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Table of contents
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S. Freeman S., SL Edd., M McDonough., MK Smith., N Okoroafor, H Jordt., MP Wenderoth (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. PNAS, 111, 8410-8415.

The authors did the largest and most comprehensive meta-analysis of undergraduate STEM education to determine if traditional lecturing or active lecturing maximizes learning and performance.  The authors showed that student performance on exams and concept inventories increased with active learning.  Students in traditional lecture courses were 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in active learning classrooms. I do not think many faculty members can ever go back to a traditional lecture after reading this seminal study. This data strongly supports my active teaching style.  This past semester, I developed five novel collaborative in class activities for my Introduction to Molecular Genetics course. 

 

Daniel J. Klionsky (2004). Talking biology: learning outside the book – and the lecture. Cell Biology Education, 3, 204-210.

This was a great review about the value of peer interactions in a biology course.  I was happy  to learn that other instructors at other institutions who teach upper division courses tell the professors who teach lower level biology courses complain that their former students do not retain the information covered in the earlier courses.  I constantly complain to the Freshman Biology professor about the very topic.  The author also discusses how traditional lectures which do not help students actually understand the material.  The author then discusses his transition to changing his traditional approach to teaching so that it became more student-focused.  One approach the author did was to create a concise set of notes and have students read these notes prior to coming to class (the notes include material that would be covered in a traditional lecture).  In addition to the notes, the author included guideline questions to emphasize key points.  Then, to ensure students did the pre-reading, they took a reading quiz during the start of every class.  To make sure they took the pre-reading seriously and kept up with the daily reading, half the course grade came from these quizzes.    During the actual class session, students would do collaborative problem solving exercises followed by a class discussion.  To ensure participation in the group problem solving, the students would take a second quiz that is concept oriented and that is equal to the other half of the course grade.  To evaluate the effectiveness of the active learning formatted course, students in both a traditional and active learning course took the same multiple choice quiz that was fact-based.  The results suggested that students learned information more effectively in the classroom that required collaborative problem solving activities.  What I liked most about this study was how the faculty member gave pre-quizzes to ensure students came well-prepared for the class activities.  I also liked that the author  created his own truncated set of lecture notes in which students were required to pre-read instead of requiring them to read several pages in a textbook.

 

Jennifer K. Knight, William B. Wood (2005). Teaching more by lecturing less. Cell Biology Education, 4, 298-310.

 

This was an excellent study in which they did a research project to see if student learning gains in a large, traditionally taught bio course (upper division) could be increased by changing some of the class format to become more interactive which included cooperative problems solving activities. They did this study because they realize that students going into biology related careers will need to apply conceptual knowledge to problem solving in a group setting. In the active classroom, they assigned students to groups at the beginning of the semester.   To measure student learning gains during the semester, they administered a pretest and posttest that included embedded questions in the final exam.  It is important to note that these questions were representative of the knowledge gained from the class. During the semester they also interviewed 6 out of 70 students in the A, B, and C range (6 out of approximately 70) to answer the same questions as on the pre/ post quiz. During these interviews, the students had the chance to think out loud as they answered the questions. The purpose of the interviews was to determine if the students were interpreting the pretest and posttest questions correctly. Throughout the semester, in both the traditional and interactive classes, the researchers gave surveys to ask students for feedback regarding different aspects of the course. They also gave in class formative assessments in the interactive course via clicker questions.  When questions were answered wrong by most of the class, they would then work in groups to answer the same question (think pair share).  The researchers also assigned homework questions that were done individually (traditional class) or as group work (collaborative class).  The results showed that the use of clicker questions in the interactive course revealed misconceptions.  The answers to homework questions also revealed misconceptions so that the professors could address that content in more detail during the following class session.  In particular, both A and B students had higher learning gains in the interactive course compared to the traditional course. They found that C students had low learning gains in both environments.  In conclusion, they found that there was an increase in average normalized learning gains in the collaborative class compared with the traditional course.  The findings from this study are encouraging for my project.  My collaborative class is being compared with the same content covered in a traditional course.  It is interesting to note that the authors found that several students in the interactive classroom stated at the beginning of the semester that they saw the collaborative activities as distractions and a waste of time.  They also found that students complained that the professors were not teaching them very much but made them learn material on their own.  I found that several students in my class that included collaborative activities also had similar complaints because this was a foreign method of learning for many of them. 

 

Debra L. Linton, Jan Keith Farmer, Ernie Peterson (2014). Is peer interaction necessary for optimal active learning? CBE- Life Sciences Education, 13, 243-252.

