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Using Targeted Active-Learning Exercises and Diagnostic Question Clusters to Improve Students' Understanding of Carbon Cycling in Ecosystems

By April Cordero Maskiewicz, Heather Peckham Griscom and Nicole Turrill Welch

Abstract

In this study, we used targeted active-learning activities to help students improve their ways of reasoning about carbon flow in ecosystems. The results of a validated ecology conceptual inventory (diagnostic question clusters [DQCs]) provided us with information about students' understanding of and reasoning about transformation of inorganic and organic carbon-containing compounds in biological systems. These results helped us identify specific active-learning exercises that would be responsive to students' existing knowledge. The effects of the active-learning interventions were then examined through analysis of students' pre- and postinstruction responses on the DQCs. The biology and non–biology majors participating in this study attended a range of institutions and the instructors varied in their use of active learning; one lecture-only comparison class was included. Changes in pre- to postinstruction scores on the DQCs showed that an instructor's teaching method had a highly significant effect on student reasoning following course instruction, especially for questions pertaining to cellular-level, carbon-transforming processes. We conclude that using targeted in-class activities had a beneficial effect on student learning regardless of major or class size, and argue that using diagnostic questions to identify effective learning activities is a valuable strategy for promoting learning, as gains from lecture-only classes were minimal

Topics: Articles
Publisher: American Society for Cell Biology
OAI identifier: oai:pubmedcentral.nih.gov:3292066
Provided by: PubMed Central
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