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Biochem Mol Biol Educ. 2012 Mar-Apr;40(2):100-7. doi: 10.1002/bmb.20585. Epub 2012 Feb 28.

Using graph-based assessments within socratic tutorials to reveal and refine students' analytical thinking about molecular networks.

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Department of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA.


Biological systems, from the molecular to the ecological, involve dynamic interaction networks. To examine student thinking about networks we used graphical responses, since they are easier to evaluate for implied, but unarticulated assumptions. Senior college level molecular biology students were presented with simple molecular level scenarios; surprisingly, most students failed to articulate the basic assumptions needed to generate reasonable graphical representations; their graphs often contradicted their explicit assumptions. We then developed a tiered Socratic tutorial based on leading questions designed to provoke metacognitive reflection. The activity is characterized by leading questions (prompts) designed to provoke meta-cognitive reflection. When applied in a group or individual setting, there was clear improvement in targeted areas. Our results highlight the promise of using graphical responses and Socratic prompts in a tutorial context as both a formative assessment for students and an informative feedback system for instructors, in part because graphical responses are relatively easy to evaluate for implied, but unarticulated assumptions.

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