Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Degree Granting Department
Biology (Integrative Biology)
Luanna Prevost, Ph.D.
Stephen Deban, Ph.D.
Philip Motta, Ph.D.
Jeffrey Raker, Ph.D.
anatomy & physiology, core concepts, lexical analysis, machine scoring
There has been a call from the national community of biologists and biology educators to increase biological literacy of undergraduate students, including understanding and application of core concepts. The structure and function relationship is a core concept identified by the wider biology community and by physiology faculty. Understanding of the core concept structure and function across multiple levels of organization may promote biological literacy. My research focused on the development of formative written assessment tools to provide insight into student understanding of structure and function in anatomy and physiology.
In chapter two I developed automated scoring tools to facilitate the evaluation of written formative assessment based on structure and function. Formative written assessments allow students to demonstrate their thinking by encouraging students to use their diverse ideas to construct their responses. However, formative written assessments are not often used in the undergraduate biology classroom due to barriers, such as time spent grading and the intricacy of interpreting student responses. Automated scoring, such as lexical analysis and machine scoring, can examine student thinking in formative written responses. The core concept structure-function provides a foundation upon which many topics in anatomy and physiology can be built across all levels of organization. My research focused on the development of formative written assessment tools and automated scoring models to provide insight into student understanding of structure and function. My research objective was to examine student understanding of a core concept in anatomy and physiology by using automated scoring. Ten short answer questions were administered to students in a junior-level General Physiology course and a sophomore level Human Anatomy and Physiology course at a large Southeastern public university, and to students in Human Anatomy and Physiology courses at two Southeastern two-year colleges. Seventeen students were interviewed to determine if their responses to the short answer questions accurately reflected their thinking. Lexical analysis and machine scoring were used to build predictive models that can analyze student thinking about the structure-function relationship in anatomy and physiology with high agreement to human scoring. Less than half of the student responses in this study demonstrated conceptual understanding of the structure-function relationship. Automated scoring can successfully evaluate a large number of student responses in Human Anatomy and Physiology and General Physiology courses.
In chapter three I compared conceptual understanding of structure and function in 2-yr and 4-yr student responses. Anatomy and physiology is taught at a variety of institutions, including 2-year community colleges and 4-year research universities. Regardless of the type of institution offering anatomy and physiology, conceptual understanding of the structure-function relationship is necessary to understand physiological processes. The focus of my research was to compare conceptual understanding of 2-year versus 4-year anatomy and physiology students by using written formative assessment. I hypothesize that differences in students’ academic readiness between two-year and four-year institutions may affect conceptual understanding and student performance. Based on prior research, I predict that there will be a difference in conceptual understanding of the core concept structure and function between two-year and four-year students in anatomy and physiology, and that the students at the two-year institution will not perform as well as the students at the four-year institution, as measured by performance on the constructed response questions. Responses to eight short answer essay questions were collected from students at both types of institutions from students in human anatomy and physiology over six semesters. My results demonstrated that there is a difference in conceptual understanding of the structure-function relationship between 2-year and 4-year students in anatomy and physiology with more 4-year students mentioning SRF concepts in their responses compared to the 2-year students. A potential reason for this difference may be college readiness. There was no difference in performance between institution types on structure-function concepts examined in the A&P II course. My results suggested that students may benefit from a focus on core concepts within the content of anatomy and physiology courses. This focus should occur in both the first and second semesters of anatomy and physiology. Instructors can use written formative assessment to allow students to demonstrate their conceptual understanding within the organ systems.
In chapter four I investigated how question features affect student responses to anatomy and physiology formative assessment questions. Short answer essay questions contain features which are elements of the question which aid students in connecting the question to their existing knowledge. Varying the features of a question may be used to provide insight into the different stages of students’ emerging biological expertise and differentiate novice students who have memorized an explanation from those who exhibit understanding. I am interested in examining the cognitive level of questions, the use of guiding context/references in question prompts, and the order of questions, and how these features elicit student explanations of the core concept structure-function in anatomy and physiology. I hypothesized that varying the features of short answer questions may affect student explanations. Short answer questions based on the core concept ‘structure-function’ were administered to 767 students in a junior level General Physiology course and to 573 students in a sophomore level Human Anatomy and Physiology course at a large southeastern public university. Student responses were first human scored and then scored by using lexical analysis and machine scoring. Students were interviewed to examine their familiarity with levels of organization and to confirm their interpretation of the questions. Students demonstrated more conceptual understanding of four of the structure-function concepts when answering the understand questions and more conceptual understanding of two structure-function concepts when answering the apply questions. The question prompts provided a different context which may have influenced student explanations. There was no difference in conceptual understanding of the structure-function relationship with and without the use of a guiding context in the wording of the question prompt. For question sequence, students performed better on the last questions in the sequence, regardless of whether the last question was easier or more difficult. Instructors should provide students with questions in varying contexts and cognitive levels will allow students to demonstrate their heterogeneous ideas about a concept.
Scholar Commons Citation
Carter, Kelli Patrice, "Investigating Student Conceptual Understanding of Structure and Function by Using Formative Assessment and Automated Scoring Models" (2019). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.