The course is Principles of Biological Science. This traditional introductory biology course is for non-majors. There are 189 students, mostly freshman and sophomores. It is a one semester course with a lab. The ordering of the course is unique, starting with the macro and working backwards to the micro. Topics are covered in this order: ecology, genetics, evolution, chemistry, and cells/cellular respiration. (It was discovered that students do better on evolution if it is preceded by genetics.)
Course grades are comprised of:
- 1/3 is based on labs. Students take quizzes, complete worksheets, and write a lab report in every lab session.
- 1/3 is based on mid-quarter exams and final exam. Exams are multiple-choice-based.
- 1/3 is based on homework—a combination of online quizzes, participation in class and a choice of either doing MasteringBiology online exercises or completing a small group research project.
Originally, clickers were going to be used to prepare students. But when the offer came to trial run MasteringBiology in beta mode for non-majors, it seemed like a good way to use MasteringBiology to help prepare students. Half of the participation grade comes from the online quizzes given in the program. The goal of the quiz questions is to motivate students to complete the homework reading. Students must get 9 out of 10 questions correct to score 3 points. Lower than 8 points, students earn 1 point. They earn this one point now because they are helping to beta test the product. Each item ends with a survey for students to complete; and so they are awarded credit for this participation. Students who do not attempt the quiz receive no points.
MasteringBiology may also be used as an optional homework assignment. Students are given a choice between completing a small group research project or doing MasteringBiology online exercises. The number of students who chose online exercises instead of group research projects:
- 38 students chose group project
- 147 chose online exercises (via MasteringBiology)
- 4 students have either dropped or are choosing not to participate at all.
The MasteringBiology exercises consist of material not covered in class or material that goes into greater detail. The homework is made up of test bank questions, tutorials and activities. There are 10 points given per activity.
As a form of review, MasteringBiology seems to be working. About 70% of the students appear to be reading the text based on their online quizzes. There are also supplemental reading assignments that do not have any quizzes attached to them. In this case, only about 20-25% of the students appear to be reading the supplemental readings. Thus, accountability via MasteringBiology seems successful in motivating the students to keep up with their weekly reading assignments.
The data collection inside MasteringBiology gives insight into student motivation and understanding. Students might come to office hours complaining that they didn't understand the material, but the program can show that they spent 5 minutes on a quiz, instead of the class average of about 25 minutes. Students can see this data and are easily persuaded that the effort they put into the homework is reflected in their learning outcome.
MasteringBiology keeps students on track with weekly assignments. It is easy for me to track their progress and commitment to the course.