Assessing the initial state of knowledge of first-year genetics students

Presentation Date: 

Saturday, May 19, 2001


ASM Eighth Undergraduate Microbiology Education Conference, American Society for Microbiology (Orlando, FL)

Presentation Slides: 

A survey was designed to assess students' understanding of concepts and familiarity with biology terminology at the beginning of a new introductory genetics course. The class, which serves as the first college biology course for all students majoring in Biological Sciences or fulfilling premedical requirements, assumes no prior knowledge and enrolls mainly first-year students. The survey asked students to rate their familiarity with over 80 words in genetics and to define a selection of these terms. Students were also asked to answer a few conceptual questions as well as provide background information on their previous experience in science and their reason for taking the course. A similar instrument is being used to posttest students at the end of the semester to allow pre- and post-course comparison for individual students as well as correlations with other course factors (e.g., performance on traditional examinations). As the amount of vocabulary in a college science course often exceeds that in even a language course, it will be especially interesting to compare students' performance with their perceived and actual understanding of important terminology. Preliminary results from the survey suggest that students often overstate their own degree of understanding and can be, in fact, confident in their incorrect understanding of the subject. Results of the survey will serve not only to assess the effectiveness of the class in enhancing understanding and comfort with introductory genetics, but also provide a baseline of pre-class knowledge to aid in the development of an inventory of conceptual understanding in genetics and biology.