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Concept Inventory Development Reveals Common Student Misconceptions about Microbiology

    Authors: Amy G. Briggs1,‡, Lee E. Hughes2,‡,*, Robert E. Brennan3, John Buchner4, Rachel E. A. Horak5, D. Sue Katz Amburn6, Ann H. McDonald7, Todd P. Primm8, Ann C. Smith9, Ann M. Stevens10, Sunny B. Yung8, Timothy D. Paustian11
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    Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Beloit College, Beloit, WI 53511; 2: Department of Biological Sciences, University of North Texas, Denton, TX 76203; 3: Department of Biology, University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, OK 73034; 4: Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742; 5: American Society for Microbiology, Washington, DC 20036; 6: Department of Biology, Rogers State University, Claremore, OK 74017; 7: Department of Biology, Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, WI 53097; 8: Department of Biological Sciences and Professional & Academic Center for Excellence, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX 77341; 9: Office of Undergraduate Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742; 10: Department of Biological Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061; 11: Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    • Received 10 March 2017 Accepted 13 June 2017 Published 30 October 2017
    • ©2017 Author(s). Published by the American Society for Microbiology
    • [open-access] This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/ and https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode), which grants the public the nonexclusive right to copy, distribute, or display the published work.

    • Supplemental materials available at http://asmscience.org/jmbe
    • *Corresponding author. Mailing address: Department of Biological Sciences, University of North Texas, 1155 Union Circle #305220, Denton, TX 76203. Phone: 940-565-4137. E-mail: lhughes@unt.edu.
    • These authors contributed equally to the work.
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. October 2017 vol. 18 no. 3 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v18i3.1319
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    Abstract:

    Misconceptions, or alternative conceptions, are incorrect understandings that students have incorporated into their prior knowledge. The goal of this study was the identification of misconceptions in microbiology held by undergraduate students upon entry into an introductory, general microbiology course. This work was the first step in developing a microbiology concept inventory based on the American Society for Microbiology’s Recommended Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Microbiology. Responses to true/false (T/F) questions accompanied by written explanations by undergraduate students at a diverse set of institutions were used to reveal misconceptions for fundamental microbiology concepts. These data were analyzed to identify the most difficult core concepts, misalignment between explanations and answer choices, and the most common misconceptions for each core concept. From across the core concepts, nineteen misconception themes found in at least 5% of the coded answers for a given question were identified. The top five misconceptions, with coded responses ranging from 19% to 43% of the explanations, are described, along with suggested classroom interventions. Identification of student misconceptions in microbiology provides a foundation upon which to understand students’ prior knowledge and to design appropriate tools for improving instruction in microbiology.

Key Concept Ranking

Bacteria and Archaea
0.589394
RNA Polymerase I
0.47676283
Horizontal Gene Transfer
0.40850624
0.589394

References & Citations

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2017-10-30
2017-11-19

Abstract:

Misconceptions, or alternative conceptions, are incorrect understandings that students have incorporated into their prior knowledge. The goal of this study was the identification of misconceptions in microbiology held by undergraduate students upon entry into an introductory, general microbiology course. This work was the first step in developing a microbiology concept inventory based on the American Society for Microbiology’s Recommended Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Microbiology. Responses to true/false (T/F) questions accompanied by written explanations by undergraduate students at a diverse set of institutions were used to reveal misconceptions for fundamental microbiology concepts. These data were analyzed to identify the most difficult core concepts, misalignment between explanations and answer choices, and the most common misconceptions for each core concept. From across the core concepts, nineteen misconception themes found in at least 5% of the coded answers for a given question were identified. The top five misconceptions, with coded responses ranging from 19% to 43% of the explanations, are described, along with suggested classroom interventions. Identification of student misconceptions in microbiology provides a foundation upon which to understand students’ prior knowledge and to design appropriate tools for improving instruction in microbiology.

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Figures

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FIGURE 1

Core concepts used to uncover common misconceptions about microbiology.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. October 2017 vol. 18 no. 3 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v18i3.1319
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FIGURE 2

Concept inventory question difficulty, as measured by proportion of correct answers (true or false choice) (black bars) and correct explanations (free response to “Please explain your response”) (white bars), grouped by microbiology core concept.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. October 2017 vol. 18 no. 3 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v18i3.1319
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Image of FIGURE 3

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FIGURE 3

Ratio of correct explanations to correct answers for each microbiology core concept. Subjects with lower bars indicate answering correctly, but not being able to explain why. Evo = evolution; Cell = cell structure and function; Met = metabolic pathways; Gen = information flow and genetics; Sys = microbial systems; Imp = impact of microorganisms.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. October 2017 vol. 18 no. 3 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v18i3.1319
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Image of FIGURE 4

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FIGURE 4

Ratio of correct explanations to correct true/false answers for each concept inventory question, grouped by microbiology core concept. Horizontal bars indicate a ratio of 1:1, which would indicate an equal proportion of students providing correct answers and correct explanations (ratios < 1 indicate fewer students provided correct explanations than correct answers, and ratios > 1 indicate fewer students provided correct answers than correct explanations.)

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. October 2017 vol. 18 no. 3 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v18i3.1319
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