Academic Overview – Accelerated College Science Program
Academic Overview of the Integrated Science Program (ISP)
Science is a great human adventure, with formidable challenges and priceless rewards, unimagined opportunities and unparalleled responsibilities. Science lets us view the world with new eyes, exploring backward in time, looking outward through space, and discovering unity in the workings of the cosmos. … Science also gives us the means to predict the consequences of our actions and perhaps, with wisdom, to save us from ourselves.
Robert Hazen & James Trefil, 2009.
The Integrated Science Program (ISP) envisions science education as an inextricably linked, two-fold endeavor with the goal of enhancing human existence: it is an endeavor that demystifies the daily activities of our human life towards advancing one’s professional purpose and enhances life’s intellectual scope as a way to prepare students for lives of significance and responsibility (Sullivan and Rose, 2008). ISP is a powerful alternative for learning basic science because it expedites the academic road for adult learners by providing increased access to postsecondary education for this growing population of university students.
Adult Learners on Today’s University Campuses
Since the early 1990’s, adult learners represent the majority on university campuses throughout the United States and their representation continues to grow. The Chronicle Research Services (Van Der Werf and Sabatier, 2009), based on data from the U. S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, states that from 2007 to 2016 the population of students ages 25 to 34 will increase by 26.8%. This new demographic has challenged colleges and universities to offer flexible programs that match the needs of adult students who must balance the demands of both work and family (Wlodkowski, Mauldin, & Gaahn, 2001; Icaza, Heredia, & Borch, 2005). Most of these adult learners are “employees who study” rather than “students who work” (Kazis, Callahan, Davidson, McLeod, Bosworth, and Choitz, 2007) meaning that these students are men and women who are working to support themselves and/or their families, and who also find time to go to school, and who do not fit into the more traditional profile of young adults, ages 18-22, who are pursuing post-secondary education immediately after high school.
This trend is so pronounced that the Chronicle Research Services (Van Der Werf and Sabatier, 2009) advises institutions of higher education to provide adult students “the option of completing an accelerated course in a weekend, over a few weeks, or in a significantly shorter time frame than is usually offered” (p. 50). In this way, ISP’s weekend classes, which are offered in an accelerated learning format, may appeal to adult learners who cannot take time away from their employment or family matters during weekdays (Tan, 1996).
ISP is an Accelerated, Rigorous and Flexible Weekend Program
ISP is an example of an academically rigorous, yet flexible weekend college science program with an accelerated, intensive format designed to help working adults complete their science prerequisites in a shorter period of time. “Accelerated” is synonymous with “compressed”, meaning to shorten the time-length necessary for completion of a particular college science course or program of study while keeping the same number of contact credit hours as in any traditional, semester-long equivalent course or program. ISP is committed to provide students with:
- a solid foundation in basic sciences, from which they can successfully pursue further studies in the medical, biological or healing arts and sciences;
- the skills to become free-thinking participants in the world; and
- the ability to substantively integrate knowledge of basic science both within and across disciplines.
The possibility to integrate the knowledge of basic sciences in a functional whole for adult learners is much more likely in an intensive, accelerated college science program that is organized in a block format with the disciplines ordered and taught according to a hierarchy of matter that research has advanced and verified. This is the way in which ISP operates. Students are intensively immersed in one subject at a time and, due to the compressed format, are able to easily remember the first concepts learned in the discipline while studying the final ones. ISP courses and classes are offered on a face-to-face weekend-based format in which each weekend corresponds to one semester-unit credit.
The Learning Environment at ISP
Providing that the accelerated delivery format constitutes an important alternative to facilitate access to postsecondary education for adult workers, a proper learning environment is key to enhance their possibilities of persistence and success. ISP learning environments are heavily grounded in the “andragogical” (learner-centered) model originally developed by Knowles (1984), based on the following assumptions (Imel, 1989):
- Adults tend to be self-directing;
- Adults have a rich reservoir of experience that can serve as a resource for learning;
- Adults tend to have a life, task, or problem-centered orientation to learning instead of a subject-matter orientation;
- Adults are generally motivated to learn due to internal or intrinsic factors as opposed to external or extrinsic forces.
