Assessing and Enhancing the Introductory Science Course in Physics and Biology: Peer Instruction, Classroom Demonstrations, and Genetics Vocabulary


Most introductory college science courses in the United States are taught in large lectures with students rarely having the opportunity to think critically about the material being presented nor to participate actively. Further, many classes focus on teaching rather than learning, that is, the transfer of information as opposed to actual student understanding. This thesis focuses on three studies about the assessment and enhancement of learning in undergraduate science courses. We describe the results of an international survey on the implementation of Peer Instruction (PI), a collaborative learning pedagogy in which lectures are interspersed with short conceptual questions designed to challenge students to think about the material as it is being presented. We present a portrait of the many instructors teaching with PI and the settings in which it is being used as well as data on the effectiveness of PI in enhancing student learning in diverse settings. The wide variety of implementations suggests that PI is a highly adaptable strategy that can work successfully in almost any environment. We also provide recommendations for those considering adopting PI in their classes. Classroom demonstrations are an important aspect of many introductory science courses, but there is little evidence supporting their educational effectiveness. We explore the effect of different modes of presentation on enhancing student learning from demonstrations. Our results show that students who actively engage with a demonstration by predicting the outcome before it is conducted are better able to recall and explain the scenario posed by that demonstration. As preliminary work for the creation of an inventory of conceptual understanding in introductory biology, we discuss results from a survey of vocabulary familiarity and understanding in an undergraduate genetics course. Students begin introductory classes with significant gaps in their understanding, some of which are retained beyond instruction. Further, they overstate their knowledge, and the degree to which they exhibit overconfidence increases over the period of instruction.
See also: Other education
Last updated on 07/24/2019