Online, Interactive Modules Improve Quantitative Skills in Community College Biology Students
Published in: Journal of Science Education and TechnologyLogin to get access
Introductory courses in biology often lack sufficient emphasis on quantitative skills and interdisciplinary problem solving, leaving many students unprepared for more advanced biology coursework and hampering their ability to pursue biology research careers. MathBench Biology Modules were created to enhance the quantitative skills of biology students by leveraging the unique advantages of the online environment (e.g., self-pacing, opportunities for practice, and immediate, individualized feedback). Using a pre-/post-design, we tested the ability of MathBench modules to improve student quantitative skills and their attitudes towards the integration of math and biology in a community college introductory biology course, where instructors face multiple challenges to integrating quantitative content. Ten sections of the course incorporated MathBench into laboratory and lecture content (MathBench group, N = 124 students), while five sections covered the same laboratory and lecture content without MathBench (comparison group, N = 31 students). On average, students who used MathBench experienced gains in their quantitative skills, while those in the comparison group did not. For students with the lowest level of preparation in math, using MathBench was associated with improvements in quantitative skill only if they were concurrently enrolled in a math class. Neither group of students demonstrated changes over the semester in their attitudes towards the integration of math and biology. Qualitative data indicated that MathBench group students could identify multiple aspects of how MathBench contributed to their learning, including providing new content, alternative approaches to learning, and additional opportunities to practice new skills. Our work demonstrates how learner-centered technologies can be used effectively to supplement traditional instruction in the community college context.