1887

Using Scaffolding and Deliberate Practice to Improve Abstract Writing in an Introductory Biology Laboratory Course

    Authors: Natalie Christian1,*, Katherine D. Kearns2
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    Affiliations: 1: Evolution, Ecology and Behavior Program, Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405; 2: Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    • Received 19 December 2017 Accepted 18 May 2018 Published 31 August 2018
    • ©2018 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 Plant Biology, School of Integrative Biology, University of Illinois, 505 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana, IL 61801, USA. Phone: 217-265-5473. E-mail: [email protected].
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. August 2018 vol. 19 no. 2 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i2.1564
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    Abstract:

    Abstracts play the pivotal role of selling an article to a prospective reader, and for students, the ability to communicate science in concise written form may foster scientific thinking. However, students struggle with abstract composition, and we lack evidence-based educational innovations to help them develop this skill. We designed, implemented, and assessed an intervention for abstract composition with elements of scaffolding and transparency to ask whether deliberate practice improves concise scientific writing in early career undergraduate biology majors. We evaluated student performance by analyzing abstracts written before and after the intervention and by assessing pre- and posttest student concept maps. We found that scaffolded learning improved student abstract writing, with the greatest gains in students’ ability to describe the motivation for their work. Using a set of tested tools to teach scientific writing has important implications for strengthening students’ capacity to reinforce and synthesize content in the future, whether that is in laboratory course exercises, in independent research, or as a transferable skill to general critical thinking.

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2018-08-31
2019-08-25

Abstract:

Abstracts play the pivotal role of selling an article to a prospective reader, and for students, the ability to communicate science in concise written form may foster scientific thinking. However, students struggle with abstract composition, and we lack evidence-based educational innovations to help them develop this skill. We designed, implemented, and assessed an intervention for abstract composition with elements of scaffolding and transparency to ask whether deliberate practice improves concise scientific writing in early career undergraduate biology majors. We evaluated student performance by analyzing abstracts written before and after the intervention and by assessing pre- and posttest student concept maps. We found that scaffolded learning improved student abstract writing, with the greatest gains in students’ ability to describe the motivation for their work. Using a set of tested tools to teach scientific writing has important implications for strengthening students’ capacity to reinforce and synthesize content in the future, whether that is in laboratory course exercises, in independent research, or as a transferable skill to general critical thinking.

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Figures

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FIGURE 1

Distribution of ratings across all rubric items, pre- and post-intervention. For “Writing Conventions,” there was no “too little detail” option on the rubric.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. August 2018 vol. 19 no. 2 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i2.1564
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FIGURE 2

Student scores for all rubric items, pre- and post-intervention. Categorical rubric values were converted to numerical values on a Likert scale, where 3 “meets expectations,” 2 “too much detail,” 2 “too little detail,” and 1 “absent.” Error bars represent standard error of the mean.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. August 2018 vol. 19 no. 2 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i2.1564
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FIGURE 3

The average number of rubric points assigned to each abstract increased following the intervention if the “Writing Conventions” rubric category was excluded from the analysis ( 0.009). Total possible rubric points 15. Error bars represent standard error of the mean.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. August 2018 vol. 19 no. 2 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i2.1564
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Image of FIGURE 4

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FIGURE 4

Students made significant modifications to their concept maps following the intervention. a) The total number of concepts and linking words on student concept maps was significantly higher following the intervention than before the intervention ( 0.001). Boxes show first and third quartiles with the median as a heavy line, and whiskers extend to 1.5 times the interquartile range. b) The word clouds depict the 15 most common words used in the construction of the initial concept maps and the 15 most common words added by students following the intervention. The size and color of each word is proportional to the number of times the word was used.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. August 2018 vol. 19 no. 2 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i2.1564
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