 

The purpose of this study was to identify the key elements in effective active-learning implementation.  Specifically, they wanted to study the effect of peer interaction on student learning and self-efficacy.  Is peer discussion necessary to maximize learning during active learning activities or can students interact in other ways (through individual activities) and receive equal or greater benefit? They had both classes do the same in-class activities but the control class did the activities on their own (control) whereas the experimental class worked in cooperative groups in which they were randomly assigned by the professor.  Other than this one variable, the rest of the class design, delivery, and assessment were held constant. They studied the effect of student’s interaction with the task (activity) compared from the effect of student’s interaction with their peers. At the end of each class period, one student from the collaborative group took a short quiz and the score obtained from that student was assigned to other team members.  In the control class, each student took the quiz.  Students did a key concepts pretest to evaluate the equivalency between the two courses.  The same post- test was given during the last class meeting in both courses.  Student learning was assessed based on four exams which included multiple choice and extended response questions.  Students’ percent scores on the key concepts pretest were compared between courses using a t test.  Posttest scores were compared using ANCOVA with the pretest scores as the covariate.  Each exam question was rated by Bloom level.  The percent scores on the multiple choice portion of the exams were compared between the two courses using ANCOVA with the % score on the key concepts pretest as the covariate.  Essay responses on the exams were coded for specific key correct concepts based on a coding rubric developed by the lead investigator and reviewed by the rest of the research team. The total number of correct concepts included in student answers was compared between the two courses by ANCOVA using the % score on the key concepts pretest as the covariate.  Individual concepts were analyzed for differences in frequency between sections using chi-square analyses.  They found there was not a significant difference on pretest and posttest scores between the two courses.  They did find that the scores on the key concepts test were significantly higher on the posttest than the pretest for both the cooperative and individual (control) courses.  They found that there was not any significant differences between the two courses on the multiple choice parts of any of the 4 exams.  They did find that students enrolled in the cooperative (experimental) course included significantly more correct concepts in their answers to the essay questions on all 4 exams!  They had great results to show that working in cooperative groups and engaging in peer discussion resulted in greater performance by students in the higher level assessments. In conclusion, their data suggests that the benefits of peer interaction may only be seen on higher order activities/ assessments.  The data suggests that it is not just the in-class activity that improves student learning but that the peer interaction has a large role in promoting students’ ability to understand as well as explain how well they understand.  This was a great study to provide evidence that in-class active learning activities in cooperative groups improves students’ performance on high level extended response questions compared to completion of activities individually.  In my personal study, I am trying to determine if student learning of a particular subject is improved in collaborative in-class group activities compared to just learning the same information in traditional lectures (no exposure to the activity).

 

Louiza A. Nogai (2013). Using active learning in a studio classroom to teach molecular biology. Journal of College Science Teaching, 42, 50-55.

 

The purpose of this study was to show that students enrolled in a molecular biology class that used active learning strategies in a studio classroom had greater exam scores than students taking the same class but taught as a traditional lecture course.  In the traditional class, students were given complete PowerPoints ahead of time and the professor lectured during most of the course time.  In the active learning class, 75% of the course was taught using PowerPoint lectures given ahead of time but these PowerPoints were redesigned as outlines and did not contain the complete information covered in class. Many of the slides required fill in the blanks and others were used as points of group discussion.  The other 25% of the time, the class was devoted to active learning exercises on the challenging areas in the course.  In the active classroom, at the beginning of the semester, 2-3 students were assigned for “front-row duty.” Each day, those students were responsible for answering questions during that assigned class period. For the active learning activities, students were required to read the specific concept from the textbook before coming to class.  During class, they were divided into groups and given a handout of questions or problems to work on during the first 10-15 minutes of class.  Each group was assigned a different question.  For the remaining 40 minutes of class, students were chosen by the professor to answer the questions. Each group’s work was projected on the LCD screens and their questions were answered during class. After class each student worked on completing the activity handout as well as post-activity exercise.  All activities were collected and graded. Both classes were required to read the textbook ahead of time but only students in the active class were required to complete homework as a post activity.  The quizzes and exams were similar between the 2 courses.  The material was identical but the questions were different.  Student’s knowledge and the effectiveness of activities were assessed through questions on the final exam.  It is important to note that the questions on the final exam were identical for both courses.  Their results showed that overall students performed equally well or better in the active learning classroom.  There was only 1 question on the final exam in which there was significant improvement in student performance for those that took the active class vs the traditional class.  They also showed that fewer students failed the course in the active classroom compared with the traditional setting. This study is important for my project because it had a similar setup in that they compared a traditional course with a course that had several collaborative activities. Though they studied activities throughout the entire course, my project is focused on one particular content area regarding how the information of a gene directs specific expression of a protein. I had my students do 5 collaborative activities related to that subject.  It was also interesting to note that they did not do a pre-test regarding the content they were required to pre-read.  Similarly, I did not give students a pre-test. In my personal experience, several students did not seem to take the pre-reading seriously so that impacted how successful they were regarding being engaged during the activities.  Several other papers I have read have stressed the importance of a pre-test prior to make sure the students read ahead of time.

