University of Maryland (Maryland, USA)

September 18th, 2011 by QS in Science team Categories: University of Maryland (USA) No Responses

Print Version_UMD_case study_Dec2011

 The University of Maryland is a public research university located in the city of College Park in the US state of Maryland. It was founded in 1856 and has an enrollment of over 37,000 students.

Science at UMD: The College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, offers a Bachelor of Science, a four year program, with majors and minors in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, Astronomy, Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Geology, Mathematics, Physics, Physical Sciences, Biochemistry, Biological Sciences, Chemistry, and Environmental Sciences & Policy – Biodiversity and Conservation. There are almost 4900 students doing majors in science.

Mathematics requirements for entry into Science: Three years of high school mathematics, including Algebra I or Applied Math I & II, formal logic or geometry and Algebra II are required for all Science majors.  Students with  majors in Biology, Biochemistry, and Chemistry are expected to have completed four years of high school mathematics, including precalculus.

The UMD case study focuses on the BSc biological sciences major and is framed around a model of educational change based on the work of Michael Fullan.

Initiation of Change

“Who prompted need for QS in science and why?”

Efforts to increase the quantitative training of biological sciences students have arisen organically from the changing landscape of scientific research – over the last few decades biology has evolved from a largely descriptive field to one that is increasingly interdisciplinary and quantitatively rigorous. Newly hired biological sciences faculty members in fields such as bioinformatics, theoretical ecology, and computational neuroscience reflect this increased quantitative emphasis. At the same time, the department of mathematics has recruited a cohort of faculty members who are focused on biological problems. There was a growing feeling among biological sciences faculty that students enrolled in upper-level courses did not show the degree of sophistication in quantitative reasoning that would be expected given the students’ previous mathematical and statistical coursework. The creation of learning outcomes and ongoing curriculum discussions inspired faculty members to consider solutions to their frustrations with the unmet analytical demands and the lack of QS of the students.

Vision for Change

“What do QS in Science look like?”

There are six program outcomes for the biological sciences.  Two of these outcomes relate to quantitative skills:

  • students should demonstrate an ability to use and apply quantitative methods, especially: interpretation of graphical or tabular data; expression of physical, chemical, or biological process in mathematical form; solving equations to determine the value of physical, chemical, or biological variables.
  • students at the lower level should have a basic understanding of how to express questions as a hypothesis, how to design a test of a hypothesis, and how to gather and analyse simple data.

The vision was also informed by the report “Bio 2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education For Future Research Biologists”.

Implementing for Change

“How is need for QS in Science translated into practice?”

The implementation had three major components: (1) revision of the mathematics sequence taken by biology students to be more biologically relevant, (2) embedding basic mathematical content into introductory biology units for both majors and non-majors, and (3) creation of an upper-level, quantitatively intensive unit in mathematical biology.

Strategies to embed mathematical and statistical content into biology units included:  creation of a series of online modules, MathBench; development of a highly quantitative third semester introductory biology unit (BSCI 207); and an upper-level mathematical biology unit that allows students to develop sophisticated quantitative approaches to authentic biological problems.

Curriculum Structure for building QS: In the following diagram, the critical pathway for building QS is shown for the Biological Sciences majors.

1st level features a common sequence of  compulsory introductory and supporting units. This includes two mathematics units, MATH130 or MATH140  and MATH131 or MATH 141. A grade of C or better is required for these units. The first semester also includes an introductory biology unit with strong QS component.

2nd level has a highly quantitative biology unit, BSCI207, which focuses on the integration of the physical and the natural sciences and a highly quantitative chemistry unit in the second semester.   Level two also includes other QS support units.

3rd level features two semesters of physics, which has a strong QS emphasis. This sequence is currently being revised to have a stronger biological emphasis.

4th level features an undergraduate research project as part of an optional undergraduate thesis and\or an upper-level QS course. Students can choose statistics (taught by a statistician), mathematical biology (taught by a biologist), or advanced math (taught by a mathematician).

Extra Curricular QS:  UMD has Math Success, a program by the Mathematics Department that offers undergraduate mathematics tutoring and workshops for students enrolled in introductory courses such as MATH 130 and 131.

Interdisciplinary QS: An interdisciplinary group, including mathematicians, was formed around the time BIO 2010 was released. The group continues and meets once a semester.  Biology and mathematics faculty worked together to create material for MATH 130 and 131. A similar collaboration is underway between physics and biology faculty members, who have created a new physics for the life sciences course sequence (PHYS 313 and 132), as part of a four institution collaboration to create interdisciplinary, competency-based courses for premedical students (Project NEXUS).

Evaluating the Change

“How effective has the change to build QS in Science been?”

Anecdotally the new calculus sequence is a success. Evaluation of the students coming out of the new calculus sequence is just beginning. Assessment of whether or not students have a better mastery of the application of mathematics in biology will be done as part of the campus required learning outcomes assessment.

Formal assessments of learning gains of students using MathBench in introductory biology indicate that students show a higher level of QS, more confidence in solving mathematical problems, and an increased appreciation for the importance of mathematics in biology (Thompson et al. 2010, CBE-Life Sciences Education 9, 277-283).

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Thanks to the following people at the University of Maryland for collaborating with us to document this case study on the development of the Bachelor of Science program:

Joelle Presson,  Assistant Dean, College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences; Email: jpresson@umd.edu.

Robert Infantino, Associate Dean, College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences, and Senior Lecturer, Department of Biology

Todd Cooke, Professor of Biology; Director of Integrated Life Sciences, Living-Learning Program in the Honors College, Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.

If you have any questions or comments on the University of  Maryland case study, you are welcome to contact them directly.

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This case study is up to date as of December 2011. The interviews to gather this data were conducted in October 2011.