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Knight, Jenny


  Jenny Knight, Ph.D.

  Molecular Cell, and Developmental Biology

  University of Colorado, Boulder

  Boulder, CO 80309-0347
  303-735-1949 (office)


I am a senior instructor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  I teach Human Genetics for non-majors and two upper level majors courses, The Brain (from molecules to behavior), and Developmental Biology. In addition, I teach an education research class called Teaching and Learning, primarily for grad students and post docs. I am also affiliated with an interdisciplinary group on our campus called the Science Education Initiative, which is focused on improving undergraduate science education, and on carrying out science education research projects. We have been designing and testing pre-post content and attitude assessment tools, as well as studying peer interaction in our two large introductory courses. I’ve been using interactive techniques in my courses for about 4 years, including clickers, small group work, concept mapping, in-class problem solving, and “just-in-time-teaching”.

My Biology Scholars Research Project

Title: Do non-majors learn genetics differently or at a different rate than majors?  How do these groups of students think about and learn genetics?
What is the focus of your investigation?

Analysis of answers to a pre-post genetics assessment tool indicates that majors and non-majors begin and finish genetics with similar and persistent misconceptions.  The starting and ending points between the two groups are not identical (the majors start higher and end higher than the non-majors), but the difference is smaller than one might imagine.  Focusing on these misconception topics, I propose to characterize the rate at which students repair their misconceptions by gathering data from the pre-test, immediately after instruction on a topic, at the midsemester exams, and finally from the post-test.  I will also characterize how majors and non-majors are learning this content through surveys that ask about how the students study, as well as focus group interviews that ask students to work through and talk about challenging genetics problems.


What resources/references have you found helpful?

 See <Bibliography> page, but the following was particularly interesting to me in thinking about genetics misconceptions:  

Lewis, J and Wood-Robinson, C (2000).Genes, Chromosomes, Cell Division and Inheritance—Do Students See Any Relationship? International Journal of Science Education 22(2): 177-195.  

What is your approach and/or what evidence will you gather?

We will use three approaches:

     1. Self reflection surveys:

   how do students study and attempt to learn genetics

    what do students think about science in general (Biology CLASS; see the appendix for a link)

2. Content survey: the Genetics Assessment Tool (multiple choice tool that measures conceptual understanding of genetics)

3. Observations of groups solving genetics problems in class: we will use a rubric to try to characterize the skills that students use or don't use in solving genetics problems

4.  Individual interviews: students from the class will be asked to problem solve in an audio or video taped interview.

Please see Findings/methods link for more detail.

What results have emerged ?

See the SoTL Inst Presentation link from the Journal tab, and also additional discussion in Findings, methods.

In brief, we find that majors demonstrate higher knowledge on the GAT at the end of the semester, and have higher learning gains than do non-majors.  However, the differences are not very large, and at snapshot time points during the semester (quizzes and exams), the populations are even more similar.  This makes it particularly important to investigate how the students are doing their learning.  This is where the interviews will come in.

What information may be found in your Appendices?

 Bio-CLASS link

 Genetics Learning Goals (on which the GAT is based, and for the two genetics courses being compared)