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Table of contents
  1. 1. Annotated Bibliography
Annotated Bibliography

The first three references pertain to my immediate biology scholars project.  The last three are on a related topic of how to measure critical thinking, a topic I hope to pursue in the future.    


1.Clerk, D and Rutherford, M (2000). Language as a Confounding Variable in the Diagnosis of Misconceptions. International Journal of Science Education 22(7): 703-717.  

This article asserts that the labeling of student ideas as misconceptions is often incorrect, and that instead, students pick particular multiple choice answers because of language inaccuracies in how the question is written, or a misunderstanding of particular terms.The authors chose multiple choice questions on Newtonian mechanics from published physics papers that had been used to supposedly reveal student misconceptions.They tested 48 students and conducted detailed interviews with 9 of these students.Their main conclusion was that language usage frequently prevented students from answering questions correctly, resulting in “false positives”, where just by looking at students’ answers, one might conclude that a misconception was held.When students explained their reasoning, however, they often did not have the misconception.This paper was particularly interesting to me because I’m in the middle of writing a paper with my colleagues Michelle Smith and Bill Wood on a Genetics Assessment Tool designed to measure conceptual understanding of genetics.We have conducted many interviews, and used student’s ideas to write the distracters. I’m now using common student choices from this assessment to pick out what might be shared and persistent “misconceptions” (perhaps I should use the word “incorrect ideas”?) between majors and non-majors. This paper reminded me that I need to be sure students are not being confounded by language.  


2.Lewis, J and Wood-Robinson, C (2000).Genes, Chromosomes, Cell Division and Inheritance—Do Students See Any Relationship?International Journal of Science Education 22(2): 177-195.  

In this paper, the authors discuss students’ incorrect ideas about genetics, particularly their inability to connect cells, properties of cells, division, inheritance, genes and chromosomes together into a big picture.The topics they interviewed students on are exactly the topics that I have found to be challenging for students entering college genetics courses (non majors and majors).The authors are from the UK and South Africa, and they do not make explicit whether the students in the study are from both countries.They administered a written test to 482 students (aged 14-16) who were “nearing the end of their compulsory education”, which includes instruction on genetics and cell biology.They then conducted focus group interviews of 3-4 students each.The written test included interpreting drawings, making drawings (of chromosomal content, for example), as well as identifying commonly used terms such as genes, DNA, alleles, and chromosomes.In the focus group interviews, the students were asked to describe the reasoning behind their answers.The paper contains many wonderful student quotes, as well as summaries of numbers/percents of students who, for example, could not distinguish between meiosis and mitosis (68%), and thought that the genetic content of each cell was different (80%).I will definitely use the themes described in my analysis of what college students continue to not understand in genetics.  


3.Modell, H, Michael, J, and Wenderoth, MP (2005). The Role of Uncovering Misconceptions. The American Biology Teacher 67(1): 20-26.(Thanks Mary Pat!)  

This paper focuses on the value of uncovering student misconceptions—ie, we know students have these problems, sometimes even after direct instruction on a topic, so why is it useful to know what they are?Uncovering the misconception allows the instructor to chart a course for the learners to change their mental models.The paper gives several examples of common misconceptions in physiology, and suggestions on how to proceed with helping the student figure out a new/correct model.For me the main value of this paper was the reminder that diagnosing the problem with a student’s mental model is critical in designing activities or other exercises that might induce a student to change their model (emphasis on *student*, since the student must do the changing!).  

4.Quitadamo, IJ and Kurtz, MJ (2007).Learning to Improve: Using Writing to Increase Critical Thinking Performance in General Education Biology.CBE-Life Sciences Education 6: 140-154.  

This paper addressed whether structured group writing assignments as part of a laboratory course could improve the ability of general education students to think critically.The study was well controlled—there were 10 sections of students, all of whom used the same textbook and had the same essential lecture and lab format over a 9 week period (they did, however, have different instructors).In 4 of the sections, the students spent part of their lab time (1 hour per week) writing answers in groups of 3-4 to difficult questions on the material they had been studying in the course and lab.In the other 6 sections, the students were quizzed on their understanding of the same materials, and spent more time on the actual lab work itself (2 hours compared to 1 hour).The paper discusses how the writing assignments were designed and graded, and shows that students improved over time in their writing skills. To measure critical thinking skills, students were given the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) at the beginning and end of the course.Their main conclusion was that students in the writing sections significantly outperformed students in the non writing sections on all aspects of the CCTST.Interestingly, students who started with a higher score on the CCTST improved the most.I’d like to find out more about this test (only a few examples of the questions are given on the website for the test).The pros are that it is a validated instrument, and so can serve as a non content-related measure of critical thinking.On the other hand, a science-based critical thinking assessment might be more useful.  


5. Minderhout, V and Loertscher, J, (2007).Lecture-free Biochemistry. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 35(3):172-180.  

The authors describe the format and success of a biochemistry course taught at Seattle University, where they have been using lecture free techniques to teach biology for more than 10 years.The courses are small (less than 40 students), and have learning goals that address more than just content knowledge (for example, students should be able to analyze and interpret data and improve problem solving skills).The course revolves around POGIL activities.POGIL, Process oriented guided inquiry learning, is an NSF funded project that began in chemistry (The POGIL website: emphasizes group work and critical thinking, and although the students are guided toward content understanding, the process of getting there has value.[Some of the resources available on the POGIL site that others might find interesting can be found primarily under the Resources tab; for example a guide on writing and designing POGIL activities, and how to assess the effects of POGIL on your students (under “assessment handbook”)]. The authors report that more students in the POGIL classes receive grades of A,B,or C than in standard lecture classes.They also report student perceptions of this interactive course, using the SALG (Student assessment of Learning Gains) survey.Although some students still reject this technique, requesting more lecture time, most students self-report high understanding of biochemistry material as well as a gain in problem solving confidence. I already use some elements of POGIL in the activities I have designed both to teach genetics and developmental biology.I am considering using more of the POGIL approach for the design of in-class activities to address both my research questions.  


6. Blue, J, Tayor,B, Yarrison-Rice, J (2008). Full-Cycle Assessment of Critical Thinking in an Ethics and Science course.International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 2 (1): 1-23.  

This article reviews a definition of critical thinking, as well as several assessments and recent studies in which critical thinking levels and changes have been measured.Their study used a critical thinking rubric developed at The Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology at Washington State ( to measure change in students’ critical thinking skills over a semester-long class in ethics and science, in three successive years.A dozen faculty members at Miami University served as Assessment Fellows, whose goals were to create a definition of critical thinking, develop a means of assessing critical thinking, and then assist faculty in this assessment.The fellows agreed on a rubric that addressed seven primary traits of being able to think critically, ranking students on a scale of 1-4 on such items as being able to identify a problem, identify one’s own and others perspectives on the issue, use evidence to draw conclusions, etc.Students’ papers on case studies were evaluated over the course of the semester.Overall, students showed the most improvement from their 1st to 2nd assignments, but little improvement from the midterm to the end of the semester.Students show surprisingly little improvement overall.When students had access to the actual rubric, and when they knew they were supposed to be “thinking critically”, they showed more improvement.The authors found their results encouraging, suggesting that even a modest improvement is significant.They also suggest that the instructor has to be skilled in using a series of pedagogical techniques to aid the students in their critical thinking growth.I am interested in studying the rubric they used to assess critical thinking to see if it might be something I can modify for my courses.  

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