PS 4-43 - Utilization of a computer tutorial to compare science majors and non-science majors in their use and knowledge of the scientific process, problem solving and critical thinking skills

Monday, August 8, 2011
Exhibit Hall 3, Austin Convention Center
Jaclyn E. McLean and Adam A. Leff, Dept. of Biological Sciences, Kent State University, Kent, OH

An ecology problem solving computer tutorial was developed to study how undergraduate students approach the scientific process as it relates to ecological problems and to better teach students the scientific method.  In this tutorial, students were given a scenario in which they must investigate the scientific problem of frog malformations and deformities.  The tutorial allows students to choose different tasks in order to help them understand the problem, scientifically evaluate the problem, and come up with solutions to the problem.  These tasks follow the basic steps and scientific method utilized by biologists.  Tasks include: collecting references and background information, viewing field site videos, formulating hypotheses, choosing data to collect, analyzing data, summarizing findings, and posing solutions to the problem.  The computer tracks students progress through the tutorial and time on task.  Within each task, students produce materials that are graded based on predetermined rubrics.  Rubrics measure technical skills such as making a readable graph with proper labels and scales.  In addition to the technical rubrics for each task there is a critical thinking rubric which measures how the student approached the problem and if higher order thinking skills were used, as defined by Bloom’s Taxonomy.


For this study, underclassmen (Freshmen and Sophomore class standing) science majors and underclassmen non-science majors were tested to compare how each group would approach the tutorial. It was hypothesized that due to their science background and current classes, science majors would complete the tutorial both more efficiently, in terms of actual time spent on tasks, and effectively, in terms of rubric scores, than non-science majors.  Analysis of 47 tutorial participants indicated that science majors were more effective in the final outcome of the tutorial as evidenced by significantly higher rubrics scores for six out of seven tasks.  However science majors did not complete the tutorial more efficiently having spent 2.7 times longer on total task time than non-majors.  Analyzing individual tasks illustrated how non-science majors may have approached the tutorial with a different strategy than science majors.  Non- majors spent twice the amount of time using web browsers for finding references compared to science majors who spent significantly less time using web browsers and more time using scientific databases, such as biological abstracts to look for references.  Additionally, science majors spent significantly more time (2.6X) viewing field site videos to collect information then did non-science majors. 

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