Classroom alignment does not aid in students’ higher-order cognitive skills
Achievement of higher-order cognitive skills (HOCS) of undergraduate students may not be met because of the misalignment of learning objectives, assessments, and curriculum, or lack of engaged teaching pedagogies. We hypothesized that, a) students’ HOCS would increase following one semester of general biology, b) HOCS would improve more in classrooms where there was either more HOCS questions, or more alignment, and c) the highest positive change would occur in classrooms where there was more HOCS assessments as well as better alignment. Two surveys (pre- and post-HOCS), were administered to approximately 1100 students spanning 13 non-major introductory biology sections, taught by 8 different instructors. The surveys included biology content from molecules to ecology to assess students’ HOCS. Each instructor’s learning objectives and assessments were assigned a score using Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning. Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) was used to evaluate the learner-centeredness of each classroom. HOCS scores were then compared to Blooms scores, alignment indices (difference of learning objective and assessment Blooms scores), and RTOP evaluations of the surveyed classrooms.
Previous work has shown that student learning gains are higher in individual classrooms where learner centered teaching is practiced, but few studies have compared an equal measure of performance on HOCS across classrooms, as investigated in our study. We found students significantly improved in HOCS following one semester of biology (t1697 =76.3, p<0.01), with an average improvement of 40.6%. Approximately 71% of all instructors’ learning objectives and assessments were aligned (R2 = 0.94). Comparison of HOCS between aligned and misaligned classes showed that alignment was not the source of variability in the change of HOCS (F1, 538 = 0.276, p=0.599). However, a relationship between assessments with higher Blooms scores and the difference in HOCS scores (F1, 538 = 13.878, p < 0.01) shows that higher-level cognitive assessments may foster an increase in students’ HOCS. This implies that alignment in classrooms does not aide in the development of HOCS in students, but rather that the administration of higher-level cognitive assessments is more valuable towards their development of cognitive skills. Therefore curricular planning may better benefit undergraduate students by focusing on the quality of questions asked on assessments rather than on the alignment of learning objectives and assessments.