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Date Permissions Signed
Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Donovan, Deborah Anne, 1964-
Borda, Emily J.
Peterson, Merrill A., 1965-
Collaboration between biology and mathematics has led to important advances in both fields. Recent advances in technology have made biology more quantitative, which makes interdisciplinary work increasingly important. In contrast, biology education has historically been less quantitative than the other sciences despite the need for biology education to prepare students to be scientifically literate and to do research. Biology educators must prepare students with appropriate skills to understand, communicate, collaborate, and compete for funding in this increasingly quantitative field. There is a growing awareness at many universities that undergraduate biology students frequently lack basic quantitative skills. This project followed models from other institutions to modify an introductory-level biology course with the goal of improving the basic quantitative skills of students in that course. The faculty identified basic quantitative skills that they considered the most important for undergraduate biology students in the core major courses: (1) using and manipulating fractions, proportions, ratios, and percentages; (2) reading and analyzing data, including graphical presentation and interpretation; (3) using and manipulating logarithms; (4) using and manipulating exponents; and (5) translating biological problems into quantitative problems and vice versa. I worked with students in Biology 205, the second quarter of a three-course introductory series. Biology 205 is entitled Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology. I created an assessment to evaluate these five skills in Biology 205 students. Based on the assessment results I created three activities targeted to improve the areas of deficiency within the identified skills. I administered these treatment activities to half of Biology 205 lab sections during the winter and spring quarters 2013. I also administered control activities to the other half of Biology 205 sections to control for the potentially confounding effects of (1) skills naturally improving over the quarter and (2) skills improving due to increased effort time. I administered the assessment as a pre-test and post-test before and after the activities to evaluate if the activities improved students' basic quantitative skills. To answer my research questions, I used statistical analyses that, to my knowledge, have not been used for biology education research before: generalized linear mixed models (GLMMs). Treatment was not included in the best-fit model predicting whether or not students answered questions correctly. However, the treatment group appeared to perform better on the post-test while the control group scored similarly on the pre- and posttests. I also administered a population demographics survey to identify the important factors that predicted students' incoming basic quantitative skills, and how those skills changed throughout the quarter. The important factors were: highest college-level mathematics course completed, transfer history, major, year in school and gender. I offer recommendations for future work that should be more effective at improving the basic quantitative skills of biology undergraduates.
Western Washington University
Copying of this thesis in whole or in part is allowable only for scholarly purposes. It is understood, however, that any copying or publication of this thesis for commercial purposes, or for financial gain, shall not be allowed without the author's written permission.
Dethier, Liliane E. (Liliane Elyse), "Assessing the potential to improve the basic quantitative skills of undergraduate biology students" (2014). WWU Graduate School Collection. 322.