ASM events
This conference is managed by the American Society for Microbiology


Table of contents
No headers

Crossgrove, K., & Curran, K.L. (2008). Using clickers in nonmajors- and majors-level biology courses: student opinion, learning, and long-term retention of course material. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 7, 146-154.
At a very basic level, introducing clickers to a “lecture” classroom is an easy way to incorporate an element of active learning. With practice, and by implementing some modifications of the traditional multiple choice question,  it can become an even more effective way to get students engaged, gauge their understanding of the material, and prompt them to think more deeply about the material. Personal experience has shown that a vast majority of students enjoy using clickers whereas a large number of students tend to be uncomfortable with other active learning strategies (Lennon, unpublished data). Whether the use of clickers, and the different ways in which they can be used in the classroom, impacts student learning and retention is a major focus of my research question.
 Crossgrove  and Curran (2008) implemented clickers in both an introductory biology class for nonmajors and an upper level majors class in genetics. They found that students enjoyed using the clickers in both classes, and that students performed significantly better on exams when the material covered was taught using clickers. However, they also found that while the students in the nonmajors class showed an increase in retention of the material when tested 4 months after class completion, there was no significant difference in retention for the students in the majors class.

Freeman, S., O’Connor, E., Parks, J.W., Cunningham, M., Hurley, D., Haak, D., Dirks, C. . . . (2007). Prescribed active learning increases performance in introductory biology. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 6, 132-139.
Freeman et al. (2007) compared a variety of course formats for teaching introductory biology for majors. The sections varied as to how much structured learning was incorporated at the daily and weekly level. For instance, students were given daily quiz questions that were either graded as to correct or incorrect or for which they could earn participation points just by answering. Students were also given a weekly practice exam either individually or as part of a group. They found that an increase in course structure correlated with higher exam scores, higher attendance, and increased student success (a.k.a. lower failure rates).
This study fits into my research as I am looking at best practices for implementing active-learning and increased course structure and their impact(s) on student success and retention in a mixed class of majors and nonmajors in introductory biology. Aspects that differ in my classroom include class size (Freeman’s tends to be a very large class size, mine is capped at 72), that mine is a class geared for majors but with seats filled with mostly nonmajors, and that while Freeman et al. have support staff such as TAs to help with implementation, I  have none. Can a highly-structured course be managed by a single instructor?

Freeman, S., Haak, D., & Wenderoth, M.P. (2011). Increased course structure improves performance in introductory biology. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 10, 175-186.
This is a follow-up from Freeman et al. 2007 (above). Freeman, Haak, and Wenderoth (2011) looked at the impact of varying levels of course structure on student performance in an introductory biology class for majors. To control for instructor-based differences, they used data collected from quarters in which the same instructor led the class. They also looked for possible effects of changes in exam difficulty (students would do better on easier exams!) by developing a Weighted Bloom’s Index that allowed them to compare the relative difficulty of exams based on the Bloom’s level of the questions on this exam. This allowed them to use different exams for different course sections. To account for student ability, they compared student performance in the class to a predicted final course grade for each student based on that student’s grade point average and verbal SAT score. In summary, they found that student performance increased with the level of course structure and also refuted the hypothesis that incorporation of active learning exercises and other elements of a highly structured course alone explained the increase in student success by lessening the impact of exams on final grade score.

Handelsman, J., Miller, S., Pfund, C. (2007). Scientific Teaching. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company.
Scientific Teaching by Handelsman, Miller and Pfund (2007) is an incredibly useful resource to instructors who are looking to apply our scientific training to the classroom as well as to incorporate active-learning into their repertoire. The book takes the reader step by step through an exploration of scientific teaching – which can also be called evidence-based teaching, an approach that requires us to gauge the efficacy of our teaching based not on feeling, but on student learning. “If I do _____, did the students learn _______?”. It also explores ways of implementing active learning into the classroom, as well as the importance of formative and summative assessment and instructor feedback for student learning. A chapter highlighting the importance of considering diversity in your classroom touches on this enormous topic as it points out that “diversity” can mean so much more than we are accustomed to thinking of it as. It can be learning style, ethnicity, socio-economic . . . A concrete framework for creating what the book refers to as a “teachable unit” which is a unit of related material that is to be taught incorporating active learning, is a very helpful tool.

Kishida, K.T., Yang, D., Hunter Quartz, K., Quartz, S.R., & Montague, P.R. (2012). Implicit signals in small group settings and their impact on the expression of cognitive capacity and associated brain responses. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B, 367,704-716.
For many of us, “active-learning” or “student-centered learning” cues the vision of students working in groups to discuss and discover. We’ve been told by cognitive researchers for year that group activities are important to learning, especially for underrepresented groups (should cite, but then I’d be over the limit). However, if you talk to many Ph.D. level scientists, group work was something that we all dreaded as undergraduates. How many of us rolled our eyes as we were grouped with less scientifically-inclined classmates and forced to pull everyone’s weight or risk lowering our grades? I’ve talked to a lot of colleagues that felt that way. But, the literature tells us to do group work; especially those of us teaching large numbers of underrepresented students.
 Kishida et al.(2012) raise a very concerning red flag. In a nutshell (partly because it’s a neurobehavioural paper) they found a decrease in cognitive capacity in a group setting. This was especially prevalent in individuals with lower social status. They propose that those with perceived lower social status performed less well on tests of cognitive ability (specifically an IQ test) than if they were not subjected to a group setting. The mode for this behavior was thought to be grounded in a desire to avoid conflict. This is of great concern for any pedagogical approach that relies heavily on group exercises and may shed some light on data that indicate an increase in overall student success (lower failure rate) but a decrease  in the percentage of students earning As and Bs in my more highly structured, active- learning class (Lennon, unpublished data).

Smith, M.K., Wood, W.B., Krauter, K., & Knight, J.K. (2011). Combining peer discussion with instructor explanation increases student learning from in-class concept questions. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 10, 55-63.
Smith et al. (2011) probe the question of how active an instructor needs to be in active learning exercises to have the greatest impact on student learning. One approach to active learning is to give students a problem or problem set to work through individually, in pairs or in groups and allow them to struggle with the idea with maybe a bit of individual Socratic-type assistance. Another is to allow students to only turn to each other for help with the exercise and/or to have only students share their answers with the class after the exercise is complete. In the Smith et al. (2011) study, students were treated one of three ways after answering a concept question individually: they discussed the question with their peers, they were instructed by their instructor as to the correct answer, or they first discussed the question and then explored it further via instructor explanation. Students benefited most  from the third approach, achieving higher gains in learning, although this was less marked for nonmajors as compared to the instructor-only approach.