ASM events
This conference is managed by the American Society for Microbiology

Scholars 08- Capstone Reports

Table of contents
No headers



Didem Vardar-Ulu

1.    What is your question?

Are there diagnostic indicators for student success in an interdisciplinary course, such as biochemistry?

2.    Why are you asking it? Explain its significance.

In most higher educational settings where interdisciplinary courses are offered, the students are admitted to the course based on their successful completion of a preset number of prerequisite courses. However, there seems to be very little correlation of student's real success (defined as a deep level of nderstanding and appreciation of subject matter) in this interdisciplinary course and their previous successes in the prerequisite courses of the individual disciplines.  Hence, there is a need to look into other parameters or indicators for student success to help develop curricula that could allow a broader student body to gain interdisciplinary course experience with more positive outcomes.

3. What class was tested?

Chem222 F08/ Chem222 S08: Total 40 students Introduction to Biochemistry: single semester course for mainly science majors and/ or premeds in their junior and senior years.

Chem221 F08/ Chem328 S08: Total 12 students Biochemistry I/ II: Two semester course for Biological Chemistry majors in their junior and senior years.

4.    Explain your methodology, data type, and why.

I used a combination of surveys, custom designed tests and puzzles to assess student's standing at the beginning of the course with regards to their content knowledge, learning styles, studying habits, problem solving skills (informal logic), and attitutes towards biology and chemistry.  I collected data on their performances on all the courses they had taken prior to this course in the college including but not limited to the prerequisite courses.  I also collected data on their quantitative reasoning skills assessment at the time they entered the college.  Then I categorized all the course assessments that were administered  using a simplified Blooms Taxonomy that contained only three levels.  I am in the process of organizing all this data to determine if there are any significant correlations between certain aspects of students' preformation and how they develop throughout the course. 

5.    What are your preliminary results?

Work in progress

6.    What is next?

To sort out this set of data and then go back to some of the classes I taught since F2006 and see if I can expand and/or strengthen my database using some information from those students (since I had not done a very good job of doing things systematically then, I am not sure how this will go, but I think I have enough data from many of those students to at least qulitatively verify my findings).  Then my biggest dream is to compile these findings to enable the construction of a proposed curricular revision within the departments/ programs that offer biochemistry or similar interdisciplinary science courses and find ways to make these courses accessible and appealing to more students and develop recommendations that would help students be more prepared to tackling interdisciplinary problems. 


Mary Pat Wenderoth

1.    What is your question?
Does using Bloom’s Taxonomy extensively in class, help students increase their metacognitive awareness as well as shift them from surface to deep learners?
2.    Why are you asking it? Explain its significance.
A major finding of How People Learn (NRC 1999) is that expert learners know how to monitor their learning (metacognition).  If using Bloom’s can help students become better at monitoring their learning, then students should become stronger learners (move further along the path expertise).
3.    What class was tested?
Biology 460- Advanced Mammalian Physiology.  80 students, most seniors and Biology majors.
4.    Explain your methodology, data type, and why.
I used the Revised- Study Process Questionnaire (RSPQ) (Biggs et al., 2001) as a pre and post test.  The R-SPQ is  20 question on-line survey.  I also used the Metacognitive Awareness Index (Schraw and Dennison, 1994) as a pre and post test.  Students were instructed to take both tests by the end of the first week of winter quarter.  During the last week of the 10 week quarter, students were again instructed to take both tests.  During the last week of the quarter I was also able to administer the R-SPQ to student in 5 other biology courses, two courses at the intro level ( Biol 180 & 220), two courses at the mid-level (Biol 350 &355) and 2 courses at the 400 level ( Biology 411 & 425).  All of these courses are restricted to Biology majors.  Results from these courses will be used to compare results from my Biology 460 course.
5.    What are your preliminary results?
Results from the R-SPQ show that as compared to students in other Biology courses  at the end of winter quarter, the students in Biology 460 had a significantly greater score on deep learning and a significantly lower score on surface learning. 
Data for the MAI is still be analyzed.
6.    What is next?
Further analysis of both the R-SPQ and MAI data.
Refine and extend the Bloom’s work to place a greater emphasis on students in the middle and bottom of the class.  These are the students who need metacognition the most and I have still not consistently reached them.

