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J Microbiol Biol Educ. 2014 Dec 15;15(2):259-67. doi: 10.1128/jmbe.v15i2.703. eCollection 2014 Dec.

The development and implementation of an instrument to assess students' data analysis skills in molecular biology.

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Department of Biology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599.
Department of Biology, Missouri Western State University, St. Joseph, MO 64507.
Department of Biology, North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC 27707.


Developing visual literacy skills is an important component of scientific literacy in undergraduate science education. Comprehension, analysis, and interpretation are parts of visual literacy that describe related data analysis skills important for learning in the biological sciences. The Molecular Biology Data Analysis Test (MBDAT) was developed to measure students' data analysis skills connected with scientific reasoning when analyzing and interpreting scientific data generated from experimental research. The skills analyzed included basic skills, such as identification of patterns and trends in data and connecting a method that generated the data, and advanced skills, such as distinguishing positive and negative controls, synthesizing conclusions, determining if data supports a hypothesis, and predicting alternative or next-step experiments. Construct and content validity were established and calculated statistical parameters demonstrate that the MBDAT is valid and reliable for measuring students' data analysis skills in molecular and cell biology contexts. The instrument also measures students' perceived confidence in their data interpretation abilities. As scientific research continues to evolve in complexity, interpretation of scientific information in visual formats will continue to be an important component of scientific literacy. Thus science education will need to support and assess students' development of these skills as part of students' scientific training.

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