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Ripped from the Headlines: Using Current Events and Deliberative Democracy to Improve Student Performance in and Perceptions of Nonmajors Biology Courses

    Author: Heather N. Tinsley1
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    Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Chemistry, and Mathematics, University of Montevallo, Montevallo, AL 35115
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2016 vol. 17 no. 3 380-388. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i3.1135
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    Abstract:

    Despite the importance of scientific literacy, many foundational science courses are plagued by low student engagement and performance. In an attempt to improve student outcomes, an introductory biology course for nonscience majors was redesigned to present the course content within the framework of current events and deliberative democratic exercises. During each instructional unit of the redesigned course, students were presented with a highly publicized policy question rooted in biological principles and currently facing lawmakers. Working in diverse groups, students sought out the information that was needed to reach an educated, rationalized decision. This approach models civic engagement and demonstrates the real-life importance of science to nonscience majors. The outcomes from two semesters in which the redesign were taught were compared with sections of the course taught using traditional pedagogies. When compared with other versions of the same course, presenting the course content within a deliberative democratic framework proved to be superior for increasing students’ knowledge gains and improving students’ perceptions of biology and its relevance to their everyday lives. These findings establish deliberative democracy as an effective pedagogical strategy for nonmajors biology.

Key Concept Ranking

Horizontal Gene Transfer
0.53137314
Genetically Modified Plants
0.51274073
Natural Selection
0.4132902
0.53137314

References & Citations

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/content/journal/jmbe/10.1128/jmbe.v17i3.1135
2016-12-02
2017-11-24

Abstract:

Despite the importance of scientific literacy, many foundational science courses are plagued by low student engagement and performance. In an attempt to improve student outcomes, an introductory biology course for nonscience majors was redesigned to present the course content within the framework of current events and deliberative democratic exercises. During each instructional unit of the redesigned course, students were presented with a highly publicized policy question rooted in biological principles and currently facing lawmakers. Working in diverse groups, students sought out the information that was needed to reach an educated, rationalized decision. This approach models civic engagement and demonstrates the real-life importance of science to nonscience majors. The outcomes from two semesters in which the redesign were taught were compared with sections of the course taught using traditional pedagogies. When compared with other versions of the same course, presenting the course content within a deliberative democratic framework proved to be superior for increasing students’ knowledge gains and improving students’ perceptions of biology and its relevance to their everyday lives. These findings establish deliberative democracy as an effective pedagogical strategy for nonmajors biology.

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Figures

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FIGURE 1

Flow chart depicting the general organization of each unit in the redesigned course. “n” refers to the number of class meetings in the unit. Examples of the Policy Introduction Worksheet and Final Policy Worksheet are available in Appendix 1 and Appendix 2 , respectively.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2016 vol. 17 no. 3 380-388. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i3.1135
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Image of FIGURE 2

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FIGURE 2

Course format of previous versions of the course (“Old Course Design”) and the deliberative democracy format (“Course Redesign”). A) Percentage of class time spent in various activities, calculated by adding the total number of class hours spent in an activity and dividing it by the total number of class hours in the semester. b) percentage of students’ final course grades attributed to various activities.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2016 vol. 17 no. 3 380-388. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i3.1135
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Image of FIGURE 3

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FIGURE 3

Effects of course format on student performance. The average scores on the unit exams administered during both versions of the course are shown. * < 0.02 when comparing exam scores from the course redesign with the old course design.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2016 vol. 17 no. 3 380-388. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i3.1135
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Image of FIGURE 4

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FIGURE 4

Effects of course format on content mastery. A) The average score on a standardized content exam by students enrolled in different course formats taught by different professors. * = 0.002 when comparing students in the redesigned course with the traditional lecture course. ** = 0.04 when comparing students in the redesigned course with the mixed-format course. B) Fold change in performance on the content exam when comparing student responses at the end of the semester and the beginning of the semester, where 1 = no change, and > 1 = improvement. Bars for “overall” indicate student performance on entire content exam. Remaining bars indicate student performance on questions grouped by instructional unit. Each question’s unit relationship is listed in italics in Appendix 3 .

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2016 vol. 17 no. 3 380-388. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i3.1135
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Image of FIGURE 5

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FIGURE 5

Effects of course format on students’ perceptions of their understanding of biology-related topics. A) Fold change in students’ self-reporting that they understand the topic well or very well. B) Fold change in students’ self-reported understanding of topics grouped by instructional unit. Each topic’s unit relationship is listed in italics in Appendix 3 . All data are presented as a comparison of pooled responses from the end of the course with pooled responses from the beginning of the course. Perceptions were measured in the redesigned course and in a mixed-format version of the course taught by a different professor.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2016 vol. 17 no. 3 380-388. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i3.1135
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Image of FIGURE 6

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FIGURE 6

Effects of course format on students’ feelings about biology. A) Fold change in students’ feelings of interest, fun, stress, stimulation, enjoyment, and relevance with regard to biology, as measured by students agreeing or strongly agreeing with the surveyed statement. B) Fold change in students’ perception that biology is important or very important for their career aspirations, political involvement, personal lives, and citizenship. All data are presented as a comparison of pooled responses from the end of the course with pooled responses from the beginning of the course. Perceptions were measured in the redesigned course and in a mixed-format version of the course taught by a different professor.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2016 vol. 17 no. 3 380-388. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i3.1135
Download as Powerpoint

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