BIO-1001A/1002B - Introduction to Biology

Tom Haffie(excerpts from SCoRe Summary Report prepared by Dr. Haffie)

What were your goals in redesigning the course as a blended offering?

Grounded in educational complexity theory, our redesign was aimed at expanding and enriching “neighbor relations” in the course. That is, we were designing to increase the frequency and impact with which ideas were critically connected, compared or contrasted in learning networks. This process was both internal to the mind of any individual student (i.e. making links among various aspects of course content) and external to the mind of any individual student (i.e. making links among ideas held internally to those held externally by educational resources, peers and/or the instructional team).

This background theory was operationalized in the Biology 1001A/1002B SCoRe project by redeveloping an enriched learning environment through integration of a wide range of online and face-to-face tools, activities, assessments and resources.

What specific course components, assignments or learning experiences were developed and/or redesigned?

So far, the team has implemented a total of 5 newly developed/redesigned Skills Modules for Biology 1001A/1201A (1800 students). Each Module consists of 2 face-to-face sessions (2 hr. each) as well as significant online Digital Bridge exercises and activities. Under a newly implemented Specifications Grading system, students are evaluated on over 30 diverse face-to-face and online assessments designed to encourage improvement of skills in ethical professional practice, scientific information literacy and numeracy, bench instrumentation, statistical analyses, software applications, experimental design and simulation, oral, written and graphic communication, as well as metacognition in individual and collaborative learning, studying, and examination.

As examples:

  • Development of new online “Term Test Analysis” exercises to support reflective academic practice and metacognitive development;
  • Implementation of compulsory Labster and SimUText simulations to provide real world context for laboratory exercises;
  • Implementation of augmented reality 3D electrophoresis gel analysis on students’ smartphones;
  • Introduction of various exercises in mind-mapping, PDF annotation, and writing in diverse genres.

In the lecture portion of the course, we have made the e-Textbook platform called MindTap compulsory. To complement most of the 11 Lecture Cycles (2 x 50 min. face-to-face classes), we assign pre-readings (with embedded instructor annotations/videos etc.) along with several accompanying self-test questions from this platform.

During class, we use the KOUNTU backchannel software to promote ongoing peer-to-peer interaction as well as peer-to-peer discussion of polling questions asked by the instructor.

What do you consider innovative about your course redesign?

What does “innovative” mean in this context?

If innovative means “novel at Western” then our redesign is innovative in its broad support for large scale collaborative learning. This would include our team-based learning in Skills Modules, collaborative testing and Specifications Grading.

If innovation means “creative and comprehensive response to challenge” then I think our redesign is very innovative. Our redesign includes a broad-spectrum palette of evidence-based practices deployed on an industrial scale. We have developed well integrated blended strategies supporting collaborative and active learning of course content and a wide variety of skills.

Who has benefitted from the course redesign, and in what ways?


Our anonymous Midterm Check-In using the Western Student Questionnaire on Courses and Teaching revealed an overall satisfaction with the new design as shown in the responses to the relevant questions included below (from section 200 students only). Our OWL survey administered following the November term test suggested that the clear majority of students believed the course to be the most intellectually demanding in their science program and the most effective at helping them learn.


SCoRe provided welcome space and resources for me to play creatively with others. Although curriculum development is an ongoing part of my workload, changes of the scale of SCoRe are not possible in the absence of funding for alternative workloads and other resources. This project has been a great booster rocket for my career in providing a broader range of opportunities to learn and network with colleagues within Western and beyond. I will be giving an invited Keynote address at a conference in the spring that will draw heavily on my experience with the SCoRe-supported redesign of first year biology.


SCoRe provided a rare opportunity for our technical teaching support staff to engage in significant creative work directly relevant to their day to day duties. The secondment of Winona created a ripple effect in the Department that opened up opportunities for several other people to try on new roles and learn new skills. The SCoRe project created a positive buzz in first year biology that attracted the attention and contributions of a range of people.

Graduate Students

SCoRE provided an unusually immersive, inspiring and CV-enhancing educational design experience for participating graduate student teaching assistants.

How, if at all, has your SCoRe experience affected your approach to course design and/or teaching?

This experience has been a very satisfying exercise in collaborative design. In the past, much of my design experience has been rather solitary. The final course arose from a rich amalgam of ideas and effort contributed by a wide variety of people. In particular, I appreciated the creative process in which responses to educational challenges emerged from free-wheeling interchange of ideas with colleagues who were committed to the project. It was clear to see the benefits of involving undergraduate students, graduate students, para-educational staff, private sector players and other faculty colleagues.

In terms of teaching, I feel like I have increased the power of this course. That is, the power to invite and support myriad branches of growth among everyone involved in the course: students, TAs, staff and faculty. There are so many different avenues for positive engagement in the new version of the course.

How, if at all, has technology improved your classroom learning experience?

CATME helps to create teams that have compatible schedules for meeting outside of class and supports effective teaming with the peer feedback functionality.

Microsoft Teams provides a platform for collaborative laboratory work. Sway enables students to quickly create presentations in class using their own data/documentation. KOUNTU provides a vehicle for students to help one another during lecture as well as respond to “clicker” questions. MindTap allows for instructor annotation of textbook resources and provides instant feedback on self-test questions. LABSTER and SimUText provide immersive environments that create context in support of face-to-face sessions. The BYOD classroom enables access to library, statistical, simulation, video and other online resources.

Having been a SCoRe participant, what advice would you offer your colleagues if they ask you about blended learning?

My advice would be to pursue blended options as a way to enrich, diversify and improve accessibility of a learning environment. However, I warn not to underestimate the effort required to develop and implement effective blended learning (challenges were wide-ranging). Also, do not overestimate the ability of students to access, and make productive use of, online tools. Blended design needs to anticipate significant numbers of students who will be left behind if support for online learning is thin. If we are deliberately taking students in to the online world, then we have a responsibility to help them develop the necessary skills.