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When Do Students “Learn-to-Comprehend” Scientific Sources?: Evaluation of a Critical Skill in Undergraduates Progressing through a Science Major

    Authors: Tamara L. Marsh1, Merrilee F. Guenther1, Stacey L. Raimondi1,*
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    Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, IL 60126
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    • Published 01 May 2015
    • Supplemental materials available at http://jmbe.asm.org
    • *Corresponding author. Mailing address: Elmhurst College, 190 Prospect Ave., Box 133, Elmhurst, IL 60126. Phone: 630-617-3323. Fax: 630-617-6474. E-mail: [email protected].
    • ©2015 Author(s). Published by the American Society for Microbiology.
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2015 vol. 16 no. 1 13-20. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i1.828
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    Abstract:

    In response to the publication of Vision and Change, the biology department at Elmhurst College revised our curriculum to better prepare students for a career in science with the addition of various writing assignments in every course. One commonality among all of the assignments is the ability to comprehend and critically evaluate scientific literature to determine relevancy and possible future research. Several previous reports have analyzed specific methodologies to improve student comprehension of scientific writing and critical thinking skills, yet none of these examined student growth over an undergraduate career. In this study, we hypothesized upper-level students would be better able to comprehend and critically analyze scientific literature than introductory biology majors. Biology students enrolled in an introductory (200-level), mid- (300-level), or late-career (400-level) course were tasked with reading and responding to questions regarding a common scientific article and rating their comfort and confidence in reading published literature. As predicted, upper-level (mid- and late-career) students showed increases in comprehension and critical analysis relative to their first-year peers. Interestingly, we observed that upper-level students read articles differently than introductory students, leading to significant gains in understanding and confidence. However, the observed gains were modest overall, indicating that further pedagogical change is necessary to improve student skills and confidence in reading scientific articles while fulfilling the Vision and Change recommendations.

Key Concept Ranking

Microbial Ecology
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References & Citations

1. American Association for the Advancement of Science 2011 Vision and change in undergraduate biology education: a call to action: a summary of recommendations made at a national conference organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science July 15–17, 2009 Washington, DC
2. Bloom BS, Krathwohl DR 1956 Taxonomy of educational objectives: the classification of educational goals, by a Committee of College and University Examiners, Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain Longman New York, NY
3. DebBurman SK 2002 Learning how scientists work: experiential research projects to promote cell biology learning and scientific process skills CBE Life Sci Educ 1 154 172 10.1187/cbe.02-07-0024 http://dx.doi.org/10.1187/cbe.02-07-0024
4. Freeman S, et al 2014 Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics PNAS 111 23 8410 8415 10.1073/pnas.1319030111 24821756 4060654 http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1319030111
5. Gormally C, Brickman P, Haller B, Armstrong N 2009 Effects of inquiry-based learning on students’ science literacy skills and confidence Intl J Scholarship Teach Learn 3 2 1 22
6. Graham S, Perin D 2007 Writing next: effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools Alliance for Excellent Education Washington, DC
7. Handelsman J, et al 2004 Scientific teaching Science 304 521 522 10.1126/science.1096022 15105480 http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1096022
8. Hoskins SG 2008 Using a paradigm shift to teach neurobiology and the nature of science—a C.R.E.A.T.E.-based approach J. Undergrad. Neurosci. Educ. 6 A40 A52 23493428 3592661
9. Hoskins SG, Lopatto D, Stevens LM 2011 The C.R.E.A.T.E approach to primary literature shifts undergraduates’ self-assessed ability to read and analyze journal articles, attitudes about science and epistemological beliefs CBE Life Sci Educ 10 368 378 10.1187/cbe.11-03-0027 22135371 3228655 http://dx.doi.org/10.1187/cbe.11-03-0027
10. Hoskins SG, Stevens LM, Nehm RH 2007 Selective use of the primary literature transforms the classroom into a virtual laboratory Genetics 176 1381 1389 10.1534/genetics.107.071183 17483426 1931557 http://dx.doi.org/10.1534/genetics.107.071183
11. Jacques-Fricke B, Hubert A, Miller S 2009 A versatile module to improve understanding of scientific literature through peer instruction J Coll Sci Teach 39 24 32
12. Kozeracki CA, Carey MF, Colicelli J, Levis-Fitzgerald M 2006 An intensive primary-literature-based teaching program directly benefits undergraduate science majors and facilitates their transition to doctoral programs CBE Life Sci Educ 5 340 347 10.1187/cbe.06-02-0144 17146041 1681356 http://dx.doi.org/10.1187/cbe.06-02-0144
13. Moskovitz C, Kellogg D 2011 Inquiry-based writing in the laboratory course Science 332 919 920 10.1126/science.1200353 21596978 http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1200353
14. Raimondi SL, Marsh TL, Arriola PE 2014 Integrating Vision and Change into a biology curriculum at a small comprehensive college J College Sci Teach 43 5 33 39
15. Ramos Goyette S, DeLuca J 2007 A semester-long student-directed research project involving enzyme immunoassay: appropriate for immunology, endocrinology, or neuroscience courses CBE Life Sci Educ 6 332 342 10.1187/cbe.07-01-0001 18056304 2104505 http://dx.doi.org/10.1187/cbe.07-01-0001
16. Reynolds JA, Thaiss C, Katkin W, Thompson RJ Jr 2012 Writing-to-learn in undergraduate science education: A community-based, conceptually driven approach CBE Life Sci Educ 11 1 17 25 10.1187/cbe.11-08-0064 22383613 3292059 http://dx.doi.org/10.1187/cbe.11-08-0064
17. Rivard LP 1994 A review of writing to learn in science: implications for practice and research J Res Sci Teach 31 969 983 10.1002/tea.3660310910 http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/tea.3660310910
18. Round JE, Campbell AM 2012 Figure facts: encouraging undergraduates to take a data-centered approach to reading primary literature CBE Life Sci Educ 12 1 39 46 10.1187/cbe.11-07-0057 http://dx.doi.org/10.1187/cbe.11-07-0057
19. Segura-Totten M, Dalman NE 2013 The CREATE method does not result in greater gains in critical thinking than a more traditional method of analyzing the primary literature J Microbiol Biol Educ 14 2 166 175 10.1128/jmbe.v14i2.506 24358379 3867753 http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v14i2.506
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2015-05-01
2019-05-22

