Last fall, I read an article in CBE-Life Sciences Education by Kathrin F. Stanger-Hall, Multiple-choice exams: an obstacle for higher-level thinking in introductory science classes. (CBE-Life Sciences Education, 2012, Vol 11(3), 294-306.) I was interested and disturbed by the findings … though not entirely surprised by them. When I got the opportunity to choose a paper for the oCUBE Journal Club, this was the one that first came to mind, as I’ve wanted to talk to other educators about it. I’m looking forward to talking to oCUBErs, but I suspect that there are many other educators who would also be interested in this paper, and some of the questions/concerns that it prompts.
Stanger-Hall conducted a study with two large sections of an introductory biology course, taught in the same term by the same instructor (herself), with differences in the types of questions used on tests for each section. One section was tested on midterms by multiple-choice (MC) questions only, while midterms in the other section included a mixture of both MC questions and constructed-response (CR) questions (e.g., short answer, essay, fill-in-the blank), referred to as MC+SA in the article. She had a nice sample size: 282 students in the MC section, 231 in the MC+SA section. All students were introduced to Bloom’s Taxonomy of thinking skills, informed that 25-30% of exam questions would test higher-level thinking*, and provided guidance regarding study strategies and time. Although (self-reported) study time was similar across sections, students in the MC+SA section performed better on the portion of the final exam common to both groups, and reported use of more active study strategies vs. passive ones. Despite higher performance, the MC+SA students did not like the CR questions, and rated “fairness in grading” lower than those in the MC-only section. (I was particularly struck by Figure 4, illustrating this finding.)
After returning from a week away, and (almost) catching up on emails, I wanted to just share a few of the things that came up in our first #microhangout. There are a number of topics that (at least some) microbiology educators appear to be interested in discussing, including: best practises for teaching certain microbiology topics/concepts/techniques; how to foster integration of concepts (within microbiology, but also across other areas); teaching evolution when students come from a variety of educational backgrounds/exposure to biology; aspects surrounding lecture capture (including privacy); effective use of class time; student attendance in classes (& posting of lecture slides in advance); use of clickers (personal or student response systems); case studies (e.g., see the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science website); the idea of a microbiology education (virtual) journal club; and sharing educational resources. When I get a bit more organized, I’ll see about setting up a poll for choosing a topic for the next #microhangout to be held in the near future. (Let me know if there are other topics that might be of interest!)
I would also appreciate a chance to chat with some microbiology undergrads and grad students about microbiology (concepts, learning), from the undergrad/grad student point of view. Again, I need to sort through some things, but if you are (or know) an undergraduate or graduate student in microbiology who might be interested in this type of discussion, I’d love to hear from you!