Date: May 18, 2015
To: Dr. Lisa Webb, Department Chair
From: Stefanie Upchurch
Subject: Proposal for the Addition of a Capstone Course for Biochemistry Majors
The goal of this proposal is to recommend the addition of a capstone course for biochemistry students within the Biochemistry major, so that graduating biochemistry students complete an individual research project during their education at CNU.
Biochemistry and cellular/molecular biology majors are currently required to take one or two seminar style courses towards the end of their program where they investigate current research in their field and write a paper summarizing this research. However, chemistry majors take one seminar style course and one laboratory research based course, where they complete a small research project. Differences between senior courses in the department are disadvantageous for biochemistry and cellular/molecular biology majors, who could potentially benefit from taking such a course.
I propose that the Department should add a capstone course to the curriculum for biochemistry and cellular/molecular biology majors, if there is significant interest among students in the program. To assess student interest in the creation of a capstone course, an ethnographical approach would be taken, surveying biochemistry and cellular/molecular biology majors. Research conducted would assess student interest in taking a capstone course, as well as their perceived relevance/importance of taking such a course.
Based on the data that I obtained, I recommend that the department add a small section of a capstone course as a potential option for biochemistry and cellular/molecular biology majors. Most survey participants responded that a capstone course should be offered as an optional course, and multiple students expressed interest in taking a senior capstone course, due to personal or professional interest.
“Proposal for the Addition of a Capstone Course for Biochemistry Majors”
Prepared By: Stefanie Upchurch
Currently, biochemistry and cellular/molecular biology majors do not have a class option where they can complete an individual research project for credit. However, all chemistry majors are required to take a capstone course where they develop a small project as seniors. The lack of a similar capstone course for biochemistry and cellular/molecular biology majors presents a problem. The creation of a capstone course for these students is proposed within this paper. Student interest in the creation of this course was assessed via ethnography, by sending a survey to students within the department. Findings indicated that many surveyed students supported the creation of a capstone course and some of those students were also interested in taking the course. Therefore, it is suggested that this course should be created and exist as an option for students who would want to take it as part of their education at CNU.
Keywords: course, capstone, biochemistry, biology, research, class, university
As a relatively new department, the Molecular Biology and Chemistry Department offers students many opportunities to become familiar with both current research in their discipline as well as the lab techniques and scientific knowledge necessary to engage in scientific research. In addition, some students are able to participate in research by working with faculty members. However, not all students in the department currently receive the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research.
Chemistry majors within the department are required to take a capstone course, which allows students to develop and work on a small, independent research project as seniors. However, cellular/molecular biology majors and biochemistry majors do not have a lab-research based capstone course that they can take as upperclassmen. Instead, cellular/molecular biology students take a series of two written-research seminar classes and biochemistry majors only take one written-research chemistry course. As a result, cellular/molecular biology and biochemistry students within the department are at a disadvantage compared to chemistry students, because participating in undergraduate research is an important qualification for starting a career after graduation or being accepted into graduate school.
The addition of a research based capstone course for these majors would not only allow all students to learn more about a particular subject of interest within their discipline, while giving students more experience, so that they are more likely to be successful as scientists after they complete their education.
Research Methods and Theory
An ethnographical method was used to assess student interest in the creation of a capstone course for biochemistry and cellular/molecular biology majors. An ethnographical approach was taken in hopes that the comments of multiple students from the two majors would accurately represent the viewpoints of all of students within the department. Since I am a student in the department myself, I am also able to better understand the needs of other students.
A survey was created in Google Forms and sent via e-mail to students within the Molecular Biology and Chemistry Department. A list of the survey questions is included in the Appendix. The survey contained a variety of multiple choice and free response questions, for a total of ten questions and an additional space where participants could leave any extra concerns or suggestions. Participants completed the survey anonymously within a one week period. A total of nine participants, all of whom are current students within the two relevant majors, completed the survey.
Survey participants were first asked their year, their major, and their post-graduation plans. Later questions asked participants if they would want to take the capstone course, if the course should be created as an optional upper level elective, and if the course should be mandatory for all students. Each yes or no question was followed by a free response asking participants for the reasoning behind their answers.
