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Does the Transition to an Active-Learning Environment for the Introductory Course Reduce Students’ Overall Knowledge of the Various Disciplines in Biology?

    Author: Maryanne C. Simurda1
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    Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA 24450
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    • Published 03 May 2012
    • *Author’s mailing address: Department of Biology, Washington and Lee University, 204 West Washington Street, Lexington, VA 24450-2116. Phone: 540-458-8897. Fax: 540-458-8012. E-mail: simurdam@wlu.edu.
    • Copyright © 2012 American Society for Microbiology
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2012 vol. 13 no. 1 17-20. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v13i1.340
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    Abstract:

    As biology education is being redesigned toward an interdisciplinary focus and as pedagogical trends move toward active-learning strategies and investigative experiences, a restructuring of the course content for the Introductory Biology course is necessary. The introductory course in biology has typically been a survey of all the biosciences. If the total number of topics covered is reduced, is the students’ overall knowledge of biology also reduced? Our introductory course has been substantially modified away from surveying the biological sciences and toward providing a deep understanding of a particular biological topic, as well as focusing on developing students’ analytical and communication skills. Because of this shift to a topic-driven approach for the introductory course, we were interested in assessing our graduating students’ overall knowledge of the various biological disciplines. Using the Major Field Test - Biology (Educational Testing Service (ETS), Princeton, NJ), we compared the test performance of graduating students who had a traditional lecture-based introductory course to those who had a topic-driven active-learning introductory course. Our results suggest that eliminating the traditional survey of biology and, instead, focusing on quantitative and writing skills at the introductory level do not affect our graduating students’ overall breadth of knowledge of the various biosciences.

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References & Citations

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/content/journal/jmbe/10.1128/jmbe.v13i1.340
2012-05-03
2017-11-18

Abstract:

As biology education is being redesigned toward an interdisciplinary focus and as pedagogical trends move toward active-learning strategies and investigative experiences, a restructuring of the course content for the Introductory Biology course is necessary. The introductory course in biology has typically been a survey of all the biosciences. If the total number of topics covered is reduced, is the students’ overall knowledge of biology also reduced? Our introductory course has been substantially modified away from surveying the biological sciences and toward providing a deep understanding of a particular biological topic, as well as focusing on developing students’ analytical and communication skills. Because of this shift to a topic-driven approach for the introductory course, we were interested in assessing our graduating students’ overall knowledge of the various biological disciplines. Using the Major Field Test - Biology (Educational Testing Service (ETS), Princeton, NJ), we compared the test performance of graduating students who had a traditional lecture-based introductory course to those who had a topic-driven active-learning introductory course. Our results suggest that eliminating the traditional survey of biology and, instead, focusing on quantitative and writing skills at the introductory level do not affect our graduating students’ overall breadth of knowledge of the various biosciences.

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FIGURE 1

Average institutional scores for MFT-Biology. Tests were administered in April of each year to graduating major students. Standard error bars are indicated. The national mean is 153.2 (S.D. + 8.0). Scores above 165 (dashed line) are in the 95th percentile.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2012 vol. 13 no. 1 17-20. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v13i1.340
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