How students think about experimental design: Novel conceptions revealed by in-class activities

Sara E. Brownell, Mary Pat Wenderoth, Roddy Theobald, Nnadozie Okoroafor, Mikhail Koval, Scott Freeman, Cristina L. Walcher-Chevillet, Alison J. Crowe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Scopus citations

Abstract

Experimental design is a fundamental skill for scientists, but it is often not explicitly taught in large introductory biology classes. We have designed two pencil-and-paper in-class activities to increase student understanding of experimental design: an analyze activity, in which students are asked to evaluate data, and a design activity, in which students are asked to propose a novel experiment. We found that students who completed the design activity but not the analyze activity performed significantly better on the Expanded Experimental Design Ability Tool (E-EDAT) than did students who attended a didactic lecture about experimental design. By using grounded theory on student responses on the in-class activities, we have identified a novel set of accurate and inaccurate conceptions focused on two aspects of experimental design: sample size and the repetition of experiments. These findings can be used to help guide science majors through mastering the fundamental skill of designing rigorous experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-137
Number of pages13
JournalBioScience
Volume64
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • active learning
  • education
  • experimental design
  • large lecture
  • learning progression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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  • Cite this

    Brownell, S. E., Wenderoth, M. P., Theobald, R., Okoroafor, N., Koval, M., Freeman, S., Walcher-Chevillet, C. L., & Crowe, A. J. (2014). How students think about experimental design: Novel conceptions revealed by in-class activities. BioScience, 64(2), 125-137. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bit016