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Use of scaffolds to support undergraduate students in learning and understanding biological concepts

Jaime L Sabel, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The biological sciences field is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary as it focuses on creating innovative new ideas and applications to address broad societal challenges (AAAS, 2011; NRC, 2009). Many undergraduate students take at least one biology course and, regardless of their career path, will encounter this increasingly interdisciplinary field. They will need a foundation of scientific understanding in order to make informed decisions about the science they encounter in their careers or in their everyday lives (NRC, 2012a). To accomplish this, undergraduate students need support to learn how to integrate individual concepts into complex biological systems in order to reach robust understanding. Providing feedback to students can help with this process, but it is often difficult for instructors to provide frequent and individualized feedback to students. However, instructors can support students to engage in self-regulation to monitor their own work, generate their own feedback, and use that feedback to improve their learning and understanding (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006; Sadler, 1989; Wood, 2009). One way in which instructors can help students in learning to engage in these processes is through the use of scaffolds that support students until they are able to perform a task or behavior on their own. The focus of the work presented here is on two different types of scaffolds used in two different learning environments to support students as they learned to engage in the metacognitive and self-reflective components of self-regulated learning. In the first study, undergraduate introductory biology students used post-assignment scoring rubrics with added reflection questions and instruction to learn to engage in metacognition and to consider their understanding of biological concepts. In the second study, undergraduate preservice teachers used formative assessment learning tasks to reflect on and enhance their own biological content knowledge, their evaluation of elementary students’ biological content knowledge, and their understanding of formative assessment practices. Overall findings indicated that the scaffolds examined in each study supported undergraduate students in enhancing their biological content understanding and in learning to engage in the metacognition and reflection components of self-regulated learning.

Subject Area

Pedagogy|Teacher education|Science education|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Sabel, Jaime L, "Use of scaffolds to support undergraduate students in learning and understanding biological concepts" (2016). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10100906.