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A Call for Programmatic Assessment of Undergraduate Students’ Conceptual Understanding and Higher-Order Cognitive Skills

    Authors: Lacy M. Cleveland1,2,*, Thomas M. McCabe3, Jeffrey T. Olimpo4
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    Affiliations: 1: Department of Physics, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO 80401; 2: MAST Institute, Ross Hall, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO 80639; 3: Biological Sciences, Ross Hall, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO 80639; 4: Department of Biological Sciences, The University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX 79968
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    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. April 2017 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1368
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    Abstract:

    In response to empirical evidence and calls for change, individual undergraduate biology instructors are reforming their pedagogical practices. To assess the effectiveness of these reforms, many instructors use course-specific or skill-specific assessments (e.g., concept inventories). We commend our colleagues’ noble efforts, yet we contend that this is only a starting point. In this Perspectives article, we argue that departments need to engage in reform and programmatic assessment to produce graduates who have both subject-matter knowledge and higher-order cognitive skills. We encourage biology education researchers to work collaboratively with content specialists to develop program-level assessments aimed at measuring students’ conceptual understanding and higher-order cognitive skills, and we encourage departments to develop longitudinal plans for monitoring their students’ development of these skills.

References & Citations

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2017-04-27
2019-08-20

Abstract:

In response to empirical evidence and calls for change, individual undergraduate biology instructors are reforming their pedagogical practices. To assess the effectiveness of these reforms, many instructors use course-specific or skill-specific assessments (e.g., concept inventories). We commend our colleagues’ noble efforts, yet we contend that this is only a starting point. In this Perspectives article, we argue that departments need to engage in reform and programmatic assessment to produce graduates who have both subject-matter knowledge and higher-order cognitive skills. We encourage biology education researchers to work collaboratively with content specialists to develop program-level assessments aimed at measuring students’ conceptual understanding and higher-order cognitive skills, and we encourage departments to develop longitudinal plans for monitoring their students’ development of these skills.

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Figures

Image of FIGURE 1

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FIGURE 1

Students were asked to indicate their agreement (0 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree) with anthropocentric, teleological, and essentialist misconceptions. No significant interaction was found between students’ academic level, between students enrolled in freshman level courses, sophomore, and upperclass courses (junior and senior level, F(4, 352) = 0.961, = 0.429). Participants were given a list of six misconceptions (two for each type of cognitive construal) and asked to indicate how well they agreed or disagreed with the statement and then provide a brief description of their understanding. Some students did not provide responses for all six statements. The number of statements answered per grade-level is as follows: freshmen ( = 354), sophomore ( = 492), junior ( = 476), and senior ( = 258).

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. April 2017 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1368
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Image of FIGURE 2

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FIGURE 2

Students were randomly given two of the four anthropocentric statements related to cell death, sexual reproduction, the size of different genders of organism, or how plants acquire food. A chi-squared analysis was performed and no relationship was found between academic level of the students (freshman, sophomore, and upperclass) and students’ level of agreement (agree, neutral, or disagree) with the various anthropocentric statements: Cell death χ (4, 91) = 1.094; = 0.895; Sexual reproduction χ (4, 92) = 1.429; = 0.839; Males are bigger χ (4, 100) = 4.304; = 0.366; Plants get food from soil χ (4, 193) = 4.023; = 0.403.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. April 2017 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1368
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Image of FIGURE 3

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FIGURE 3

Students were randomly given two of the four teleological statements related to evolution and cellular respiration. A chi-squared analysis was performed and no relationship was found between the students’ academic level (freshman, sophomore, and upperclass) and the students’ level of agreement (agree, neutral, or disagree) with the various teleological statements: Birds have wings χ (4, 90) = 2.726; = 0.605; Species adapt χ (4, 90) = 1.212; = 0.876; Evolution χ (4, 99) = 4.372; = 0.358; Plants Produce O χ (4, 102) = 1.624; = 0.804.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. April 2017 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1368
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Image of FIGURE 4

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FIGURE 4

Students were randomly given two of the four essentialist statements related to evolution and cellular respiration. A chi-squared analysis was performed and no relationship was found between students’ academic level (freshman, sophomore, and upperclass) and level of agreement (agree, neutral, or disagree) with three of the teleological statements: Species χ (4, 90) = 0.586; = 0.965; Homeostasis χ (4, 97) = 7.731; = 0.102; Wetlands χ (4, 99) = 1.791; = 0.774. Freshmen displayed a significantly higher level of misconceptions for genetic changes χ (4, 90) = 15.802; = 0.003.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. April 2017 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1368
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