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MacKenzie, J. and G. Ruxton (2006)  Supporting the development of undergraduates’ experimental design skills and investigating their perceptions of project work.  Bioscience Education eJournal , vol. 8.

            The authors assert that many courses have assignments designed to develop students' experimental design and data analysis skills (e.g. use of controls and sampling design; emphasis on statistical testing), but often don't offer students enough oppotunities to design and critically evaluate experiments in a low risk setting.  They implemented a new course in experimental design where students were given "real-life" research questions and asked to design experiments to answer the questions in small group discussions.  Students also conducted a short-term group project (insect project).  Students were given a questionnaire at the end of the course.  85% of them said that they felt the method of learning was effective.  They commented that because there are no right or wrong answers for the experimental design aspects, it was helpful to discuss their ideas with group members.  The discussions helped the students learn when to apply different methodologies rather than just learning about them in a lecture course and not fully understanding their context.  94% of the students said (agreed or strongly agreed) that the course helped them improve their experimental design abilities and 92% said that they felt more confident evaluating others' work.

            The results of this study support one of my hypotheses that students need opportunities to practice experimental design, which is part of the assignment I have developed to help students build necessary science skills.  The results also indicate that opportunities to discuss and critique experiments designed by others is useful.  My assignments usually do not include group discussion, but I may try to incorporate this aspect into my approach.


Stafford, R., A. E. Goodenough, and M. S. Davies (2010).  Assessing the effectiveness of a computer simulation for teaching ecological experimental design.  Bioscience Education, vol 15.

            These authors tested the effectiveness of using a computer simulation to help students develop experimental design skills compared to no instruction and theory sessions only.  They argue that teaching experimental design in ecology is particularly problematic since many ecological experiments are particularly time-consuming, and therefore difficult to incorporate into a semester-long class.  The authors use a computer simulation called the Virtual Rocky Shore, which is based on real scientific data.  The program allows students to design a range of experiments, including the use of exclusion devices and the creation of crevices in the rocky intertidal zone.  The students are able to collect data from their experiment and then analyze the data.  The authors assessed the effectiveness of VRS on first and second year university students enrolled in the bioscience program.  The authors administered a survey to assess the students' understanding of experimental design at three times: 1) before any instruction, 2) after classroom instruction, and 3) after using the VRS program.  The results, although preliminary due to a low sample size, indicate that there was increased understanding of complex concepts after using digital resources.  

            This study also provides evidence of the importance of giving students practical experience in experimental design and data analysis. 


Malamitsa, K., P. Kokkotas, and M. Kasoutas (2008)  Graph/Chart Interpretation and Reading Comprehension as Critical Thinking Skills.  Science Education International 19: 371-384.

            This paper focuses on defining critical thinking and how to assess its development.  The Delphi Report (1990) defines critical thinking as: "purposeful, self-regulatory judgement, which reseults in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, crieriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgement is based."  The authors emphasize that literacy in the 21st century means educating students to interpret information in visual form (such as graphs) They were interested specifically in visual literacy skills connected with critical thinking skills: analysis, evalution, inference, deductive and inductive reasoning).  To assess the visual literacy in Greece, the authors adapted the Test of Everyday Reasoning (TER) and administered it to three groups of Greek students: primary, secondary, and university level students.  They used the results to draw conclusions concerning science education in Greece and to guide educational reform.

            I found the introduction to and definition of critical thinking quite uesful in helping me frame some of the goals of my research project. 


De Avila, P. and B. B. Torres (2010)  Introducing Undergraduate Students to Science.  Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 38: 70-78.

This paper describes in detail a course developed to teach students about how to do science.  There are some interesting assignments requiring students to critically evaluate data and papers and to formulate their own hypotheses and conclusions from data presented.  The authors found that the students improved their skills over the course.  The statement that science is not a body of information to be mastered but rather a way to construct new knowledge resonated with me particularly and also helps me to frame some of the goals of the assignments that I have created for my students.  


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