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 version 1 (skip this, only here as reference for earlier comments!)

Different But Equal? How Non-majors and Majors Approach and Learn Genetics. 

J.K. Knight and M.K. Smith. University of Colorado and the Science Education Initiative, Boulder, CO 

 

Biology instructors often assume that non-science majors are fundamentally different from science majors in their background knowledge, their attitudes,, and their abilities.  We compared students in two different genetics classes at the University of Colorado in which the approach to teaching the material (an interactive classroom environment using clickers with peer discussion) and the overall learning goals were the same, but the students were either non-science majors taking genetics to fulfill a science distribution requirement, or science majors taking genetics as a requirement for their major, or in preparation for a future career.  Students in both classes answered identical questions throughout the semester to measure content knowledge.  These questions were given on a validated pre/post content assessment (the Genetics Concept Assessment), quizzes, and exams.  To characterize how students learn genetics and factors that may affect their learning, we surveyed their attitudes (motivation, intimidation, interest), their time commitment to studying, and the process by which they studied (resources used).   We found that majors and non-majors begin the course with similar pretest scores, but majors significantly outperform non-majors by the end of the course.  In addition, the majors improve steadily throughout the semester, while non-majors make a significant jump right after learning each unit, but do not continue to improve.  Non-majors and majors are similar in many of their attitudes towards genetics, but majors are overall more motivated and interested in the material, spend more time studying, and use more active approaches when they study.  In addition, majors are more likely to ask questions of each other and discuss possible answers in group-work settings than non-majors.  Our results suggest that the process of learning genetics is critical, and that student engagement in the process can positively impact the learning outcome. 

 

 

Version 2 (please read this one!) 

Different But Equal? How Non-majors and Majors Approach and Learn Genetics. 

J.K. Knight and M.K. Smith. University of Colorado and the Science Education Initiative, Boulder, CO

 

Are non-science majors really fundamentally different from science majors in their background knowledge, attitudes, and abilities?  We compared students in two different genetics classes at CU, one for non-science majors, and the other for science majors taking genetics for their major or for their future careers.  The teaching approach (clickers with peer discussion and weekly group activities) and the overall learning goals were the same in both classes.  Students answered identical questions throughout the semester to measure content knowledge.  These questions were given on a validated pre/post content assessment (the Genetics Concept Assessment), un-graded quizzes after each group activity, and as part of each exam.  To characterize how students learn genetics, we surveyed their attitudes, their time commitment to studying, and their study resources.  We found that the average pre-test score for majors (34.7%) was not significantly different from non-majors (30.3%), but by the end of the course, the majors significantly outperformed non-majors on the post-test (80.2% compared to 65.5%).  In addition, performance on the shared quiz and exam questions showed that majors improved steadily, while non-majors made a significant jump right after learning each unit, and then failed to improve (non majors avg. quiz score: 64.6%; avg. exam score:  67.8%).  We also found that although non-majors and majors are surprisingly similar in many of the ways they approach learning genetics, their differences are important and significant (by chi-square analysis).  Majors study more, are more highly motivated, and more interested in the material.  They are also significantly more likely to ask questions of each other and discuss possible answers in group-work settings.  Our results indicate that majors and non-majors learn genetics differently, and to a different level, and that helping non-majors reach their potential will require finding new ways to engage and motivate them.   

 

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Viewing 9 of 9 comments: view all
Looks great to me, Jenny. About the only thing that I could suggest is that you've taken a qualitative approach to describing the results (e.g. majors were better etc) rather than presenting data. I think that this is probably just a matter of personal preference, but I would like to see more data in an abstract if this can be done without making it too long. Also, I think that you could strengthen the conclusion in the final sentence, because both conclusions are well known. To me, the real gem in your research is the clear description with hard data of differences in majors and non-majors, and so I would end up saying that the results suggest that the big question is: how to motivate non-majors? This would be a nice hook to get your audience in.
Posted 01:56, 12 Feb 2009
Great abstract -- and interesting results! I agree with Chris: even just an example or two with hard numbers would be beneficial. I have one other question: were the two classes taught by the same professor?
Posted 09:12, 12 Feb 2009
thanks for the feedback guys--I'll add in your suggestions, Chris. Bethany--no, the two classes were taught by different professors, but the activities the students did on the shared topics were the same (and the overall approach by the two professors was the same).
Posted 16:30, 14 Feb 2009
Hey Jenny-your abstract is clear and well written with a few minor typos. You have the data...use it! How much better did the majors perform pre vs post? I seem to remember that you were considering scoring your questions based on lower order vs higher order thinking. That would be nice to include in a future pub... Best wishes, Maureen
Posted 17:23, 15 Feb 2009
Great abstact! The actual statisital numbers do in fact strengthen your abstract!
Posted 12:45, 16 Feb 2009
Jenny, Very well done.
Posted 08:13, 17 Feb 2009
Nice re-write of the abstract.
Posted 09:51, 17 Feb 2009
Jenny,
Enjoyed reading the abstract. The only thing not clear- how much biology experience did majors vs non majors have when the entered this course? A reference to the placement of the genetics class (early core; early elective etc) would help. One would imagine that majors would do better than majors based on previous biology experience (ie learning strategies alone). The degree to which this might be the case would be helpful. Given the space you have you may decide just to put it in the poster. Look forward to seeing it at the meeting. Sherri
Posted 11:10, 17 Feb 2009
Hi Jenny,

I really liked your second version. Very solid work.. I have many questions for you, but definitely about the work itself not the abstract. So I'll hold on those until May. The only sentence that wasn't quite clear to me in the abstract was " majors improved steadily, while non-majors made a significant jump right after learning each unit, and then failed to improve (non majors avg. quiz score: 64.6%; avg. exam score: 67.8%)" Do you mean they didn't improved from the time of the quizes to the exam? I just couldn't correlate the verbal statemnet with the data in the paranthesis.

-Didem edited 20:46, 17 Feb 2009
Posted 20:45, 17 Feb 2009
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