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Oxford-Style Debates in a Microbiology Course for Majors: A Method for Delivering Content and Engaging Critical Thinking Skills

    Authors: Dwayne W. Boucaud1,*, Michael Nabel2, Christian H. Eggers1
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    Affiliations: 1: Departments of Biomedical Sciences, Quinnipiac University, Hamden, CT 06518; 2: Mathematics and Computer Sciences, Quinnipiac University, Hamden, CT 06518
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    • Published 06 May 2013
    • Supplemental materials available at http://jmbe.asm.org
    • *Corresponding author. Mailing address: Department of Biomedical Sciences, Quinnipiac University, 275 Mount Carmel Avenue, Hamden, CT 06518. Phone: 203-582-3768. Fax: 203-582-8706. E-mail: [email protected].
    • ©2013 Author(s). Published by the American Society for Microbiology.
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 2-11. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.433
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    Abstract:

    Developing scientific expertise in the classroom involves promoting higher-order cognitive skills as well as content mastery. Effective use of constructivism can facilitate these outcomes. However this is often difficult to accomplish when delivery of content is paramount. Utilizing many of the tenets of constructivist pedagogy, we have designed an Oxford-style debate assignment to be used in an introductory microbiology course. Two teams of students were assigned a debatable topic within microbiology. Over a five-week period students completed an informative web page consisting of three parts: background on the topic, data-based positions for each side of the argument, and a data-based persuasive argument to support their assigned position. This was followed by an in-class presentation and debate. Analysis of student performance on knowledge-based questions shows that students retain debate-derived content acquired primarily outside of lectures significantly better than content delivered during a normal lecture. Importantly, students who performed poorly on the lecture-derived questions did as well on debate-derived questions as other students. Students also performed well on questions requiring higher-order cognitive skills and in synthesizing data-driven arguments in support of a position during the debate. Student perceptions of their knowledge-base in areas covered by the debate and their skills in using scientific databases and analyzing primary literature showed a significant increase in pre- and postassignment comparisons. Our data demonstrate that an Oxford-style debate can be used effectively to deliver relevant content, increase higher-order cognitive skills, and increase self-efficacy in science-specific skills, all contributing to developing expertise in the field.

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References & Citations

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Abstract:

Developing scientific expertise in the classroom involves promoting higher-order cognitive skills as well as content mastery. Effective use of constructivism can facilitate these outcomes. However this is often difficult to accomplish when delivery of content is paramount. Utilizing many of the tenets of constructivist pedagogy, we have designed an Oxford-style debate assignment to be used in an introductory microbiology course. Two teams of students were assigned a debatable topic within microbiology. Over a five-week period students completed an informative web page consisting of three parts: background on the topic, data-based positions for each side of the argument, and a data-based persuasive argument to support their assigned position. This was followed by an in-class presentation and debate. Analysis of student performance on knowledge-based questions shows that students retain debate-derived content acquired primarily outside of lectures significantly better than content delivered during a normal lecture. Importantly, students who performed poorly on the lecture-derived questions did as well on debate-derived questions as other students. Students also performed well on questions requiring higher-order cognitive skills and in synthesizing data-driven arguments in support of a position during the debate. Student perceptions of their knowledge-base in areas covered by the debate and their skills in using scientific databases and analyzing primary literature showed a significant increase in pre- and postassignment comparisons. Our data demonstrate that an Oxford-style debate can be used effectively to deliver relevant content, increase higher-order cognitive skills, and increase self-efficacy in science-specific skills, all contributing to developing expertise in the field.

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Figures

Image of FIGURE 1

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FIGURE 1

Student performance on multiple-choice questions derived either from lecture material or from an Oxford-style debate. Multiple-choice questions were developed to assess student knowledge and comprehension of content (see Appendix 2 ). The average scores on the multiple-choice questions derived from the individual debate topics and from the lecture material are: 88.5% (HIV), 79.8% (Agr), 87.7% (Bac), and 79.6% (lecture). The asterisk indicates a significant increase ( < 0.05) in the percent correct answers on the debate-derived questions as compared with the number of lecture-derived questions answered correctly. Error bars indicate the standard error of the mean (SEM).

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 2-11. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.433
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FIGURE 2

Comparison of the percentage of multiple-choice debate-derived questions answered correctly by students who presented the debate material for a specific topic and by those who were audience members while that topic was debated. There is no significant difference ( > 0.05) between the percentage of questions answered correctly by the presenters or the audience members on any given topic. Error bars indicate the standard error of the mean (SEM).

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 2-11. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.433
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Image of FIGURE 3

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FIGURE 3

Average student scores on essay questions derived from the debate topics and a topic introduced during conventional lecture. Essay questions which required students to interpret data and/or formulate a hypothesis were used to assess students’ higher-order cognitive skills. The asterisk indicates a significant increase ( < 0.05) in the score earned on the HIV- and Bac-derived essay questions as compared with the score earned on the lecture-derived essay question. Error bars indicate the standard error of the mean (SEM).

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 2-11. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.433
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FIGURE 4

Peer and instructor assessment of critical-thinking skills of debate participants. The ability of the members of a debate team to formulate an argument, cross-examine opposing teams, and formulate a rebuttal was assessed by audience members (peers and the instructor). Scores were assigned based on a rubric from 0 to 4 with 4 being the highest score. Error bars indicate the standard error of the mean (SEM).

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 2-11. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.433
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FIGURE 5

Student responses to a pre- (n = 57) and post- (n = 60) assignment question concerning their perceived knowledge of their assigned topic. Students were asked, “Which of the following best describes your knowledge of the area assigned to you?”

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 2-11. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.433
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FIGURE 6

Student responses to a pre- (n = 57) and post- (n = 60) assignment question concerning perceived knowledge of topics assigned to other groups. Students were asked, “Which of the following best describes your knowledge of the area assigned to other groups?”

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 2-11. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.433
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FIGURE 7

Student responses to a pre- (n = 60) and post- (n = 61) assignment question concerning their perception of their ability to use health and medicine databases. Students were asked, “How would you rate your proficiency in using health and medicine databases such as PubMed or Ovid?”

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 2-11. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.433
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Image of FIGURE 8

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FIGURE 8

Student responses to a pre- (n = 60) and post- (n = 61) assignment question concerning their perception on their ability to analyze primary literature. Students were asked, “How would you rate your proficiency in analyzing primary literature, e.g. articles from scientific journals?”

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 2-11. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.433
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