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VOLUME 5 TEACHING ISSUES AND EXPERIMENTS IN ECOLOGY
RESEARCH

Assessing Gains in Undergraduate Students' Abilities to Analyze Graphical Data

AUTHOR

Chris Picone1, Jennifer Rhode2, Laura Hyatt3, and Tim Parshall4

1 - Department of Biology, Fitchburg State College, Fitchburg, MA 01420 (cpicone@fsc.edu)

2 - Department of Biological and Environmental Science, Georgia College & State University, Milledgeville, GA 31061 (jennifer.rhode@gcsu.edu)

3 - Department of Biology, Rider University, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648 (lhyatt@rider.edu)

4 - Department of Biology, Westfield State College, Westfield, MA 01086 (tparshall@wsc.ma.edu)

ABSTRACT

Analytical and graphing skills are critical to scientific understanding. While these skills are usually taught in ecology and environmental science courses, rarely are they assessed. How much do students' analytical skills improve over the course of a semester? What areas provide the most challenges for students? In this study we assessed analytical and graphing abilities in 240 students at four colleges and universities. Over the course of a semester, we integrated graphing and data analysis throughout our lecture and lab courses, using active-learning exercises that we developed. We assessed student skills before, during, and after the courses. In post-tests, most students (75-90 %) were adept at interpreting simple bar graphs and scatterplots, and their skills in making graphs from raw data improved considerably. However, little improvement was found in their understanding of independent and dependent variables, and most students (> 50-75 %) had difficulty properly summarizing trends from data with variation. Students also did not improve in their abilities to interpret complex bar graphs with interactions. These challenges indicate areas that may deserve attention from those who teach analytical skills at the college level. We recommend strategies to teach these skills and strategies to assess whether our teaching is effective.


KEY WORDS

Graphing, analytical skills, assessment, TIEE, pre- and post-test

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This project was supported by the National Science Foundation (DUE 0127388, DUE 0443714, and DUE 9952347) and by the TIEE researchers, Charlene D'Avanzo, Bruce Grant and Deborah Morris. David Boose kindly reviewed an earlier version of this project, and two anonymous reviewers provided valuable input on this manuscript.

CITATION

Chris Picone, Jennifer Rhode, Laura Hyatt, and Tim Parshall. June 2007, posting date. Assessing Gains in Undergraduate Students' Abilities to Analyze Graphical Data. Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology, Vol. 5: Research #1 [online]. http://tiee.ecoed.net/vol/v5/research/picone/abstract.html