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Smith, M. K., Wood, W. B., Krauter, K., & Knight, J. K. (2011). Combining peer discussion with instructor explanation increases student learning from in-class concept questions. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 10, 55-63. 

“peer discussion-mk smith-CBE LSE2011.pdf” 

            This study compares students in 3 groups: one with PD (peer discussion), one with IE (instructor explanation), and one with PD + IE.  This in-class study involved 2 genetics courses at UC Boulder. Learning was measured by determining normalized learning gain (improvement on Q2 compared to Q1) with paired clicker concept questions following lecture. Students were stratified into 3 groups (weak, medium, strong) based on overall question performance. For all students, PD alone and IE alone had similar learning gains, while PD+IE was significantly higher, suggesting a synergistic effect. Strong students are helped more by PD while weak are helped more by IE, and both helped by PD+IE, thus the combination should be better for a course with a range of academic ability in the students. Students agree (64% for majors, 84% for non-major) on a survey that PD prepares them to listen to the IE. 



Smith, C. V & Cardaciotto L. (2011). Is active learning like broccoli? Student perceptions of active learning in large lecture classes. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 11(1), 53-61. 

“student perceptions active learning-Cardaciotto-J SoTL2011” 

            This study involved 1,091 students from 4 Introductory Psychology courses in group learning activities outside of class, either a content review or active learning exercise. Student attitudes were measured using an end-of-class survey. Students doing active learning believed they learned more and that the activities made them more interested, but reported lower scores for enjoying the course. Actual learning was not measured. 



Andrews, T. M., Leonard, M. J., Colgrove, C. A., & Kalinowski, S. T. (2011). Active learning not associated with student learning in a random sample of college biology courses. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 10, 394-405. 

“active learning not improvement-ST Kalinowski-CBE LSE2011.pdf” plus 5 supp mat files 

            This study involves 29 courses over 3 semesters at 28 institutions, focusing on the topic of natural selection within introductory biology courses.  Student learning gain was measured by a pre- and post-semester test format, using CINS-abbr (abbreviated Conceptual Inventory of Natural Selection), and one open-ended scenario-based essay question, scored with a rubric. Instructors were classified by weekly frequency of use of active learning exercises in class (never-12%, 1/wk-27%, 1/class-24%, >1/class-36%). Overall learning gains were modest (~1 more correct question) on the CINS-abbr and essay (<1 more point on rubric), and learning gains do not statistically correlate with use of active learning. Since the instructors were never observed, how often they actually utilized active learning exercises during the natural selection section is uncertain. Also, all courses were large (mean size of 233 students). Authors conclude that student misconceptions need to be addressed in courses, and that faculty who are experts in science teaching and learning (specifically understanding  of constructivist learning theory) are more effective as using active learning than the average university science faculty member. Also suggest improper design of active learning exercises may have contributed to the poor learning gains. 


Freeman, S., Haak, D., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2011). Increased course structure improves performance in introductory biology. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 10, 175-186. 

“increased course structure-MP Wenderoth-CBE LSE2011.pdf” 

In is this rather complicated study, 8 sections of an intro majors biology courses taught by one instructor in 6 semester across 7 years were compared, with size varying from 173 to 699. Used a weighted Boom’s Index score (16.7 to 100) to rate level of exams, and assumed higher numbers are harder exams. Concluded that higher course structure leads to lower failure rates, but confounded by class size variances, potential increase in instructor skill with experience, addition of one more exam in last section, and grade curving policies. Posit that online reading quizzes are to get students to learn basic facts and definitions so more class time can be given to higher-level active learning exercises. Interesting but too complicated. 

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