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February Assignments

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ASMcue abstract draft due February 3, 2010

The ASMcue abstract deadline is fast approaching (finals due February 15th ) and this assignment will help you get started.  We’ll have a conference call to discuss more particulars and answer any of your questions within the next two weeks.  Watch for an email.  In the meantime, please compose a draft of your ASMcue abstracts and share them with your team and facilitator via the wiki (February tab) for review and comment by Wednesday, February 3rd.  



Students of All Learning Styles Report that Knowledge Maps are Beneficial to Learning
R.J. Gerrits, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
I have used expert-generated knowledge maps (similar to concept maps but with greater levels of structure and detail) for my physiology, pathophysiology and pharmacology students for the past few years. In order to obtain more information related to their usefulness to student learning, I designed a survey to test the hypothesis that they would be beneficial to students of varying learning styles. The survey was administered to thirty-one previous students who had not taken any courses with me for at least one academic quarter. The survey was administered in sections, with the first section asking students to take and report their scores on the VARK exam, the second section asking free response questions such as “what was most beneficial to learning in Dr. Gerrits’ class” and the third section asking questions focused specifically on knowledge maps. Of the 26 students reporting their VARK scores, 10 showed no learning style preference and the rest showed preferences for V, A, R, and K with the following breakdown; 5, 1, 4 and 6, respectively. Twenty-nine students completed the free-response portion of the survey, with 69% mentioning the knowledge maps as being a class attribute that was most helpful to learning (in comparison 28% of students listed “ability to explain” and 17% listed “learning outcomes”). A Chi-square analysis with William’s correction indicated there was no association between learning style and the mention of knowledge map on free response (p = 0.42). When asked specifically about knowledge maps, 100% of respondents either strongly agreed or agreed that they were useful to learning, 94% have referred to them in subsequent courses, and 58% of students reported drawing their own in subsequent courses (drawing their own was also not associated with learning style via William’s corrected Chi-square analysis). These results indicate that students found the knowledge maps useful during the course for which they were designed, as well as in subsequent courses.
Ron Gerrits, 414 277-7561,

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.  

Brinda Govindan, (415)-405-3279,

Aligning an Instructional Approach to Support a Learning Goal: Integrating Lectures and Assignments to Reinforce the Integrative Nature of Cell Signaling

K. A. Curto, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA

When I relied on textbook explanations of cell signaling as a progression from ligand to effector, my freshman biology students perceived signaling as a single linear mechanism.  To foster the appreciation that signals integrate to modulate cell function, I revised my instruction and assignments with an interactive "pattern" in mind.  On day 1 of the semester, I evaluated students' (N=25) prior understanding of cell signaling.  Their choice of analogy:  baseball diamond (7), tree (5), racetrack (4), straight pathway (2), or none (7) showed mixed perceptions of signaling as sequential, circular or integrative.  Eighty-four percent rated their understanding of signaling as "fair" or "lacking."  The average score from 12 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) on signaling terms was 2.60 (+ 1.35). In week 5, I lectured on cell signaling emphasizing interactions among signaling modules (cross talk) as a realistic model.  I assigned a review article on signaling interactions and "what-if-this-changed questions" based on the article's described interactions.  A "near-peer" graduate student talked about her C. elegans signaling research using a home plumbing analogy to clarify cross talk results.  A handout on concept map construction with examples supported their diagrammatic solutions of a hypertension drug treatment problem.  The article with its questions and their diagrams were a basis for recitation discussion.  At the end of the course (week 15), analogy choices more indicative of networks appeared: tree (10), baseball diamond (4), pathway (2), while 8 described their own analogy using terms such as "web, crisscrossing, net, intersect and crosstalk."  Sixty-four percent of students now rated their knowledge of signaling as excellent or good (32% as fair). The MCQs score rose to a mean of 9.44 (+ 1.47), a significant improvement (paired-sample t-test p<0.001).  Student recall of signaling terminology and an appreciation of its network-like character improved following multiple lecture messages, reading with application type questions on interactions and a problem solving assignment whose solution mimicked the learning concept diagrammatically.

Karen Curto, 412-624-4831,


Below is a REVISED version, 2/10/2010 | ALSO, a small change was made on 2/12/2010

Promoting Online Students’ Engagement in Genetics through the Review of Scientific Literature
M.V. Mawn, SUNY Empire State College, Saratoga Springs, NY
Analysis of the research literature is an authentic practice of the scientific community. Students who interpret and discuss the implications of these research findings are learning science in an authentic context. To address whether this activity engages students, a study was conducted in two online sections of Genetics (Fall 2009, n=28). Students identified one web site and four articles to review, and they discussed these via an online forum. To measure the impact of each course activity, students completed an end-of-term survey in which they rated each assignment type (discussions, self-quizzes, web/article reviews, written assignments, final project) and participated in a discussion reflecting on their course experiences. Pre- and post-course surveys also measured students' engagement with the research literature and other sources of scientific information.
The vast majority of students strongly agreed or agreed with the following statements: “The web/article review assignments supported my learning.” (89%); “Reading scientific journal articles increased my understanding of scientific: a. content” (92%); b. process” (86%). In their reflections, students described how this activity helped to “bridge the gap” between textbook and real-world science, and helped to extend their learning. They also described how the article reviews encouraged them to learn about topics that they might not normally read about, and it kept them “up to date” with new advancements in the scientific community. When students were asked if they currently read or viewed stories related to genetics and/or science in general, 59% cited mainstream sources (television, magazines, and websites). While this did not change by the end of the course, there was a decrease in students who did not follow science (22% vs. 7%), and an increase in those who read journal articles (19% vs. 37%).
Overall these findings demonstrate that the review of research articles can support students’ learning of content and process, and promote a continued interest in science beyond the last day of class.
Mary Mawn, 518-587-2100,