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Context & Problem

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My Problem 

My students have problems understanding the flow of genetic information in the cell, which I believe stems from a poor understanding of the structure of DNA. 


Why is this Interesting?

The central dogma is an essential but difficult concept for many students regardless of scientific backgrounds. I wish to investigate whether students that gain a better understanding of the structure of DNA will be able to apply that to the concept of gene expression, mutation and genetic disease.  


Courses/Student Populations

Medical Microbiology for Health Student majors (100+ freshmen students/year)

General Microbiology for Science majors (20-30 sphomores-seniors students/year)

Pathophysiology for Graduate Nursing students (100-200 MSN & DNP students/year)

1. Campus = 50/year

2. Online = 150/year


Research Question(s)

1. What do students understand and misunderstand about the structure of DNA? 

2. Do active learning modules based on group work and the use of 3-dimensional models of DNA  enhance student's understanding of DNA structure and function?

3. If a gain in understanding of the structure of DNA is seen, does that result in an increase in understanding of gene expression, mutation and genetic disease?


Alignment of Research Question with Objective Learning Goals

Students should:

1. Understand the biochemistry/structure of cellular DNA. 

a. What do students understand & misunderstand about the structure of DNA? 

                 Two-tier questions

                 Minute paper

          b. Do active learning modules based on group work and molecular modeling enhance student's understanding

          and confidence of DNA structure & function?

                  Pre- and post content test

                  Attitude Survey

 2. Apply an understanding of DNA structure to DNA replication, transcription and translation.

            a. Regular course exam on the topic compares scores between students that scored lower on pre-test than

                students that scored higher on the pre-test.

            b. Retrospective study using exam score from previous semesters when active learning was not used.

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Viewing 5 of 5 comments: view all
Please ask me to show you my DNA model
Posted 16:10, 15 Jul 2011
Good project - I'm interested in your results!
Posted 16:12, 15 Jul 2011
The "big ideas in biology" movement is very interested in examining these sorts of core concepts in biology I.e. info flow in biological systems and how these concepts are mastered by students. You might consider how your work fits into the bigger context of the work of the big ideas movement (Klymkowsky, Michael and others)
Posted 16:12, 15 Jul 2011
The ability to think absractly continues to develop into the mid-20's and can develop in one area, but not another. The literature tells us the only 50% of 20yo's can think abstractly about molecules. An informal survey of my classes supported this finding. I think some of the difficulty has to do with this. Not all adults are capable of abstract thinking about molecules. You might want to look at some of thee literature on abstract thinking and genetics. I found it very informative.
Posted 16:22, 15 Jul 2011
hi - i tried to capture your talk plus questions/comments - students have trouble with genetic flow of information in a cell since they don’t understand the structure of DNA…most difficult exam, quiz, lab report self-reported by students…try to figure out what students understand or don’t understand about the structure of DNA, activity on DNA structure, does that lead to gains in student learning? Do you get the same students coming through multiple courses? Students don’t understand gene expression – confused by directionality of DNA…qualitative may help get insights…
Posted 16:33, 15 Jul 2011
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