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Open Access Publications from the University of California

This series is automatically populated with publications deposited by UC Merced Department of World Cultures and History  researchers in accordance with the University of California’s open access policies. For more information see Open Access Policy Deposits and the UC Publication Management System.

Cover page of The Evolution of Student Engagement: Writing Improves Teaching in Introductory Biology

The Evolution of Student Engagement: Writing Improves Teaching in Introductory Biology


In response to calls for pedagogical reforms in undergraduate biology courses to decrease student attrition rates and increase active learning, this article describes one faculty member’s conversion from traditional teaching methods to more engaging forms of practice. Partially told as a narrative, this article illustrates a.) the way many faculty initially learn to teach by modeling the pedagogy from their own undergraduate programs; b.) the kind of support biology faculty may need to break out of traditional molds; c.) how writing can promote active learning; and d.) the impact of reformed pedagogy on student levels of engagement. The latter will be demonstrated through assessment results gathered from student surveys, reflective writing, and focus group interview. Ultimately, the study challenges misunderstandings some faculty might have regarding the value of writing in science classes and offers inspiration, urging critical reflection and persistence.

Cover page of An unconventional collaboration at the college level to improve STEM student success

An unconventional collaboration at the college level to improve STEM student success


The purpose of this article is to illustrate the work that has resulted from a collaboration between a biology professor, a school psychology professor, a researcher in higher education access, and the writing programs director. The essential school psychologist role, as classroom observer and data analyzer, is discussed through an example of work done as part of a larger project focusing on student success and retention for at-risk populations in introductory college biology courses. Best practices for consulting at the college level are discussed and include: collaborate to cultivate the willing, collect and analyze data to sustain instructor involvement, and communicate and advocate. We hope that the model exemplified here might inspire future interdisciplinary collaborations that draw on school psychology expertise to design and conduct research.

Cover page of Mindful Assessment in Support of Student Learning.

Mindful Assessment in Support of Student Learning.


This article takes a critical look at inherited assessment practices, and explores alternative, more mindful approaches. Rather than just measure student performance levels at the end of a unit, educative assessment should provide information that can actually help improve student performance. Mindful assessment is an embodied, affective, and cognitive experience that undergirds and celebrates the entire learning process. We propose and provide examples of dialectical evaluative practices that invite students into, guide students through, and take students beyond learning in the classroom in ways that honor their agency as whole persons.

Cover page of Mediated-Efficacy: Hope for “Helpless” Writers.

Mediated-Efficacy: Hope for “Helpless” Writers.


Building on previous studies of college students' writing self-efficacy beliefs, this article presents the empirical foundation for a re-conceptualized understanding of this identity process. 131 college freshmen enrolled in a developmental writing course were evaluated holistically using grounded theory methodology. This study identifies 1.) major theoretical categories revealing the nature of students' initial pessimism about themselves as writers and senses of learned helplessness, and 2.) a subsequent shift toward optimism and self-efficacy triggered by a particular learning relationship formed with their instructors, the core of the posited mediated-efficacy theory. Directions for college-level developmental writing pedagogy are explored.

Cover page of Revising Roles: Enhancing an Engineering Capstone Course to Improve Outcomes for Women

Revising Roles: Enhancing an Engineering Capstone Course to Improve Outcomes for Women


Women leave the engineering profession at a high rate. This attrition is observed both in the university setting and in the workforce. Female students cite negative experiences with peers as a contributor to their dissatisfaction with engineering. Many of these negative experiences occur in team projects that are ubiquitous in engineering programs. In the absence of intentional instruction on teamwork and effective collaboration methods, students—especially women— struggle and have negative experiences that stymie the self-efficacy and confidence-building that should occur during the senior year. The objective of this paper is to highlight key issues with engineering capstone projects and to identify best practices that can result in better outcomes for women. Four recommendations evolved from this effort: 1.) Education on team function and bias in team dynamics is helpful. 2.) Teamwork skills and strategies for collaboration and conflict resolution need to be taught. 3.) Mentoring and engaging with students is an important aspect of the process and can be enhanced to better serve women. 4.) Reflection and self- assessment exercises can be integrated to build self-efficacy and confidence in students.

Leveraging innovation in science education: Using writing to decode the class size conundrum.


Introductory biology courses are supposed to serve as gateways for many majors, but too often they serve instead as gatekeepers. Reliance on lectures, large classes, and multiple-choice tests results in high drop and failure rates. Critiques of undergraduate science education are clear about the problems with conventional introductory science courses, and yet the problems persist. As David Hanauer and Cynthia Bauerle explain, "Given the potential for science to address important problems, undergraduate programs ought to be functioning as busy portals for engaging students' innate fascination and developing their understanding of the nature and practice of science. Instead, recent studies suggest, the opposite is true: over half of the students who enter college with an interest in science do not persist in their training beyond the first year or two of introductory coursework." Researchers and expert practitioners have long proposed using student-centered, active learning strategies to improve engagement, learning, and achievement. Others have documented the ways class size is important for student-centered pedagogy. Following Hanauer and Bauerle, who recommend using assessment reform to facilitate such curricular innovations, the authors contend that the better the assessment and the more focused the guidance provided to the instructor, the greater the leverage. This article presents findings from a pilot study suggesting that authentic assessment embedded in best teaching practices can show what kind of change is needed. The study allowed the authors to observe the relative impacts of both class size and the use of writing as an assessment strategy, and thus to identify the sequence reform efforts must take. The purposes of this article are, first, to report on the experience responding to Hanauer and Bauerle's call, and second, to identify the key components that gave that "reform lever" additional power: the careful selection and preliminary testing of essay questions requiring critical thinking, the reduced size of one section of an entry-level biology course, the support of a networked improvement community, and guidance for the instructor during the testing of new methods