Intrinsic motivation to learn is a central element to be acknowledged upfront when dealing with adult learners (such as ISP students) in order to establish a learning environment that not only recognizes but also expands such motivation as the class advances. Research has indicated that intrinsic motivation to learn is fostered by a teacher’s explicit enthusiasm toward the subject during lectures and laboratory sessions (Patrick, Hisley, & Kempler, 2000).
The teacher selection process for ISP is also rigorous and competitive. Being a science practitioner is a leading requirement along with the candidate’s teaching philosophy and experience. To face the challenges that an intensive, compressed format poses to students and teachers (time-intensiveness and immersion learning), the accelerated college science program always looks for enthusiastic and experienced teachers who are creative and are able to apply multiple teaching methods in the classroom as a way to engage as many students with different learning styles as possible in the learning process. The goal is to have teachers that, over and above their academic credentials, are able to create a learning environment that is psychologically comfortable. A psychologically comfortable learning environment is one that fosters motivation to learn and encourages self-instruction, communication, problem solving, teamwork, and creative thinking.
ISP also prioritizes the skills of multiple teaching methods when recruiting its teachers. For example, the Council on Adult and Experiential Learning (2005) emphasizes the need for multiple methods of instruction for adult learners in order to connect curricular concepts to useful knowledge and skills. Kazis et al (2007) found that many innovative programs in two- and four- year colleges rely on instructors who are also practitioners and have experience in their field, as a way to facilitate the use of multiple teaching methods in the classroom.
The multiplicity of teaching methods in an intensive, compressed immersion-learning program must address the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles, while not losing track of connecting curricular concepts to useful knowledge and skills. Experiential and problem-based methods are particularly important in such an environment. Any activity that gets students involved makes the learning experiential: small group discussions, experiments, role-playing, group writing and problem-solving, etc. Socratic questions are of particular usefulness: the purpose is to challenge accuracy and completeness of thinking and strengthen the possibility to integrate knowledge both within and across disciplines. Through Socratic questions, the teacher can clarify concepts, probe assumptions, rationale, reasons and evidences, implications and consequences, as well as question viewpoints and perspectives.
The main challenge posed by an intensive, compressed, immersion-learning program in science such as the Integrated Science Program is to create and maintain a learning environment that is responsive to its delivery configuration. Science practitioners who are enthusiastic teachers are at the core for the success of the program, providing the accelerated and weekend science students with an outstanding learning experience through a balanced integration between delivery configuration and learning environment.
Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (2005). Serving adult learners in higher education. Chicago, IL: CAEL.
Icaza, J., Heredia, Y., Borch, O. (2005). Project oriented immersion learning: method and results. Proceedings of the ITHET 6th Annual International Conference. Juan Dolio, Dominican Republic, July 7 – 9, 2005.
Imel, S. (1989). Teaching adults: is it different? (ERIC Digest No. 82). Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult Career and Vocational Education. (ERIC Identifier No. ED305495)
Kazis, R., Callahan, A., Davidson, C., McLeod, A., Bosworth, B., Choitz, V., et al. (2007). Adult learners in higher education: barriers to success and strategies to improve results. Washington, DC: Office of Policy Development and Research, U.S. Department of Labor.
Knowles, M. (1984). Introduction: The Art and Science of Helping Adults Learn. In M. S. Knowles et al. Andragogy in action: applying modern principles of adult learning. SanFrancisco: Jossey-Bass.
Patrick B., Hisley J., Kempler T. (2000). What’s everybody so excited about? The effects of teacher enthusiasm on student intrinsic motivation and vitality. The Journal of experimental education, 68(3), 217-236.
Sullivan, W., Rosin, M. (2008). A new agenda for higher education: shaping a life of the mind for practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Tan, David L. (1996). Condensed or traditional semester format: does it make a difference in academic performance? Education. Spring, 1996.
Van der Werf, M., Sabatier, G. (2009). The college 2020: students. Washington, DC: Chronicle Research Services, The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Wlodkowski, R., Mauldin, J., Gahn, S. (2001). Learning in the fast lane: adult learners’ persistence and success in accelerated college programs. Denver, CO: Regis University, The Center for the Study of Accelerated Learning.