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      I want to investigate whether a socratic type of group assignment in lecture when coupled with clickers as immediate feedback and connected to hands-on experiments in lab will help undergraduate science and health science majors better understand the central dogma or flow of genetic information within cells. This is a core concept that must be understood if students wish to pursue careers in research or patient care. My literature search focused on active learning techniques and lab assignments that demonstrate key aspects of gene expression, as well as, ways to assess these techniques.

Aronson, Benjamin D. and Linda A. Silveira (2009) From Genes to Proteins to Behavior: A Laboratory Project That Enhances Student Understanding in Cell and Molecular Biology. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 8: 291-308.

This is a 5-week laboratory project that walks students through observable mutagenesis of S. cerevisiae, basic microbiology lab techniques, DNA isolation, PCR, gel electrophoresis and DNA sequence comparison. The authors have students irradiate S. cerevisiae with UV light and isolate colonies that sustained a mutation in one of the genes required for adenine biosynthesis. Mutations in one of two enzymes will lead to the accumulation tof an intermediate that imparts a red color to the colony. Mutants are then assessed by nutritional requirements and DNA analysis as stated above. Students were assessed with pre- and post-quizzes and they also tried to correlate good and bad rating/comments with task/concept difficulty.  Without controls, I thought their assessment of the lab's effectiveness was rather weak, but like the mutation model.

 

Lee, W. Theodore and Michael E. Jabot. (2011) Incorporating Active Learning Techniques Into a Genetics Class. Journal of College Science Teaching, 40 (4): 94-100.  

The authors in this article take a similar but not identical approach to what I am considering for my microbiology classes. They assigned students into random groups, which over the course of the semester, were required to develop answers to questions proposed in class. They also used Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique (IF-AT) quizzes that involved clever scratch tests that can be purchased online. They made use of pre- and post-tests to assess understanding of concepts after group activities using normalized learning gains. The authors concluded that the active learning techniques resulted in a 50-60% learning gain.

 

Phillips, Allison R., Amber L. Robertson, Janet Batzli, Michelle Harris and Sarah Miller. (2008) Aligning Goals, Assessments, and Activities: An Approach to Teaching PCR and Gel Electrophoresis. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 7: 96-106.

The authors describe an excellent approach for intentional teaching and assessing of specific concepts within a course. By designing the broad and specific goals first then writing the assessments, the design of the content becomes more focused. They also made use of multiple materials and exercises within the context of the labs and lectures, all of which are available online.  Assessment was performed using pre- and post-tests. Their refinement comes with looking at how well the students achieved understanding of each specific goal as measured by specific questions that assessed different levels of Bloom's taxonomy. Finally, the authors looked at retention, by administering a final assessment five months after completing that portion of the course. In conclusion, they felt their approach increased student understanding, fostered critical-thinking and uncovered prevalent misconceptions.

 

Deslauriers, Louis, Ellen Schelow and Carl Wieman. (2011) Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class. Science 332: 862-864.

In the two months since this paper was published in Science, I've personally seen an increased interest in the use of active learning techniques in the Natural Science Department at Concordia. I believe the reason for this is due to the author's well-controlled design of active learning methods that also takes into account instructor experience. Building on well-documented studies in Chemistry, the authors used a combination of student-led group discussion and immediate feed-back techniques (clicker questions and instructor explanation) to introduce a single concept in a standard physics course for engineering students. Large class size and instructor collaboration allowed for the acquisition of statistically significant data that was analyzed using pre- and post-tests  and the Colorado Learning Attitudes About Science Survey (CLASS). Class attendance and student comprehension was significantly increased when active learning techniques were compared to standard lecture and homework exercises.

 

Micari, Marina, Pilar Pazos, Bernhard Streitwieser and Gregory Light. (2010) Small-Group Learning in Undergraduate STEM Disciplines: Effect of Group Type on Student Achievement. Educational Research and Evaluation. 16(3): 269-286.

The authors compared the effectiveness of different small-group types on student grades. The small-groups were based on two parameters; 1) facilitator versus collaborative and 2) simple-problem-solving versus elaborated problem-solving. The small-groups were an optional program offered by the university to supplement more traditional, lecture-based courses. All groups were facilitated by trained upper classmen, whose groups were assigned to four types based on trained observers. Data analysis failed to show significant differences in overall grades when data from all semesters were used. However, differences were observed when the semesters were separated. As expected, groups that had more student discussion scored higher but only when working on simple problems. Those groups that worked on more complex problems had lower grades perhaps because of minimal direction from the facilitator.

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