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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: [email protected].
    • 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

1. AAAS 2009 Vision and change in undergraduate Biology education: a call to action American Association for the Advancement of Science Washington, DC
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4. Derting TL, Ebert-May D 2010 Learner-centered inquiry in undergraduate Biology: positive relationships with long-term student achievement CBE-Life Sci. Educ. 9 462 472 10.1187/cbe.10-02-0011 21123693 2995764 http://dx.doi.org/10.1187/cbe.10-02-0011
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8. Gregory E, Lending C, Orenstein AN, Ellis JP 2011 Redesigning Introductory Biology: a proposal JMBE 12 13 17 10.1128/jmbe.v12i1.293 http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v12i1.293
9. Haak DC, HilleRisLambers J, Pitre E, Freeman S 2011 Increased structure and active-learning reduce the achievement gap in Introductory Biology Science 332 1213 1216 10.1126/science.1204820 21636776 http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1204820
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11. McIntosh WJ, Caprio MW 1992 Successful approaches to teaching Introductory Science courses The Society for College Science Teachers Cedar City, UT
12. NRCC 2003 BIO 2010 – Transforming undergraduate education for future research biologists The National Academies Press Washington, DC 22547423 2998077
13. Smith AC, et al 2005 Introductory Biology courses: a framework to support active learning in large enrollment Introductory Science courses CBE-Life Sci. Educ. 4 143 156 10.1187/cbe.04-08-0048 http://dx.doi.org/10.1187/cbe.04-08-0048
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2012-05-03
2019-10-16

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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