More evidence of benefits from increased course structure

Sarah L. Eddy and Kelly A. Hogan (2014) recently published a paper “Getting Under the Hood: How and for Whom Does Increasing Course Structure Work?”, a nice example of the next wave of discipline-based educational research (DBER) that goes beyond asking “Does active learning work?” to explore details of how active learning interventions actually work, and differential impacts on sub-populations of students. Here, Eddy and Hogan describe their results of a study based on the work led by Scott Freeman at the University of Washington (see Freeman et al. 2011, Haak et al. 2011).

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Test question quandary: multiple-choice exams reduce higher-level thinking

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.

The study:

Graph showing lower fairness in grading SET in MC+SA group

Figure 4. from Stanger-Hall (2012). “Student evaluations at the end of the semester. The average student evaluation scores from the MC + SA class are shown relative to the MC class (baseline).” Maybe reports of student evaluations of teaching should also include a breakdown of assessments used in each class?

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.)

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