Monday, August 3, 2009

PS 11-98: Helping students reason about energy and matter from cells to ecosystems with diagnostic question clusters

Charlene DAvanzo, Hampshire College, Charles W. Anderson, Michigan State University, Brook Wilke, Michigan State University, Nancy Stamp, Binghamton University - SUNY, Kathy S. Williams, San Diego State University, Alan B. Griffith, University of Mary Washington, Laurel M. Hartley, University of Colorado Denver, and Nancy J. Pelaez, Purdue University.

In this project, 15 faculty from a range of institutions used Diagnostic Questions Clusters (DQCs), diagnostic tools akin to concept inventories that are developed by rigorous education research. DQCs are designed to help faculty: 1) organize introductory courses around key concepts and biologically-principled thinking based on an overarching framework and 2) identify and gauge students' progress on specific principles especially problematic for students. In our Phase I CCLI grant DQCs concerning energy and matter (cell-ecosystem level) were refined via iterative research on students' extended written responses and interviews plus research and feedback from faculty using the DQCs. We also provided active learning approaches targeting students' understanding of challenging concepts and thinking concerning energy and matter which the faculty vetted and augmented. A key goal of the project is identifying  "what it takes" for faculty to effectively employ these diagnostics and interactive learning approaches in their introductory courses.  
In this session several posters relate how faculty integrated DQCs and interactive approaches into their courses, including their engagement in the DQC research, and what they learned by doing so. However, although most of the faculty were experienced with active teaching, it was clear that learning how to make best use of these diagnostic tools proved to be very challenging for them. Therefore, using concept inventories and other diagnostic tools to improve biology and ecology teaching will be more difficult than we anticipated.