Assessing Student Learning Gain and Attitudinal Change Following Learning-Objective-Driven Revision of a Major’s Biology Laboratory Course

Joan Sharp

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recepientJoan Sharp, Department of Biological Sciences

Project team: Erin Barley, Department of Biological Sciences,
Charlotte Adamson, Joyce Ma, and Nicole Tunbridge, research assistants

Timeframe: May 2011 to August 2012

Funding: $2,900

Course Addressed: BISC 102 – General Biology

Poster presentation: View a poster (PDF) describing this project from the 2012 Symposium on Teaching and Learning.

Final report: View the final project report (PDF).

From the final final report: "Student focus groups provided useful feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the laboratory portion of General Biology BISC 102 before and after revision. Strengths of the lab include the many live organisms included in lab activities and the hands-on activities that help students to master key scientific skills. Several of the recommendations made by students in focus groups have already been implemented. The new Ecology lab that has been added to the course includes activities identified as being most valuable by several students. Erin Barley has developed a low-stakes microscope quiz and a new microscope activity that will improve student mastery of this key scientific skill. She is currently rewriting a lab to provide explicit instruction and practice with experimental design and presentation and analysis of data." Read more >>

Description: We are undertaking a major revision of the laboratory portion of BISC 102: General Biology. The revision is based on key learning objectives developed through consultation with former and present students, teaching assistants, lab instructors, course lecturers, and lecturers of courses for which BISC 102 serves as a prerequisite. The key learning objectives are divided into three categories:

  • Biology as a body of knowledge: Major concepts and themes
  • Science as a process: Foundational skills and qualities
  • Studentship: Foundational skills and qualities

We plan to measure student learning gains in one area from each of the first two categories and to assess student attitudinal changes in the third category before and after implementation of the course revision.

To do this, we will develop questions to probe student attitudes toward biology and science and students’ foundational skills and qualities in the general area of studentship. Using these questions, we will carry out focus groups of students who have completed BISC 102 before and after its revision.

In addition, we plan to use biology concept inventories (BCIs) to compare student learning gain before and after the course revision or following adoption of new teaching strategies. BCIs are tools that measure student misconceptions and mastery of expert thinking about key biological concepts. We plan to use a meiosis CI developed by the Q4B group at the University of British Columbia. Meiosis is a key topic in biology about which students have many misconceptions that interfere with their mastery of other topics. We do not plan to fundamentally change our current meiosis lab exercises during our revision. Instead, we will compare the learning gain of our students to that of UBC students who carry out different exercises to support learning of this material.

We also plan to use a tree-thinking CI to measure knowledge of phylogeny and a Scientific Process and Reasoning Skills Test (SPARST-1) CI to measure learning gain of students in the broad topic of science as a process before and after the revision of the laboratory course.

All three CIs will be administered as pre and post tests in BISC 102 in summer 2011. The tree-thinking CI and SPARST-1 tests will be administered again as pre and post tests in summer 2012. This will allow comparison of learning gain for phylogeny and scientific reasoning before and after the course revision. Focus groups will be carried out at the end of both semesters to assess attitudes toward biology and science and foundational skills and qualities in the general area of studentship before and after the course revision. The course revision is intended to serve as a model for future curriculum and course revisions in the Department of Biological Sciences.

Question: Do student mastery of biology content, student understanding of the process of science, and studentship increase in a major’s biology laboratory course developed to address clear learning objectives?  

Knowledge sharing: Data from the use of the meiosis CI will be shared with the Q4B research group at UBC and may be used in any publications about this tool. Data from the use of the SPARST-1 CI will be shared with the test developers at the University of Washington, Evergreen State College, West Virginia University, and University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and may be used in any publications about this tool. The Q4B group, which is developing a number of biology CIs and to which Joan Sharp belongs, is exploring options for dissemination of its CIs. Both sites [NOTE: what sites are these?] under consideration will have a discussion board associated with the CIs, allowing instructors to share teaching strategies that are shown to increase student learning gains. We will contribute to these discussion boards as appropriate. Finally, we will present the results of this study at the 2013 meeting of the Northwest Biology Instructors’ Organization.

Sharp, J. (2012, May). Using a meiosis concept inventory to assess teaching effectiveness. Poster session presented at the Symposium on Teaching and Learning: Leading Change @SFU, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.