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Govindan, Brinda

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Contact information: Department of Biology, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Ave, SF, CA 94132

Work phone: 415-405-3279

Home phone: 650-858-6809


Abstract submitted to ASMCUE

Students Perceive Benefits Of In-Class Writing Assignments In An Introductory Non-Majors Microbiology Course

B. Govindan, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA 

In an introductory non-majors microbiology class, students are often unprepared for applying their content knowledge to new situations.  In this study, in-class writing assignments including case studies, concept maps and thought questions were given to students throughout the semester.  The assignments were peer-graded and discussed with instructor guidance.  The aim of these activities was to give students practice in knowledge application and to increase students’ metacognition.  Implementation of these activities was hypothesized to positively affect student learning outcomes and study habits.  In addition to four exams consisting equally of multiple-choice and short-essay questions, students completed pre- and post-course surveys and wrote a reflective essay about the impact of the activities on their learning and study habits. 

Results showed that while the mean exam scores for the class remained constant throughout the semester, 50% of the class (n=160) demonstrated gains in the essay portion of the exams between the first and second half of the semester.  Further analysis demonstrated that 75% of students in the top quarter of the class had gains in their short-essay performance, compared to 53% of students in the second quarter, 40% in the third quarter and 33% in the bottom quarter of the class.  Though the same proportion of students (25%) in the top and bottom quarter of the class reported that in-class writing made them more aware of their knowledge gaps, more students (50%) in the top quarter compared to the bottom quarter (7%) stated that the assignments made them review class material more frequently.  Post-course reflective essays were analyzed and comments (n=246) were divided into positive (82%) and negative (18%) categories.  A majority (72%) of the class felt that “in-class writing assignments were helpful for my learning”.  Students perceived the main benefits of in-class writing to be “an opportunity for critical thinking and applying what we already know” and “a useful checkpoint that forces me to review more often”.  Thus, in-class writing activities may aid both metacognitive and critical thinking skills. 


My Background:

I teach introductory microbiology lecture and lab to undergraduate 
pre-health professional students. I also coordinate the lab courses 
for undergraduate microbiology and teach one class for microbiology 
majors at San Francisco State University.

Most of my students are the  children of immigrants and are often the first in their families to attend college. One of the challenges that I face is the varying 
degrees of preparation that these students bring to a college-level 
biology course. I would like to address how to evaluate their 
preconceptions/misconceptions about biology in order facilitate their 
learning.  I am also interested in the development of educational 
materials for undergraduate microbiology students and have recently 
put together a collection of articles for this purpose.


Information about SFSU:

     San Francisco State University has long been recognized for its role in providing high quality post-secondary education to the residents of California).   With a total enrollment of 30,014 in Fall 2008, SF State is the fourth largest of the 23 campuses in the California State University (CSU) system and the 48th largest of all four-year colleges and universities in the United States (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2008).  The university typically awards approximately 7,500 degrees each year, about 75% at the baccalaureate and 25% at the master’s levels. Approximately 75% of the students work part or full-time and 46% receive financial aid. SF State and the other CSU campuses provide the most affordable university education in California and frequently represent the only affordable option for economically disadvantaged students.  Reflecting the composition of the greater San Francisco Bay Area in which it is situated, SF State is widely recognized as one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse campuses in the United States. Of those who declared their ethnicity in Fall 2008, students of color comprised 60% of the undergraduate and 43% of the graduate students. The combined undergraduate and graduate student population is 6.5% African American; 0.6% Native American; 17.6% Hispanic; 1.1% Pacific Islander; 9.5% Filipino; 22.1% Asian; 37.0% White; and 5.6% Other (including those who identify as biracial). In total, 14,538 of the students are ethnic minorities, with 6,523 from the four ethnic groups federally-designated as underrepresented minorities (URM).
     About 60% of the students are female and 40% are male.  Many are re-entry students who are returning to college after an extended absence, either to complete their original degree programs or to obtain education and training in other fields. Twenty percent of the undergraduates enrolled in 2006-07 were first-generation college students, meaning that neither parent had ever attended college. A little more than 2% of the students have a communicative, learning, mobility, or visual disability, deafness, or other functional limitations verified by the Disability Programs and Resource Center. The average age is 25 years among undergraduates and 32 years among graduate students.
     Over the four academic years up to and including 2007-08, a total of 4,048 baccalaureate and 832 master’s degrees were awarded to URM students. The campus was recently ranked 15th among more than 3600 institutions nationally in the number of baccalaureate degrees awarded to ethnic minority students and 39th nationally in the number of masters’ degrees awarded to ethnic minority students (Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 2008).