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3. Bibliography

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These are several references I read and annotated before the SoTL Institute. I have highlighted in red major points of each.

I have for a long time been concerned about the level of conceptual change that occurs in students during my microbiology classes. It has seemed to me that, while students may be good at memorising information, they do not retain this well. Nor have they been particularly good at applying their knowledge to new problems after finishing my courses. Thus, I want my students to increase their level of understanding about microbiology as a science, so that they can use their knowledge profitably later on in their lives. To achieve this I am moving my lecture classes more to an enquiry-based learning approach. To be precise I should say to a “not didactic lecturing approach” as I am incorporating a range of active learning activities to engender more student-centred learning via a constructivist approach. From my initial learning about pedagogy I realise that I need to think about several issues. It is these issues that I have chosen to collate into my annotated bibliography to focus my thinking.

What are the alternatives to didactic teaching?

Udovic, D., Morris, D., Dickman, A., Postlethwait, J. and Wetherwax, P., 2002. Workshop biology: demonstrating the effectiveness of active learning in an introductory biology course. Bioscience 52, 272 – 81.

This paper was one of the first that I read when starting to reconsider how I might change my teaching in order to improve student learning outcomes. What I get from this paper is the realisation that large science classes are not necessarily a barrier to student-centred active learning. Secondly, it gives me some ideas to consider for my own classes (for example challenging misconceptions, introducing students to thinking in a scientific manner). Thirdly, it uses quantitative data such as comparisons of pre- and post-testing of biology concepts in classes taught in the workshop format versus classes taught didactically. These are data that I could recognise despite them being in a fundamentally different discipline. Concomitantly, the paper introduced me to an alternative form of data: qualitative data that examined student reflections on their own learning. And finally, they demonstrated that the workshop biology approach of modelling the scientific method produced better learning outcomes for students than did didactic lecturing. I was sold.

Powell, L., 2004. NRES: Wildlife Ecology and Management. Viewed on July 1 at

Course portfolios such as Larkin Powell’s are a good way to get ideas on how teachers review their courses and how they reflect on what they learn about how their students learn. As it was easy for me to associate with the subject matter, I could judge this portfolio more easily than if it concerned the pedagogy of a different discipline. In this sense the discipline does matter, for I could compare my ideas of what students should be able to achieve in scientific learning with Powell’s. There is a clear picture of the class, its aims and syllabus, who was in it, and how the students were assessed, together with outcomes of the teaching and learning activities. Powell provides examples of assessment and of student responses to the assessment along with his comments. The course portfolio enables more examples of student achievement than is likely to be possible in a journal article. I have been evaluating student responses to exams in my classes. In particular I have looked at the level of thinking required by assessment in order to see if a sequential increase in how students perform occurs.Powell found that whether or not students had the prerequisite subject significantly affected student achievement in his course. This is clear evidence of the role of prior learning and its impact on student learning and is further recognition of the students as individuals.

Evaluating learning

Nazario, G., Burrowes, P.A. and Rodriguez, J, 2002. Persisting misconceptions: using pre- and post-testing to identify biological misconceptions. J. College Science Teaching 31, 292 – 6.

This paper is interesting for its use of pre- and post- testing to identify conceptual misconceptions that students have. While pre- and post-testing is a well known means for determining the effectiveness of teaching and learning activities, this paper took a further step. Nazario etal (2002) developed a misconception index to find out which concepts were difficult for students to get correctly. Persistent misconceptions are similar in nature to the problem of troublesome knowledge as described by Perkins (1999). The misconception index identified the most frequent incorrect answer in a multiple choice question and thus gives the teacher an idea of where to spend more time and effort. I have used analysis of MCQ answers in my courses, but not so much to identify misconceptions, but rather to identify effective questions. Thus, this paper has provided me with another tool to use in analysing student learning outcomes. However, from my perspective there was one misconception in which I thought that the students were hard done by!

Perkins, D., 1999. The Many Faces of Constructivism. Educational Leadership 57(3): 6 – 11

Student approaches to learning

Minbashian, A., Huon, G.F. and Bird, K.D., 2004. Approaches to studying and academic performance in short-essay exams. Higher Education 47: 161–176, 2004.

Minbashian etal (2004) examined the effect of the approach that students took to learning (deep or surface) in relation to their performance in short-essay exams that required either reproduction of knowledge or understanding. They controlled for student motivation and intelligence and found that the quality of student answers (understanding) increased with a deep approach to learning, but the detail in the answers was maximal with a moderate deep approach and declined with high levels of deep approach. Thus, student exam marks were not improved with a high level of a deep approach to learning, because although the conceptual quality was good, the level of detail was not. I found this paper interesting because of the methods used: learning, motivation and intelligence surveys and analysis of the quality of student answers with the SOLO taxonomy (described in Biggs, 2003 – which incidentally I think is a very well written text for learning the pedagogy of higher education). It addresses one of the concerns that I have with how I am changing my teaching practice, and that is, does a constructivist approach to learning result in better learning outcomes. Minbashian etal (2004) could not demonstrate a clear relationship and concluded that this could have been because of the nature of the assessment, which was 4 short essays in 60 minutes. I would agree with them, that time constraints on the students may well have led those taking a deep approach to sacrifice detail in order to demonstrate their understanding. To date, I have used the Learning and Study Questionnaire (ETL Project, 2002) to encourage students to think about their approach to learning, but have found it difficult to use quantitatively because of small class sizes. Also, I have used the SOLO taxonomy to guide the construction of exam questions to require higher cognitive levels from students, but could now start to use it to analyse student responses. Minbashian et al (2004) give a framework for considering these questions and some of the potentially confounding influences.

Biggs, J., 2003. Teaching for Quality Learning at University. 2nd edition The Society for Research into Higher education and Open University Press Maidenhead, UK 309pp.

ETL Project, 2002. Learning and Study Questionnaire. Economic and Social Research Council Teaching and Learning Research Programme. Viewed 09/02/05

Content versus process?

Sweller, J., 1993. Some cognitive processes and their consequences for the organisation and presentation of information. Australian Journal of Psychology 45, 1 - 8.

This paper by Sweller (1993) is my first attempt at grappling with the effects of enquiry-based learning on the difficulty for students to learn the discipline whilst concomitantly learning how to think about the discipline. Sweller describes cognitive load theory wherein if the total cognitive load (TCL) of a lesson is too high, then little learning may result. This occurs because, whereas the long term memory is very large, the human working memory is relatively small. Thus we have limited processing capacity to manage new material and we learn by developing schema of how to think in the discipline and by automating actions. Both are the domain of the long term memory. The use of schema and automation underpin the difference between the expert and the novice. TCL is made up of the intrinsic cognitive load (ICL), which is defined by the inherent level of difficulty of the subject, plus the extrinsic cognitive load (ECL)determined by the structure of how the material is presented. Little can be done to decrease the ICL where several pieces of information must be integrated in order to achieve a learning outcome. However, structuring a lesson such that most processing capacity can be directed to learning the content and away from interpreting it will decrease the ECL. Sweller (1993) suggests using goal-free problems, to prevent students from trying to work backwards from the goal, because although this is efficient, it has a high cognitive demand. Thus students focus on the content and learn schema for long term memory. Secondly, using worked examples, especially if they avoid splitting student attention between different sources of information and lack redundant information. So what I have taken from this is a starting appreciation of what students have to do mentally in order to learn something. And as I am emphasising understanding of how to think, then clearly developing appropriate learning structures becomes vitally important and my initial impulse to change all is more sober and reflective.