Smith Publishes Paper in Life Sciences Education

smithProfessor Julia I. Smith, PhD, has published “Development of the Biology Card Sorting Task to Measure Conceptual Expertise in Biology” in Life Sciences Education. The paper, which is the cover story of the journal’s December issue, is the result of a collaborative research effort among Holy Names University, Northeastern University, and the Science Education Partnership and Assessment Laboratory at San Francisco State University. Six HNU undergraduates co-authored the article.

“We present the development of a novel assessment tool, the Biology Card Sorting Task, designed to probe how individuals organize their conceptual knowledge of biology,” Smith said. “Results suggest that the task is robust in distinguishing populations of biology experts and novices, and represents a useful tool for probing emerging biology conceptual expertise.”

As there is currently no method for measuring conceptual expertise in biology, the Biology Card Sorting Task (BCST) fills a long-standing gap in the assessment of undergraduate students. Policy makers, funding agencies, science departments, and individual biology educators will be able to use the BCST to make informed decisions about programmatic and curricular improvements.

Smith says that the students who participated in the writing of the paper were afforded a firsthand look into scientific process.

“Too often in biology, undergraduate course curricula emphasize facts over process. Participation in scholarly research projects provides students with firsthand experience in the process of science,” she said. “They gain a deeper appreciation for the primary literature because they are involved in the process of making it, not just reading it. Scholarly research is an inquiry-based learning experience and, as such, fosters the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”

She says that this type of project can also help students clarify their career goals and learn how to strike a balance between independent and collaborative work.

Adrian Peer, a 2011 graduate and one of the students who participated in the project, said that working with Smith and classmates helped prepare him for graduate school. “I was able to see first hand what goes into an academic study at the post-graduate level while I was still an undergrad. I was extremely thankful for that early exposure when I entered my master’s program at UC Davis after completing my bachelor’s degree at HNU,” he said.

Life Sciences Education is a publication of The American Society for Cell Biology. Click here to read Smith’s paper.

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