PS 82-93 - Cultivating skills for 21st century professionals: Development & assessment of process skills in ecology and conservation biology students

Friday, August 12, 2011
Exhibit Hall 3, Austin Convention Center
Ana Luz Porzecanski1, Eleanor Sterling2, Nora Byrum3, Adriana Bravo4, Romi L. Burks5, Andrés Gòmez2, Kimberley Landrigan2, Barbara J. Abraham6, Gillian Bowser7, Michelle Cawthorn8, John A. Cigliano9, Liliana M. Dàvalos10, Denny S. Fernandez11, Laurie Freeman12, Stuart R. Ketcham13, Tom A. Langen14, Joshua Linder15, John F. Mull16, Matthew I. Palmer17, David Roon18, Douglas Ruby19, Juerel Singleton19, Terry Theodose20 and Donna W. Vogler21, (1)Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, NY, NY, (2)Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, (3)Nicholas School for the Environment, Duke University, (4)Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York City, NY, (5)Biology, Southwestern University, Georgetown, TX, (6)Biological Sciences, Hampton University, Hampton, VA, (7)Warner College of Natural Resources, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, (8)Biology, Georgia Southern University, (9)Biological Sciences, Cedar Crest College, Allentown, PA, (10)State University of New York at Stony Brook, (11)Biology, University of Puerto Rico at Humacao, Humacao, PR, (12)Fulton Montgomery Community College, (13)College of Science and Mathematics, University of the Virgin Islands, Kingshill, US Virgin Islands, (14)Biology, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY, (15)Anthropology, James Madison University, (16)Weber State University, (17)Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, New York, NY, (18)Ecology and Conservation Biology, University of Idaho, (19)Biology, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, (20)University of Southern Maine, (21)Biology, SUNY College at Oneonta, Oneonta, NY

Understanding and conserving the biosphere increasingly requires proficiency in skills including critical thinking, data analysis, oral communication, broad synthesis of information and teamwork across diverse groups.  However, a real concern exists that US undergraduate science students do not currently develop these important process skills needed as professionals.  First, our work asks “how can we best ‘operationalize’ teaching of process skills?”  Second, we must also discover how to evaluate development of specific process skills in our students. Such assessment allows us to determine if we have succeeded in teaching these skills with a gain or loss in content understanding. Here, we present the design and preliminary results of a recently launched experimental study aimed at these two tasks. The study brings together faculty from diverse institutions and professional conservation biologists to create and validate a set of instructional materials for process skills development. Following development, selected faculty will pilot teaching and assessment materials in diverse classroom settings.

Project participants, led by investigators from the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, designed a multi-year research experiment in two stages: (1) development of instructional materials and associated assessment tools for three skills (i.e., critical thinking, oral communication, and data analysis), and (2) application of these materials in the classroom under two different instruction modalities, individual reflection versus intensive classroom discussion of the skill. These two modalities investigate student development of the targeted process skill and how intensity of a teaching intervention influences student success.


For each selected skill, faculty participants and consultants developed two exercises that focused on ecology and conservation biology topics, either new or based on the modules produced by the Network of Conservation Educators and Practitioners (NCEP; Participants also created the following assessment tools: student self-assessment questionnaires focusing on their confidence for each skill, content gains assessments, and rubrics for assessing skill performance. These will be applied pre and post application of the instructional materials.

Our plans include validation and finalization of materials over summer 2011 and pilots in the classrooms occurring in at least 14 US institutions (including Puerto Rico) beginning in fall 2011. While the study focuses on these skills in the context of ecology and conservation biology, our approach and results should be of direct use for other related, integrative fields such as natural resource management, sustainable development studies, and public health. We welcome faculty input and interest in the project.

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Banner photo by Flickr user greg westfall.