Biology and Society is a one-semester course for non-majors. It is a traditional lecture course with lab for four credits. There are up to 54 students in the course (up to three lab sections of 18 students each).
Scores are comprised of:
- 20% lecture questions via MasteringBiology
- 40% exams (online, in class, group exams and a cumulative final exam)
- 30% lab reports
- 10% participation
The students are required to complete one or two assignments per week, for a total of about 20 for the semester. These assignments are formative assessments on material that is going to be covered in class. The questions include every answer type, such as Activities, Tutorials, Test Bank questions, New York Times Articles, multiple choice questions, BioFlix animations, etc.
I use the data (time, difficulty and completion rates) to assess the individuals within the class. I don't yet compare my class results to the system data as this version of the product is still in beta. I like to review which particular questions the students struggle with the most, by reviewing the lowest scores by item. I use this item analysis to inform my next lecture.
This is why I make assignments due one hour before the lecture. I find that the program both validates where I expected the students to struggle, as well as reveals some surprises where the students had unexpected problems.
The scores of the students correlate to how much effort students are putting into their MasteringBiology homework and their coursework overall. The time data gives me an early indicator of who might struggle later on in the course. In the past, I used to have to wait until the first exam to find out, but one exam doesn't give as much information as weekly formative assessment can provide. By the second or third week in the course, MasteringBiology helps me identify which students need more help. It is so much faster and more frequent.
MasteringBiology is well received by the students. They ask about its content in class; and more importantly, their questions are good. It is clear the students are engaging with content. I don't believe that prior to MasteringBiology the students were spending as much time outside of class engaging with course material. In a typical week, they are spending 30–60 minutes on homework; more in researching and reading.
Perhaps the nicest thing is that students get why MasteringBiology is important in the course. They appreciate the value of the program to their education. They can see it is not busywork.
MasteringBiology allows me to document outcomes. At my school, there are certain expected outcomes required for educational science courses. For example, one outcome must be that a student can demonstrate the ability to read and understand popular accounts of scientific advances. So assigning the New York Times articles in MasteringBiology provides me with accountable data on student time and scores, which I can then turn over to the General Education committee. In the future, I can design assignments to match the established outcomes from the committee.
For students, MasteringBiology is a tutorial and feedback system which helps them learn the material. For instructors, it is a window into the level of understanding achieved or not achieved by those students.