Biggs, J., Kember, D., and Leung, D. (2001). The revised two-factor Study Process Questionnaire: R-SPQ- 2F. British Journal of Educational Psychology 71, 133-149.
Schraw, G., and Dennison, R.S. (1994). Assessing Metacognitive Awareness. Contemporary Educational Psychology 19, 460-475.

Teri Balser

  1. What is your question?
General question: What influences learning in a large, diverse, introductory non-majors course?
More specifically: What is the impact of using collaborative groups, versus speakers/lecture and readings on student self-reported learning?

2. Why are you asking it? Explain its significance.
Primary interest is in how to make a large classroom feel smaller and inclusive. In addition, I am interested in the use of groups and integrative learning experiences. I am interested in the idea of student context for learning – what influences what and how they learn in my classes? To what extent are they able to make meaning using their other courses added to mine? What influence does level in school or disciplinary background (major) or gender make?

3. What class was tested?
I tested my introductory environmental science class, ES101: Forum on the Environment.

4. Explain your methodology, data type, and why.
Students completed pre- and post- surveys about group work and about learning, and were assigned a weekly learning assessment and a final reflection paper.
My data are in the form of weekly numeric ratings for the importance of different sources of learning, and student written reflections. Quantitative metrics included rating the importance of different sources for learning. Qualitative assessment is in the form of student final reflections.

5. What are your preliminary results?

6. What is next?



Bethany Stone

1.     What is your question? 

What do students know about molecular genetics when entering college?  What, if any, misconceptions do they have?  What are the sources of these misconceptions?

2.     Why are you asking it? Explain its significance. 

Instruction should be designed to meet two objectives:  the learning goals of the instructor and the learning needs of the students.  Educators usually have an idea of their goals for the students, but we don’t always assess the students’ needs.  To do this we need to assess students’ incoming understanding and appreciation of the topic.  Molecular genetics was selected specifically because of its increasing influence in society.

3.     What class was tested? 

General Principles and Concepts of Biology, Bio Sci 1010, is a non-majors general biology lecture course at the University of Missouri with an average enrollment of 350 students. 

4.     Explain your methodology, data type, and why. 

Three assessment strategies were used.  The first semester, Spring 2003, 12 students were interviewed.  These interviews provided great detail, but only for a small number of students.  So in Fall, 2008 350 students were given an essay-style test.  The responses from the interview and the essay test were used to create a multiple choice assessment tool for Spring, 2009 that asked pointed questions on the relationship between and function of genes, DNA and chromosomes.  The information from the previous tools provided misconceptions that were distractors for the multiple-choice questions.  I also asked students to measure their confidence in their choices ranging from “It was purely a guess” to “Very confident”.  Responses of “Somewhat confident” and above were taken as the student having some confidence in their answer. This format had the advantage of being easier to score and giving an easy way to measure student confidence, but the disadvantage of limiting student responses.

5.     What are your preliminary results? 

The approach outlined above revealed some students lack understanding while others have confidence in their incorrect understanding of molecular genetics.  For example, 61% (197 out of 321) of students disagreed with the statement, “In the same individual the DNA sequence in a skin cell is the same as the DNA sequence in a muscle cell.”  Of those 197 students, 139 had confidence in their incorrect answer.  Students also confidently labeled a nucleotide base or base pair on a DNA molecule as either a gene or chromosome. 

Where are these misconceptions coming from?  Most students identified high school science as their primary resource.  Students are, apparently, twisting the knowledge they learned in high school, possibly because of other sources identified such as popular TV shows (South Park, CSI were both identified), news and the Internet.  Some students specifically remembered figures that were misunderstood by the students to create misconceptions.

6.     What is next? 

I would like to publish these results on students’ incoming understanding of molecular genetics.  Of course, “further research is needed.”  It is not detailed in this summary, but I also assessed students’ post-instructional understanding and preferred instructional strategies (concept maps).  I would like to quantify the effectiveness of teaching strategies used in class to find which is most effective and should be possibly expanded to increase student understanding.  The qualitative data from this current project gives me a direction – are students correct in their judgment that concept maps are most helpful in understanding molecular genetics?




