The Central Dogma of molecular biology: Investigating student challenges understanding transcription

TitleThe Central Dogma of molecular biology: Investigating student challenges understanding transcription
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsMoscarella, R, Mazur, A, Pelletreau, K, Smith, M, Urban‐Lurain, M, Merrill, J
Conference NameSociety for the Advancement of Biology Education Research
AbstractGenetics is fundamental for biology literacy, yet it is one of the biology disciplines most challenging for students. The central dogma explains how genetic information flows in biological systems and is necessary to understand gene expression and regulation; but evidence shows that first–‐year biology students do not have a clear model of what genes are and how they are expressed. Multiple–‐choice tests are a commonly used assessment instruments to evaluate student knowledge at the beginning of a biology course. However, multiple choice tests do not provide information about reasoning flaws or distinguish between novice and expert knowledge, which can be revealed by students writing. The Automated Analysis of Constructed Response (AACR) Research Group combines linguistic and statistical analyses to build models that allow the computerized analysis of students’ writing to predict expert scoring. Our research group created a constructed response (CR) question based on one item from the Genetic Concept Assessment to explore students’ understanding of the central dogma. The questions were administered as homework to 372 students in 2 Introductory Biology courses. The computerized analysis of CR answers pre–‐post instruction suggests learning gains after instruction for replication and translation, but not for transcription in both courses. We interviewed students (n=19) who attended one of the courses participating in the study to probe student thinking about these questions. Students were asked to think aloud while responding to the same AACR questions they answered in the previous semester. We are analyzing the interviews using qualitative, grounded theory methods. Some common features in all the interviews conducted are clear signs of memorization and inability to reason about central dogma. We would like to discuss how memorization strategies impair deep understanding of the mechanisms underlying the central dogma and explore instructional recommendations to improve, stimulate, and enhance students’ learning

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (DUE grants: 1438739, 1323162, 1347740, 0736952 and 1022653). Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.