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The Use of Group Activities in Introductory Biology Supports Learning Gains and Uniquely Benefits High-Achieving Students

    Authors: Gili Marbach-Ad1,*, Carly H. Rietschel2, Neeti Saluja1, Karen L. Carleton3, Eric S. Haag3
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    Affiliations: 1: College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742; 2: Counseling, Higher Education and Special Education, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742; 3: Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    • Published 02 December 2016
    • ©2016 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: 1328 Symons Hall, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, 20742. Phone: 301-405-2075. Fax: 301-405-1655. E-mail: [email protected].
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2016 vol. 17 no. 3 360-369. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i3.1071
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    Abstract:

    This study describes the implementation and effectiveness of small-group active engagement (GAE) exercises in an introductory biology course (BSCI207) taught in a large auditorium setting. BSCI207 (Principles of Biology III—Organismal Biology) is the third introductory core course for Biological Sciences majors. In fall 2014, the instructors redesigned one section to include GAE activities to supplement lecture content. One section ( = 198) employed three lectures per week. The other section ( = 136) replaced one lecture per week with a GAE class. We explored the benefits and challenges associated with implementing GAE exercises and their relative effectiveness for unique student groups (e.g., minority students, high- and low-grade point average [GPA] students). Our findings show that undergraduates in the GAE class exhibited greater improvement in learning outcomes than undergraduates in the traditional class. Findings also indicate that high-achieving students experienced the greatest benefit from GAE activities. Some at-risk student groups (e.g., two-year transfer students) showed comparably low learning gains in the course, despite the additional support that may have been afforded by active learning. Collectively, these findings provide valuable feedback that may assist other instructors who wish to revise their courses and recommendations for institutions regarding prerequisite coursework approval policies.

Key Concept Ranking

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0.896794
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0.7589328
Chemicals
0.72644114
Fitness
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Beta
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Lead
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Stems
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/content/journal/jmbe/10.1128/jmbe.v17i3.1071
2016-12-02
2019-08-18

Abstract:

This study describes the implementation and effectiveness of small-group active engagement (GAE) exercises in an introductory biology course (BSCI207) taught in a large auditorium setting. BSCI207 (Principles of Biology III—Organismal Biology) is the third introductory core course for Biological Sciences majors. In fall 2014, the instructors redesigned one section to include GAE activities to supplement lecture content. One section ( = 198) employed three lectures per week. The other section ( = 136) replaced one lecture per week with a GAE class. We explored the benefits and challenges associated with implementing GAE exercises and their relative effectiveness for unique student groups (e.g., minority students, high- and low-grade point average [GPA] students). Our findings show that undergraduates in the GAE class exhibited greater improvement in learning outcomes than undergraduates in the traditional class. Findings also indicate that high-achieving students experienced the greatest benefit from GAE activities. Some at-risk student groups (e.g., two-year transfer students) showed comparably low learning gains in the course, despite the additional support that may have been afforded by active learning. Collectively, these findings provide valuable feedback that may assist other instructors who wish to revise their courses and recommendations for institutions regarding prerequisite coursework approval policies.

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FIGURE 1

An example for a GAE worksheet to facilitate students’ understanding of secondary growth in trees. The figure that appears in the worksheet is from REECE, JANE B.; URRY, LISA A.; CAIN, MICHAEL L.; WASSERMAN, STEVEN A.; MINORSKY, PETER V.; JACKSON, ROBERT B., CAMPBELL BIOLOGY, 9th, ©2011. Reprinted by permission of Pearson Education, Inc., New York, New York. Each group received a horizontal slice of wood and an activity sheet with instructions.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2016 vol. 17 no. 3 360-369. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i3.1071
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