UMBC study shows positive impact of integrating quantitative reasoning into undergrad biology courses

Helping undergraduates develop stronger quantitative reasoning skills has become a major goal for many university biology faculty. A new study published in CBE—Life Sciences Education offers insights to support effective teaching of these skills.

Jeff Leips, professor of biological sciences; Sarah Leupen, senior lecturer of biological sciences; Kathleen Hoffman, professor of mathematics and statistics; and Kerrie Kephart, associate director for pedagogical innovation, research, and assessment, developed and implemented modules to improve students’ quantitative skills, and assessed the efficacy of these modules in introductory biology courses at UMBC.

Their study is one of four research projects funded through a $1.8 million grant from Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s National Experiment in Undergraduate Science Education (NEXUS) project. The universities involved in NEXUS are working to create a curriculum that integrates physics, mathematics, and chemistry into biology courses through project-based learning. Over four semesters, the UMBC faculty looked at how existing biology courses could be redesigned in this way to better prepare undergraduate students for careers in scientific research and medicine.

The faculty assessed students before and after each semester, and interviewed them to examine how students at different course levels approached quantitative problems. They also looked for variations among transfer students, who might come in with different levels of experience in quantitative reasoning. The team concluded that the biology courses they redesigned to expose students to quantitative skill development were effective in growing quantitative reasoning competency.

Read the full study, “Development and Assessment of Modules to Integrate Quantitative Skills in Introductory Biology Courses,” in CBE—Life Sciences Education.

Image: Students during a class in the CNMS Active Teaching and Learning Environment (CASTLE) at UMBC, where the newly designed biology courses are taught; photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.