AACR at MSU Mid-SURE Event

Thursday, July 23, 2015

AACR undergraduate researcher Alex Mazur presented her poster Student Writing Reveals Misconceptions in the Central Dogma of Biology at the Mid-Michigan Symposium for Undergraduate Research Experiences (Mid-SURE) held at MSU on July 22.  Alex has been working with the AACR research group for over a year.  She is a Senior majoring in Biological Science and Secondary Teaching and has been studying the challenges students have learning and applying Central Dogma and other genetics concepts in biology. Abstract of her posterAn understanding of genetics is fundamental for the comprehension of biology core concepts. Yet, many undergraduate students have difficulty understanding genetic concepts, particularly the central dogma of molecular biology. The central dogma, often stated simply as “DNA codes for RNA which codes for proteins” encapsulates the general principle that hereditary information resides in nucleic acids and this information is expressed ultimately as protein. The Automated Analysis of Constructed Response (AACR) research group is investigating the use of constructed response (CR) questions to gain greater understanding of student thinking about core biology concepts through students’ writing. AACR uses lexical and statistical analyses to predict expert scoring of student responses. We have developed CR questions to assess students’ understanding of how mutations affect the three processes involved in the central dogma and administered it to introductory biology students.  The results revealed that students’ understanding of transcription did not improve after instruction. We conducted interviews to better understand students’ difficulty when learning transcription. In the interviews, students were asked to respond aloud to the same CR question and we assessed how students translated this knowledge to other biological processes. The interviews provided insight into the aspects of transcription that students struggle to understand. We then designed and piloted a new CR question specific to one aspect of transcription identified as difficult for students. The interviews and new CR revealed students’ misconceptions already identified in the literature and a new one not previously reported.