 

Jia Shi, William B. Wood, Jennifer M. Martin, Nancy A. Guild, Quentin Vicens, and Jennifer K. Knight (2010) A Diagnostic Assessment for Introductory Molecular and Cell Biology. Cell Biology Education, 9, 453–461

 

In this report, they identified 9 learning goals in an introductory cell and molecular biology course.  They identified these goals based on student misconceptions of the content. They created an assessment tool which includes a set of 24 multiple choice questions based on their 9 learning goals to be given to students pre and post semester.  The wrong answers on each question are answers that students have answered wrong due to their misconceptions. This instrument is called IMCA and is a great concept inventory.  The research question addressed in my study is: can collaborative learning activities improve the common misconception that information in a gene directs expression of a specific protein?  This misconception in learning has been found by other biology educators. Though my course is different from this study since it is an introduction to molecular genetics, learning goal 9 from this report is the topic of study for my project.  I am using IMCA questions from learning goal 9 for my project. In my study, both classes (class with collaborative learning activities and other class without activities) took the pre and post multiple choice quiz with embedded questions from IMCA learning goal 9. 

 

MK Smith, WB Wood, WK Adams, C Wieman, JK Knight, N Guild, TT Su (2009). Why peer discussion improves student performance on in-class concept questions. Science, 323, 122-124.

The purpose of this paper was  to determine why peer discussion improves student performance on in-class concept questions.  They already knew that when students answer an in-class conceptual question using clickers, discuss the answer with their neighbor and then revote on the same question, the % of correct answers increase.  They wanted to determine if this outcome resulted from gains in understanding during the peer discussion or from peer influence of knowledgeable students.  In order to investigate this question, they followed the same exercise with a second similar question on the same concept that students answered individually.  Their results showed that peer discussion improved students’ understanding even if none of the students in the group originally knew the answer to the first question. The authors suggest that when the group of students answered question 1 again after the discussion, they were just making sense of the information gained from the discussion but were unable to apply their new knowledge until given a new question on the same concept.    I really liked these two student quotes from the paper, “Often when talking through the questions, the group  can figure out the questions without originally knowing the answer, and the answer almost sticks better that way because we talked through it instead of just hearing the answer.”  “Discussion is productive when people do not know the answers because you explore all the options and eliminate the ones you know can’t be correct.”  The findings from this paper are quite relevant for my study since my activities were quite challenging and required students to have thoughtful discussions before they arrived at correct answers. I had similar quotes from students at the end of my semester regarding the group activities.

 

MK Smith, WB Wood, K Kraughter, JK Knight (2011). Combining peer discussion with instructor explanation increases student learning from in-class concept questions. CBE Life Sci Education, 10, 55-63.

The purpose of this study was to use matched in-class concept questions and determine which of the 3 presentation modes led to the greatest improvement in student performance: peer discussion, listening to an instructor explanation or peer discussion followed by instructor explanation.  They evaluated the effects on student learning gains in two courses as well as for three different ability groups of students.  What I personally liked about their combination approach was that they had students individually answer a question and then discuss the question with their peers and vote again on the same question.  Then the professor asked students to volunteer their reasons for selecting a particular answer. The instructor also explained the answer to the class as well as answered any other student questions.  Then in all three modes the students individually voted on the new question 2.  The change in learning between question pairs was computed for each individual student using a modified Hake normalized gain formula.  They found that the mean percentages of correct individual Q1 answers were not statistically different between the 3 modes.  Learning gains between Q1 and Q1ad (after peer discussion) were similar in both modes that involved peer discussion.  They found that the combination mode led to larger learning gains between Q1 and Q2 than either the other two modes.  They also found that the combination mode resulted in the largest learning gain for all ability levels of students (weak, medium and strong). Peer instruction encourages students to verbalize their thinking and interact with peers to come up with an answer.  This study is beneficial for my own research project because it gives additional evidence that peer interaction followed by faculty explanation improves student performance.  In my own study, I gave students the in-class activities and asked them to read the activity on their own before they started working together to do the group activity.  After each activity, I would either ask for volunteers to tell the rest of the class how they completed the activity.  Then I would tell the students the answers and how they should have approached the activity.

 

Kimberly D. Tanner (2009). Talking to learn: why biology students should be talking in classrooms and how to make it happen. CBE-Life Sciences Education,  8: 89-94.

The purpose of this review was to encourage faculty to include “Student Talk” in their classrooms.  Student talk is common  in many active teaching classrooms.  Unfortunately, Student Talk is more common outside of the classroom setting including supplemental courses, tutoring sessions as well as informal study groups.  The authors suggest that the students who might need to talk out their ideas the most are the students who are most likely not interested in forming an informal study group or going to an SI session or tutor.  Those students might not view Student Talk as part of learning since traditional lecture courses don’t seem to integrate this into the classroom.  The author then discusses the reasons why Student Talk is important in biology classes.  There are 4 categories of why we should value Student Talk in our courses: 1. Enriches individual student learning experience; 2. Transforms the nature of large lecture class; 3. Provides instructors with insight into students’ thinking; 4. Promotes a collaborative, rather than competitive culture in undergraduate science courses. This article supported in-class collaborative activities in my course since the activities all required Student Talk.  This article also gave me several reasons to continue to include Student Talk in every lecture, even when I do not include organized group activities!

 

 

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