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Assessing Impacts on Student Learning in Mathematics from Inclusion of Biological, Real-World Examples


Investigators: Pamela Bishop, Louis Gross, Suzanne Lenhart, Kelly Sturner

This project will develop and validate an interdisciplinary instrument–a Quantitative Biology Concept Inventory (QBCI) – which will allow assessment of mathematics and quantitative concept learning goals in the context of concrete, real-world life science data examples and models. A research goal of the project is to investigate and compare the learning impact on the ability of life science students, who take a mathematics course that places mathematics in a biological context to students who do not, on their understanding of mathematical concepts as well as the skills to transfer the knowledge and understanding to applications. The instrument will provide insight as to whether explicit examples based on experimental or observational data, or more general examples of biological phenomena (e. g. population growth, drug decay) without explicit data are equally effective in advancing quantitative understanding. Overall, the project will provide a novel means to assess different pedagogical approaches to mathematical and quantitative concepts and skill development for life science undergraduates. At the national level, the QBCI instrument will serve as a model to assess the impact of interdisciplinary examples on enhancing mathematical and quantitative comprehension and skill development, impacting many areas of undergraduate STEM education beyond life science students.

Development Process of the QBCI

Assessing Impacts on Student Learning in Mathematics from Inclusion of Biological, Real-World Examples

The QBCI is funded through a National Science Foundation award to the University of Tennessee. A list of quantitative concepts representative of core quantitative competencies of life science majors was produced from the BIO2010 and AAAS Vision and Change reports, with a final decision to focus on calculus concepts. Project PIs collaborated to develop items using existing literature and numerous resources, resulting in a total of 52 test items. A panel of 85 expert reviewers were then asked to review a random assignment of questions and to rate each item for 1) representativeness of the concept, 2) clarity of the item, and 3) overall quality of the question. A content validity index (CVI), computed for each item by summing the number of reviewers who gave a 3 or 4 (on a scale of 1 to 4) rating across all three rating content areas and dividing by the number of experts on the panel for that question. Overall mean ratings were used to determine the most defensible items to use for student focus groups and a pilot study. Focus groups were held with students during Spring 2016. Validation of the QBCI is ongoing as the current version of the instrument is piloted to undergraduate students at the university during Fall 2016 and Spring 2017.

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