General Biology Practice Groups
The Division of Life Sciences loses potential majors because many of our first-year students lack the appropriate study skills to address the complexity and density of college-level life sciences courses at Rutgers University. In order to address this gap in skills, General Biology offers an optional Practice Group synchronized with the General Biology course.
General Biology Practice groups are available to students in General Biology 115 and 116 as an optional concurrent 1-credit course designed to both improve student performance in General Biology and to help students develop effective study habits for use throughout their college career. Weekly sessions mirror the activities of their previous week’s General Biology workshop, the review of the learning outcomes that will be assessed on exams in particular. Practice Groups meet weekly for 80 minutes with a maximum of 16 students per group. Each Practice Group is led by an undergraduate facilitator who previously took General Biology. Facilitators attend weekly preparatory sessions where they review the upcoming week’s activities and agenda and confirm their understanding of the parent course materials before leading their session.
Each Practice Group session focuses on material that has been previously introduced in lecture and then reviewed and assessed in weekly General Biology workshops. In Practice Group, students revisit the material in small teams of two to four. Their time in each session is divided between (1) organizing the lecture material into organizers, (2) building associations with the vocabulary, (3) participating in student-led discussions of the material, and finally (4) developing practice exam questions. At the end of each session students compare their notes with each other, look for deficiencies, and are referred to office hours with their General Biology workshop TA or lecturer to confirm their understandings.
During a typical session, using the course learning outcomes as a guide, students first work together to organize the material into flowcharts, tables, and phylogenies. They then identify connections between concepts and categories to help associate and understand the structure and significance of the material. Within their teams and then as a class, they present what they have developed and edit each other’s organizers and understandings. Most weeks this group review is followed by a fast-paced vocabulary “game” to help them assess the individual vocabulary components that are needed to understand the covered systems. Finally, students individually write and share 2-3 questions modeled after exam questions. As the students master question writing, they also master question reading and analysis.
General Biology Practice Groups help undergraduate students achieve academic success by providing them with the scaffolding that they need to become active and reflective learners in the General Biology course and beyond.
Students register for Practice Groups through the General Biology office after the first week of class.