Yesterday everyone looked excited and bright. Today people were a little bleary eyed and the level of energy has dropped. Perhaps it has to do with the very loud thunderstorm that woke me out of a deep sleep at 4am. In spite of that, the morning session covered some very valuable concepts. One thing I really appreciate about this conference is that all the talks are very concise and articulate. This is the benefit of watching professional educators. These people know how to communicate.
I am looking for a tool that will assess whether students gain skills in scientific reasoning after interventions that I use in my class. Today’s session brought several instruments to my attention that I may be able to use in HSCI 100 – Human Biology. As a bonus, these tests may be less labor intensive than the approach I am currently using and less subjective. Ultimately, I will have to do my homework to see which of these tools best suits my purposes. Here are some possibilities:
- SPARST (science processing and reasoning skills test). Clarissa Dirks described the development and testing of this free online multiple choice test that measures student skills in: data analysis, experimental design, graphing and science communication. It was developed around core competencies from Vision and Change, but is content independent. A pilot study of the tool supports that it can be used to observe changes in student learning over several years in a program or to test the efficacy of an intervention within a single course.
- Experimental design assessment tool (Edat; Sirius 2011). Sarah Brownell used an expanded version of Edat to assess student misconceptions about experimental design in first and fourth year. The most common misconceptions were about the role of sample size and repetition. For example, students thought the purpose of repetition was to increase sample size. Senior students maintained some misconceptions about sample size although there were fewer compared to first year students. The take-home message is that these are two challenging concepts for students that persist. Sarah wisely pointed out that student understanding is on a continuum and that there are levels of right and wrong. We need to work towards a progression of understanding.
- I may also be able to use a concept inventory on experimental design to assess my classroom interventions. The Q4B group at UBC has concept inventories in varying stages of development in seven different concepts. Validated inventories exist for meiosis, experimental design and transcription and translation. The purpose of concept inventories is to track progress in learning; they should not be used as an assessment tool. Concept inventory questions are typically delivered in PowerPoint and students input their answers via scantron or iClicker. They can be used to test baseline understanding or the efficacy of an intervention. Validity and reliability data are available on request. There are still many many topics in biology education that lack concept inventories so this area of study is a wide open opportunity.
Q4B at UBC: http://q4b.biology.ubc.ca/
Nienke van Houten