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  1. Over 50,000 people die annually from opioid overdoses in the United States leading to what has become known as the “opioid epidemic.” This is of heightened concern in states like Alabama that experience higher rates of overall drug use and overdose deaths. Thus, it is increasingly important for college students in Alabama to learn about how the opioid epidemic is affecting their communities. Previous studies have demonstrated that engaging non-majors in innovative active-learning oriented pedagogies like service-learning can enhance their understanding and awareness about contemporary societal issues. Despite its pedagogical potential, the impact of opioid-related service-learning, particularly for non-majors, continues to remain unexplored. In this study, we describe the implementation of a service-learning module centered on opioid addiction. Students in a non-major biology course learned the science behind opioids, had Naloxone training, and engaged in active discussions with an opioid researcher, physician, and former illicit opioid user. Our assessment of the thematic analysis of pre- and post-reflection free-write data from 87 consenting students revealed 10 categories that students reported in the post- but not pre-reflections (essay gain), pre- and post-reflections (neutral), and pre- but not post-reflections (essay loss). We found essay gains in students humanizing addiction and awareness of the cultural context of opioid addiction and essay losses from students indicating that non-major students had a low level of awareness related to these issues. Eight one-on-one, semi-structured interviews revealed that students were personally impacted by the epidemic and valued its curricular inclusion. Our data supports that service-learning can increase non-major biology student’s awareness and contextual understanding about the opioid epidemic, enabling much-needed advocacy to further enhance its awareness among the public.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 6, 2024
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 5, 2024
  3. ABSTRACT We previously developed and assessed “The Art of Microbiology,” a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) which uses agar art to spur student experimentation, where we found student outcomes related to science persistence. However, these outcomes were not correlated with specific activities and gains were not reported from more than one class. In this study, we explored which of the three major activities in this CURE—agar art, experimental design, or poster presentations—affected student engagement and outcomes associated with improved understanding of the nature of science (NOS). The Art of Microbiology was studied in three microbiology teaching laboratories: at a research university with either the CURE developer (18 students) or a CURE implementer (39 students) and at a community college with a CURE implementer (25 students). Our quasi-experimental mixed methods study used pre/post-NOS surveys and semi-structured class-wide interviews. Community college students had lower baseline NOS responses but had gains in NOS similar to research university students post-CURE. We surveyed research university students following each major activity using the Assessing Student Perspective of Engagement in Class Tool (ASPECT) survey but did not find a correlation between NOS and activity engagement. Of the three activities, we found the highest engagement with agar art, especially in the CURE developer class. Interviewed students in all classes described agar art as a fun, relevant, and low-stakes assignment. This work contributes to the evidence supporting agar art as a curricular tool, especially in ways that can add research to classrooms in and beyond the research university. 
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  4. Gardner, Stephanie (Ed.)
    Anxiety can impact overall performance and persistence in college. Student response systems (SRSs), real-time active-learning technologies used to engage students and gauge their understanding, have been shown to elicit anxiety for some students. Kahoot! is an SRS technology that differs from others in that it involves gamification, the use of gamelike elements. Recent studies have explored the impact of active-learning strategies on student anxiety across different institutions, but there is little known about how Kahoot! impacts student perceived anxiety, especially in comparison with other active-learning strategies. In two complementary yet parallel studies of introductory biology courses at a western research-intensive institution ( n = 694) and a southeastern research-intensive institution ( n = 60), we measured students’ perceived anxiety. We then explored how students were influenced by nongraded Kahoot! play and other elements of instruction. Using previously developed and course-specific pre- and post-course surveys, we found students at both universities agreed that nongraded Kahoot! play caused less anxiety compared with other pedagogical practices, such as working in small groups or reading the textbook. After playing Kahoot!, lower-performing students demonstrated greater engagement and lower levels of anxiety compared with their peers, suggesting that Kahoot! may be a particularly engaging active-learning strategy for these students. 
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  5. null (Ed.)
    [ABSTRACT] Educators need to create an informed scientifically aware citizenry, especially in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, where public health measures have focused on increasing adoption of safe behaviors for reducing the transmission of COVID-19. Non-major science students make up an important, yet understudied, part of our public, given that they constitute tomorrow’s voters, workers, consumers, and policy-makers. Expecting that non-majors may benefit from a module connecting COVID-19 to community education, we implemented a novel E-service-learning module in light of the transition from an in-person course to an online platform. Our 4-week module included expert-led lectures, assigned digital infographics about COVID-19 safety precautions, and a required post-reflection assignment summarizing their learning gains. Out of 112 enrolled students, 87 consented to have their reflections analyzed and 8 students chose to participate in additional one-on-one online interviews. In an effort to determine which parts of our module garnered the most student commentary, we grouped post-reflection and interview data into four categories: service-learning infographic, service-learning guest lectures, information on COVID-19, and the broader implications of COVID-19. While 13% of students explicitly referenced infographics in their reflections, a far greater proportion (37%) explicitly referenced learning gains related to the expert-led lectures. Based on these findings, we encourage other educators to continue to explore the impact of E-service-learning content and assignments to help maximize learning in an online classroom environment during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. 
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  6. null (Ed.)
    Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) often involve a component where the outcomes of student research are broadly relevant to outside stakeholders. We wanted to see if building courses around an environmental justice issue relevant to the local community would impact students’ sense of civic engagement and appreciation of the relevance of scientific research to the community. In this quasi-experimental study, we assessed civic engagement and scientific identity gains ( N = 98) using pre- and post-semester surveys and open-ended interview responses in three different CUREs taught simultaneously at three different universities. All three CURES were focused on an environmental heavy metal pollution issue predominantly affecting African–Americans in Birmingham, Alabama. While we found increases in students’ sense of science efficacy and identity, our team was unable to detect meaningful changes in civic engagement levels, all of which were initially quite high. However, interviews suggested that students were motivated to do well in their research because the project was of interest to outside stakeholders. Our observations suggest that rather than directly influencing students’ civic engagement, the “broadly relevant” component of our CUREs engaged their pre-existing high levels of engagement to increase their engagement with the material, possibly influencing gains in science efficacy and science identity. Our observations are consistent with broader community relevance being an important component of CURE success, but do not support our initial hypothesis that CURE participation would influence students’ attitudes toward the civic importance of science. 
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  7. National efforts to reform undergraduate education have highlighted the need to relate abstract concepts in biology to real-world examples, especially for non-majors who may undervalue scientific processes. We therefore decided to introduce a module titled “Climate Change, Sustainable Practices and Plastic Pollution,” utilizing such high-impact practices as service-learning. This module involved connecting the course objectives with three hours of community service. Our mixed-methods approach across two different course iterations (n=117) indicated that at the end of the course, non-majors were significantly more likely to agree with all the statements on an open-ended pre- and post-survey about civic engagement and sustainable practices, as adapted from Dauer and Forbes (2016). Focus group and free response data confirmed that students valued service-learning and connected the experience to both learning objectives and their everyday lives. We therefore recommend service-learning as an active engagement tool to teach concepts related to global climate change and environmental pollution. 
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