After the survey period ended, data from the multiple choice questions was analyzed graphically. Pie charts were utilized to visualize the data. All of the pie charts that were generated, as well as further discussion are included in the Results section. The data from the free response questions was analyzed via word cloud generation. The three questions analyzed in this way asked for student opinions towards the addition of a capstone course, student opinion towards making the capstone class a requirement for graduation, and personal reasons as to why or why not the participant would take the class if it was offered. Responses from those three questions were compiled and analyzed with two programs, WordSift and WordItOut. The results of this analysis will also be further discussed in the Results section.
Results and Findings
1. Assessing Student Interest in Taking a Capstone Course
Some of the participants indicated that they were not interested in taking a capstone course. However, a significant percentage of the participants answered that they would take the class if it was offered.
Figure 1. Student Interest in Taking a Capstone Course
In comparison to the earlier question, a majority of survey participants answered that the class should be created and made available as an option for students. Most participants agreed that even if they were not personally interested in the class, it should remain open for students are interested.
Figure 2. Student Interest in Creating a Capstone Course as an Optional Elective
Similarly to the first question asked, most participants indicated that if the course is created, it should remain as an optional course as opposed to a required one. This is logical, because most participants responded that they did not want to take the course.
Figure 3. Student Interest in Creating a Capstone Course as a Required Course
Finally, participant demographics were analyzed in relation to other responses. All participants who were interested in taking the capstone course were upperclassmen. Additionally, those participants also had set post-graduation plans. Of the three participants who answered that they would take the capstone course, two indicated that they wanted to pursue graduate study, while the third said that they wanted to begin a career in a research lab after graduation.
Figure 4. Breakdown of Student Interest in Taking a Capstone Course by Year
2. Reasons For and Against the Creation of a Capstone Course
Participants gave a variety of reasons to support their responses in the multiple choice sections. Participants who supported the addition of a capstone course as an elective explained that the course would provide students with another upper-level elective or that the experience gained in the course could benefit students further on in their careers.
Figure 5. Reasons Why Participants Supported the Creation of a Capstone Course
Participants were also asked why or why not they would take the course if it was offered. Participants who were interested in taking the course stated that it would provide them with research experience. Participants who stated that they would not take the course claimed that taking the capstone course would prevent them from taking other courses or that the course would be too much work.
Figure 6. Reasons Why Participants Would or Would Not Take a Capstone Course
3. Keywords Found in Free Response Questions
The goal of the free response questions was to analyze whether or not participants would have similar reasons for their opinions. Based on the graphical analysis above, it would appear that the participants shared common reasons for their answers in the multiple choice questions. Word cloud generators (WordItOut and WordSift) were used to further assess similarities between free response answers.
Figure 7. Word Cloud Generated from WordItOut
Both platforms focused on the same keywords from the free response questions. While words such as “take”, “want”, and “student” are not necessarily relevant, other prominent words reveal meaning in student answers. Words such as “benefit”, “work”, and “experience” suggest that the participants thought that the class would be time-consuming, but to the students’ ultimate good. It is also important to note that most of the adjectives in the word cloud reflect the capstone course in a positive light (beneficial, good, important, practical) as opposed to a negative light. This is surprising given that the majority of participants indicated that they would not take such a course.
4. Suggestions Based on Participant Responses
Even though many participants seemed to be uninterested in taking a capstone course themselves, there was a small group of participants who are interested in taking such a course. Compared to the entire group, these participants are further along in their education and have more solidified post-graduation plans compared to the entire sample. Participants who indicated that they would take a capstone course mainly suggested that taking it would benefit themselves. Additionally, a majority of participants did support the creation of a capstone course as an optional elective, and no participants indicated a strong disagreement with the creation of a capstone course. Therefore, I recommend that a small section of the capstone course is created and made available each year for senior biochemistry and cellular/molecular biology majors who express interest in taking such a class. A small section would serve the needs of the subset of students who would likely take the course, without overloading the Department’s resources trying to teach it. In addition, the course should be made as an optional, upper level elective course in the program. This would ensure that the students in the course would be interested in completing the classwork and that the students in the course would be ready for such work.
- What is your major?
- Cellular/Molecular Biology
- What year are you?
- What do you plan to do after you graduate?
- Would you be interested in taking a class where you complete a small, individual research project alongside other students for credit?
- Why or why not are you interested in taking this class?
- Should this type of class be offered by the department?
- Why or why not should this class be offered?
- Should this type of class be required by the department?
- Why or why not should this class be mandatory?
- In your opinion, how could this class benefit you as a student?
- Do you have any other comments or concerns related to the possible creation of this class?