Abstract:

In response to the publication of Vision and Change, the biology department at Elmhurst College revised our curriculum to better prepare students for a career in science with the addition of various writing assignments in every course. One commonality among all of the assignments is the ability to comprehend and critically evaluate scientific literature to determine relevancy and possible future research. Several previous reports have analyzed specific methodologies to improve student comprehension of scientific writing and critical thinking skills, yet none of these examined student growth over an undergraduate career. In this study, we hypothesized upper-level students would be better able to comprehend and critically analyze scientific literature than introductory biology majors. Biology students enrolled in an introductory (200-level), mid- (300-level), or late-career (400-level) course were tasked with reading and responding to questions regarding a common scientific article and rating their comfort and confidence in reading published literature. As predicted, upper-level (mid- and late-career) students showed increases in comprehension and critical analysis relative to their first-year peers. Interestingly, we observed that upper-level students read articles differently than introductory students, leading to significant gains in understanding and confidence. However, the observed gains were modest overall, indicating that further pedagogical change is necessary to improve student skills and confidence in reading scientific articles while fulfilling the Vision and Change recommendations.

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Figures

Image of FIGURE 1.

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FIGURE 1.

Assessment of student understanding of a scientific paper. First-year and upper-level student responses to three questions pertaining to Woese et al. ( 22 ). Questions asked included: 1) identify the hypothesis, 2) identify the key findings, and 3) identify the contribution(s) of the paper to the field. All scores were averaged, with error bars indicating standard error of the mean, and statistical analysis was performed using a Student’s t-test (* indicates p < 0.001 compared with first-year majors).

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2015 vol. 16 no. 1 13-20. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i1.828
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Image of FIGURE 2.

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FIGURE 2.

Self-assessment of student struggles when reading journal articles. After reading and answering questions about the Woese et al. article ( 22 ), students were asked to indicate whether they struggled in any way while reading the article with understanding the language (words), understanding the visuals (graphs and tables), comprehension of the topic in general, or other. Bar graph indicates the percentage of students who indicated they struggled in any area.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2015 vol. 16 no. 1 13-20. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i1.828
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Image of FIGURE 3.

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FIGURE 3.

Self-rating of student comfort/confidence when reading journal articles. Students ranked their confidence/comfort with reading scientific papers, understanding graphs/tables/figures, determining a hypothesis, understanding the methods used, and identifying potential problems/pitfalls in the work. All scores were averaged and statistical analysis was performed using a Student’s -test (* indicates 0.01 compared with first-year majors).

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2015 vol. 16 no. 1 13-20. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i1.828
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Image of FIGURE 4.

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FIGURE 4.

Evaluation of student markups on journal article copy. (A) Percentage of introductory and upper-level biology majors who made any marks on the article copy. (B) Breakdown of number of sentences marked up on the article copy by introductory (BIO200) students or upper-level biology majors enrolled in Evolution of Vertebrates (BIO355) and Microbial Ecology (BIO451).

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2015 vol. 16 no. 1 13-20. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i1.828
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