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Q4B Inventories Hitting The Mark

By Thomas Deane

Following more than two years of hard work, the many collaborators of the Questions for Biology (Q4B) project were delighted to see their efforts really begin to bear fruit.

Great progress was made in gaining instructor buy-in, in developing a bank of concept inventories, and in subsequently implementing them in a multitude of classes to inform teaching practices and improve the student experience at UBC.

Three inventories were fully validated and used in multiple sections of no fewer than seven different science courses designed for first, second and third-year biology students. Almost 2,000 individuals from that demographic took part in these pre and post-course deployments over the past 12 months.

And the early signs were extremely positive that these large-scale deployments were proving useful for instructors and students alike.

To highlight the point, Dr. James Cooke used the Biological Experimental Design Concept Inventory (BEDCI) in his first-year ecology, genetics and evolution class to gain insight into the misconceptions holding back student progress.

He was particularly impressed by the extent to which the results allowed him to adapt his teaching to the specific needs of his students.

He said: “As an instructor, the big benefit of using a concept inventory is that it allows me to tailor my upcoming lectures around the knowledge that the students already have, (or don’t have!)”

“For example, in a concept inventory run at the beginning of the present semester, my students were able to identify that genetic variation exists between organisms, but struggled to understand how that variety came to be.”

“Knowing this, I spent less lecture time trying to convince them about the genetic variation between organisms, but more time explaining how that variation came to be.”

As well as aiding students by allowing instructors to design class-specific lesson plans, Q4B’s concept inventories proved useful to students by giving them an idea of where certain gaps lie in their knowledge, and to what extent they are confident in ruling out common misconceptions held by their peers.

As many students said, the results of these inventories really showed whether or not they have mastered conceptual understanding in certain areas, rather than just learned “textbook definitions” or “stock answers”.

And, critically, this often prompted them to explore things in more detail than was previously the case.

“Working on the questions was one of the best parts of my undergraduate experience,” explained Michael Fenrich, a recent UBC graduate who completed a directed studies module assessing the impact of inventory questions on student learning in a third-year laboratory skills course.

“It helped me gain some valuable research experience, and it also allowed me to really examine how my own process of learning had progressed throughout my time in university.”

The Q4B team were delighted to have seen so many people at UBC benefit from the use of these concept inventories already, but one of the project’s major aims was to make its concept inventories freely available to registered instructors at institutions across the globe.

The last 12 months saw them used at a number of other universities across North America, and hopes were high that the list of institutions involved would continue to grow as the number of validated inventories does likewise.

Erica Jeffery, a research associate of Q4B who worked on a number of the inventories to date, said: “We are lucky that so many instructors and students at UBC have been supportive of our project — both in the development and the application of the concept inventories.”

“As much as we have learned from the development process alone, these inventories are ultimately tools to assist instructors in further developing their own teaching practices.”

“It’s been extremely rewarding to see the inventories being put to effective use so soon!”

As ever, team members encouraged interested parties to contact them directly via secure forms available on the People page of the Q4B website.



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