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What are the predictors of performance in higher-level cognitive and problem solving skills for an introductory interdisciplinary course, such as biochemistry? 

Didem Vardar-Ulu Department of Chemistry, Wellesley College, Massachusetts 02481 

Anecdotal evidence indicates that students have conceptual and reasoning difficulties comprehending complex concepts in science. They can memorize and recite definitions without understanding the underlying principles. While the identification of student difficulties in individual scientific disciplines, i.e. physics, chemistry and biology has been a major area of research for many years, very little has been reported on the underlying reasons for the challenges students face tackling interdisciplinary areas, such as biochemistry. With recent advances in the life sciences, both the research fields and the job market have seen an increase in activities in areas at the boundaries of traditional disciplines. Therefore, it is no longer obvious how to prepare students for changes in the workplace. However, it is clear that if we, as instructors, are to improve interdisciplinary education, we must first understand the sources of difficulties that students experience in making sense of the disciplinary information they have been learning in an interdisciplinary context. As the initial step towards this goal, this research is focused on identifying reliable predictors of performance in higher-level cognitive and problem solving skills for students enrolled in the introductory biochemistry courses offered at the Wellesley College. The information collected for this work involves data on students’ past performance on individual disciplinary preparation as indicated by their course grades from prerequisite courses, their quantitative reasoning abilities at the time of college admission, their learning styles, their attitudes and preconceptions towards either discipline, as well as how they perceive and process non-scientific information.   This data is going to be analyzed to determine how these parameters correlate with student performance both at the final course grade level, as well as at different components of the course that specifically focus on higher-level cognitive and problem solving skills. Early identification of these predictors would allow for specific customized academic advising and the implementation of effective institution-wide instruction and support strategies that could be extended into other interdisciplinary courses.

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Hi Didem-- do you have any preliminary data you can describe in the abstract? It all sounds good, but without just a little tease of what you might have to offer the readers, they might lose interest before finding out more. Of course if you don't have any data analyzed yet, there's not much you can do!
Posted 17:27, 14 Feb 2009
Hi Didem,
Yep I go along with Jenny. Do you have any of the data of learning preferences, prerequisite course scores and can you relate these to individual students? If so it would be great to include this and if necessary you could prune the introduction, which takes up about half your abstract. It looks like a mammoth project - you've set up quite a work load for yourself!
Posted 10:38, 15 Feb 2009
I'm with Chris and Jenny -- some data would be nice. Also: check your formatting if you decide to submit to ASM-CUES. Your character count is 2500+ and the limit (with spaces) is 1850. Some characters can be saved by changing your name & institution to the proper format (F.M. Lastname. Your University, City, ST. or ST, Country. (Only your name in bold)).

LIke Chris said, your introduction can be pruned if you are looking for a place to reduce. Right now the introduction is half of the abstract. I would reduce it to no more than two sentences.

I also suggest you write the abstract all in past tense since, by the time you will be presenting, it will be in the past. (ex: Instead of "This data is going to be analyzed.." write "These data were analyzed..").
Posted 11:43, 15 Feb 2009
Hi Didem - I agree with the above suggestions. Please write the abstract in the past tense and indicate more precisely what kind/type of assessment tools you will be using for your study.
Posted 13:58, 16 Feb 2009
Hi All,

You are all very sharp!!!! And absolutely right. But as you have suspected there is a reason the abstract is as vanilla as it is. I have some preliminarry data and am collecting a whole fresh (and hopefully much more controlled) set of data this semester. But I have had absolutely no time yet to look over them in any real way (other than skim through responses to make sure I will have something interpretable at the end)I am up for reappointment this spring and have been agonizing over getting all the necessary paperwork in place and also applying for three research grants. One is gone, NIH is due Feb 25th and another in March. Also, thanks to my department's strategies, I am teaching a whole new course "Intro to Chem" for the first time in my life this semester.. Hence I am afraid I will have to delay addressing your concerns and feedback until later in the spring. I am not going to submit the abstract for ASMCUEs and I promise by our May meeting I will have data to replace the story introduction in the abstract to hopefully keep your interest alive because actually the data is quite interesting. Thanks for the feedback...
Posted 17:55, 17 Feb 2009
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