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Undergraduate Biology Students' Engagement with Formative Assessments in and Out of Class

Dana L Kirkwood-Watts, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Formative assessments (FA), which can occur in or out of class, are a way for students to demonstrate their understanding of the material, to see progress, and to receive feedback from instructors related to their learning process. Examples of in-class FAs include clicker questions with peer discussion, while homework assignments are an example of an FA that occurs out-of-class. This dissertation explores the use and efficacy of in-class clicker questions as well as the use of the internet for out-of-class assessments. This study used both quantitative and qualitative approaches to explore these topics. In pairing clicker questions with at-home follow-up reflections to help students articulate and synthesize their understandings, we were able to examine how student answer patterns related to their underlying conceptions and to determine if revisiting concepts provided additional benefits. The results suggest that longer-term benefits of clickers and associated homework may stem from students having repeated opportunities to retrieve, refine, and reinforce emerging conceptions. When examining internet search strategies, we found that students tend to work in an iterative manner, shifting between reading the question, searching the internet, evaluating the search results, and developing an answer. We also found that there are subtle differences when answering a factual question versus an abstract question. These findings help expand existing frameworks to include a broader range of behaviors that students use when using search engines to answer discipline-based questions. Our results suggest instructors should consider more abstract questions as they design their homework tasks to encourage students to engage with more websites instead of being able to find the information on the results page, thus leveraging the internet as a resource to support students’ learning. Finally, we designed a homework assignment intended to augment our findings on internet search strategies. Through factor analysis, we found that there are four constructs for behaviors students exhibit when they are searching for biology information; however, these behaviors are not indicative of a correct answer to the biology question.

Subject Area

Biology|Education|Science education|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Kirkwood-Watts, Dana L, "Undergraduate Biology Students' Engagement with Formative Assessments in and Out of Class" (2023). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI30571377.