<meta content="text/html; charset=utf-8" http-equiv="Content-Type"/> <meta content="Word.Document" name="ProgId"/> <meta content="Microsoft Word 12" name="Generator"/> <meta content="Microsoft Word 12" name="Originator"/> <link href="file:///C:%5CUsers%5CHolly%5CAppData...p_filelist.xml" rel="File-List"/> <link href="file:///C:%5CUsers%5CHolly%5CAppData...themedata.thmx" rel="themeData"/> <link href="file:///C:%5CUsers%5CHolly%5CAppData...ememapping.xml" rel="colorSchemeMapping"/><style type="text/css"></style>

Synopsis of Research for the Biology Scholars Program Capstone Workshop                        Holly Ahern

1.  What is your question, and why are you asking it? What is the significance? 


My original question was to determine if a specific laboratory experience promoted better understanding of concepts related to energy metabolism. The first step of that project was to evaluate how much background knowledge students brought with them to Microbiology. The classic assumption that I bought into and which guided the design and pedagogy of Microbiology and similar upper-level courses is that students retain knowledge from pre-requisite courses and therefore have the necessary conceptual groundwork to understand more complex topics (such as metabolism) and advance to the higher levels of learning. I developed a concept evaluation (diagnostic) instrument and it was administered to students in the first class meeting of the Fall 2008 semester. Since Microbiology and Human Anatomy and Physiology (HAP) are pre-requisite courses for the Nursing AAS degree program, students in HAP I were included in the evaluation. The results were shocking and changed the direction of my project. The efficacy and value of pre-requisite courses in terms of preparing students for upper-level biology courses has become the new question.

2.  What class was tested? 


Approximately 250 students enrolled in Microbiology, Human Anatomy and Physiology I, and Nutrition were evaluated at the beginning of the Fall 2008 semester. An additional 200 students were evaluated at the beginning of the Spring 2009 semester, with a similar instrument in a different format. All three classes are taught at the level of corresponding 300 and 400 level courses at 4-year institutions. They also have the same pre-requisites, which includes high school (Regents) level Biology and Chemistry, or college-level Principles of Biology and Principles of Chemistry (non-majors survey lab courses); either within the previous 5 years.

4.  Explain your methodology, data type, and why. 


In the Fall semester, the concept evaluation instrument consisting of 10 questions that were open-ended, plainly written, and designed to test only recall of basic biology concepts was administered. Although the questions were intended to be answered in only one or a few words, students were instructed to answer the questions with as few or many words as necessary and not to worry about spelling. Based on the results, and with concern that the open-ended format may have been intimidating to some students, the instrument was revised. The new instrument, which consisted of 25 plainly worded, multiple choice questions in which students’ wrong answers to the open-ended questions were used as foils, was given to 200 students at the beginning of the Spring semester.  The students in this cohort were also asked to self-report on which pre-requisite(s) they had taken and their final grade in the pre-requisite course.


5.  What are your preliminary results? 


Only 30% of the students answered more than 7 questions even remotely correct in the Fall semester, indicating that an overwhelming majority of students were unable to recall basic biology concepts that they had allegedly learned in pre-requisite courses. The results were the nearly same for the multiple-choice revision (about a third of the students answered more than 70% of the questions correctly), which negated the concern that student intimidation with the test format was a contributing factor. Students who reported earning an A or B in their pre-requisite course fared no better than the students who reported earning a C. Collectively, the results indicate that students are not able to recall basic biology concepts learned in pre-requisite courses. Literature confirms that without adequate initial grounding in background concepts, students are unable to make the connections necessary to understand more complex topics, or advance to higher learning levels. This goes a long way to explain why only 50% of students in HAP I and 70% of students in Microbiology enrolled for the first time finish the course successfully (a C+ is required for admission to the Nursing AAS degree).


6.  What is next? 

I have written and just submitted an NSF CCLI grant for the development of a new pre-requisite paradigm for Microbiology and HAP I to improve retention and success rates in these courses; both of which are components of the Nursing AAS degree.  Part of the grant includes partnering with faculty at high schools within the sponsoring counties and a 4-year SUNY college to gather more data on student recall of concepts from pre-requisite courses at these levels.   I’d also like to participate in the “Transitions” program of BSP before attempting to publish the results of my research.
Tag page
You must login to post a comment.