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CBE Life Sci Educ. 2016 Spring;15(1):ar7. doi: 10.1187/cbe.15-05-0114.

Features of Knowledge Building in Biology: Understanding Undergraduate Students' Ideas about Molecular Mechanisms.

Author information

1
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721.
2
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721 mbolger@email.arizona.edu.

Abstract

Research has suggested that teaching and learning in molecular and cellular biology (MCB) is difficult. We used a new lens to understand undergraduate reasoning about molecular mechanisms: the knowledge-integration approach to conceptual change. Knowledge integration is the dynamic process by which learners acquire new ideas, develop connections between ideas, and reorganize and restructure prior knowledge. Semistructured, clinical think-aloud interviews were conducted with introductory and upper-division MCB students. Interviews included a written conceptual assessment, a concept-mapping activity, and an opportunity to explain the biomechanisms of DNA replication, transcription, and translation. Student reasoning patterns were explored through mixed-method analyses. Results suggested that students must sort mechanistic entities into appropriate mental categories that reflect the nature of MCB mechanisms and that conflation between these categories is common. We also showed how connections between molecular mechanisms and their biological roles are part of building an integrated knowledge network as students develop expertise. We observed differences in the nature of connections between ideas related to different forms of reasoning. Finally, we provide a tentative model for MCB knowledge integration and suggest its implications for undergraduate learning.

PMID:
26931398
PMCID:
PMC4803096
DOI:
10.1187/cbe.15-05-0114
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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