Examining the Effects of Students' Classroom Expectations on Undergraduate Biology Course Reform

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Hall, Kristi Lyn
Redish, Edward F.
In this dissertation, I perform and compare three studies of introductory biology students' classroom expectations -- what students expect to be the nature of the knowledge that they are learning, what they think they should be (or are) doing in order to learn, and what they think they should be (or are) doing in order to be successful. Previous work has shown that expectations can impact how students approach learning, yet biology education researchers have been reluctant to acknowledge or address the effects of student expectations on curricular reform (NRC, 2012). Most research in biology education reform has focused on students' conceptual understandings of biology and the efficacy of specific changes to content and pedagogy. The current research is lacking a deeper understanding of how students perceive the classroom environment and how those perceptions can shape students' interactions with the content and pedagogy. For present and future reforms in biology to reach their full potential, I argue that biology education should actively address the different ways students think about and approach learning in biology classes. The first study uses a Likert-scale instrument, adapted from the Maryland Physics Expectations Survey (Redish, Saul, & Steinberg, 1998). This new survey, the Maryland Biology Expectations Survey (MBEX) documents two critical results in biology classrooms: (i) certain student-centered pedagogical contexts can produce favorable changes in students' expectations, and (ii) more traditional classroom contexts appear to produce negative epistemological effects. The second study utilizes a modified version of the MBEX and focuses on students' interdisciplinary views. This study documents that: (i) biology students have both discipline-specific and context-specific classroom expectations, (ii) students respond more favorably to interdisciplinary content in the biology courses we surveyed (as opposed to biology content introduced into the physics courses we surveyed), and (iv) biology faculty are not fully "on board" with interdisciplinary and integrative curriculum initiatives commonly endorsed in the current reform literature. The third study is a case study of students' classroom expectations. From this data corpus, I have identified distinct patterns of biology-specific classroom expectations. I believe these expectations have important implications for how researchers should approach curricular reforms in the future.