like: “This was one of the best classes I’ve taken in my academic career” (Queensborough Community College), “Involved more thinking than any other course I have taken” (Columbia University), and “This class….has definitely opened up my understanding of how science works.” (Montclair State) suggest that students perceive C.R.E.A.T.E. courses as transformative.

The C.R.E.A.T.E. project has been supported by the National Science Foundation since 2003. Our first project involved development and pilot-testing of the no-cost C.R.E.A.T.E. strategy in an upper-level elective course at the City College of New York, one of the most diverse colleges in the United States. We found that C.R.E.A.T.E. students made significant gains in critical thinking ability, content integration ability, and attitudes about research and researchers (Hoskins et al., 2007). Moreover, students completing a single semester C.R.E.A.T.E.- based course reported gains in science reading ability, understanding of the nature of science, and epistemological beliefs about science (Hoskins et al., 2011) .

With the goal of determining whether C.R.E.A.T.E. was a strategy applicable to a wide range of students, we subsequently trained 20 faculty from the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania area in the methodology. Faculty participants in this expansion were 2- and 4- year colleges and universities. Of this cohort, we subsequently followed a subset as they applied the C.R.E.A.T.E. approach on their home campuses. Faculty did not replicate the CCNY study but instead adapted the C.R.E.A.T.E. strategy for courses they were already scheduled to teach. These ranged from an “Introduction to Research” course at Queensborough Community College to a senior capstone “Special Topics: Cellular Basis of Disease” course at Rowan University. Faculty participants were observed by a program evaluator and their students completed pre-/post-course assessments parallel to those used at CCNY. Results indicated that C.R.E.A.T.E. students on multiple campuses showed gains in critical thinking and content understanding as well as in understanding of the nature of science and “the research life.” C.R.E.A.T.E. students also gained confidence in their analytical abilities and showed more mature epistemological beliefs (Hoskins, Lopatto and Stevens, in preparation). Faculty participants were uniformly enthusiastic about their students’ gains, noting that the classroom experience was much different and that students were much more engaged in the C.R.E.A.T.E. classroom than when a more traditional approach, usually lecture, was used.

With ongoing support from the National Science Foundation Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science (TUES) program, we are expanding the C.R.E.A.T.E. project to a nationally distributed cohort of faculty from 2- and 4-year institutions. To learn the C.R.E.A.T.E. approach, apply to an intensive workshop to be taught by project leaders Sally Hoskins (shoskins@ccny.cuny.edu) and Kristy Kenyon (Kenyon@HWS.edu), June 10-15 or June 18-23, 2012, at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York. All expenses except travel will be covered by our grant from the National Science Foundation’s TUES program. The workshops will address the theoretical underpinnings of C.R.E.A.T.E. and train participants in the practical aspects of the methodology. Application forms for Summer2012 Workshops are downloadable at http://www.teachcreate.org/. The deadline for applications is January, 15, 2012.

Participants will be offered the opportunity for further involvement with the project beyond the workshop experience. Faculty interested in implementing C.R.E.A.T.E. as part of our study must (1) adapt C.R.E.A.T.E. for a course at their home institution (minimum commitment of 10 weeks) and (2) anonymously assess students’ pre-course and post-course abilities, attitudes, and beliefs using our assessment tools. Those chosen as implementers will receive a stipend in support of their effort and participation.

CREATE Bibliography
Hoskins, S., Stevens, L., and Nehm, R. (2007). Selective Use of Primary Literature Transforms the Classroom into a Virtual Laboratory. Genetics, 176: 1381-1389.

Hoskins, S. G., Stevens, L. M. (2009). Learning our L.I.M.I.T.S.  Less is more in teaching science. Advan. Physiol. Edu. 33: 17-20.

Hoskins, S.G., Lopatto, D., and Stevens, L.S. (2011). The C.R.E.A.T.E. Approach to Primary Literature Shifts Undergraduates’ Self-Assessed Ability to Read and Analyze Journal Articles, Attitudes about Science, and Epistemological Beliefs CBE Life Sci Educ 10:368-378.

Sally Hoskins is a member of the Biology Department at City College of New York, and Kristy Kenyon is a member of the Biology Department at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.

Posted by The League for Innovation in the Community College on 12/15/2011 at 2:54 PM | Categories: Innovation Showcase -