Metacognition and Bloom’s Higher Order Questions in Biology 120

Edward Freeman, Associate Professor of Biology, St. John Fisher College

My action research project for the STEM Metacognition group involved the introduction of weekly quizzes into my freshman Introductory Biology course. Quiz questions focused on higher order questions from Bloom’s Taxonomy and were used to test the hypothesis that student performance on higher order exam questions would improve with increased exposure to these same question types through anonymous weekly quizzes.

Though the action research plan did not improve student performance on exams, there were other positive outcomes. Specifically, students appreciated the opportunity for additional practice and thought the idea of writing questions to further develop their own understanding of course content was a good use of class time. Additionally, following exam review and question type consideration students had a better grasp of why they performed poorly on exams. Note that poorly is a relative term and in this case it refers to their prior levels of performance in high school. College level coursework is an appropriate step up from the high school experience and for some this comes as quite a surprise. Therefore, students may have earned their first C, D or F on an exam and are interested in how they can improve their own performance. As they move forward in the Biology curriculum my hope is that their understanding of the different levels of knowledge facilitates their own efforts to master material at a level that will allow them to find success.

Along the way I learned that technology can be your friend, but only if you know what you want and how to properly use it. I struggled with the early quizzes because I was deploying them for the students through a course management system that encumbered the successful completion of the quizzes for a subset of students and or the interpretation of resultant data for me. I then switched to another provider and learned the hard way not to get too fancy. With that we were finally moving along smoothly, almost. It turns out that anonymity on the part of the students was a bigger factor than I had planned on. Anonymity can be a good thing because they can take chances with questions and not worry about others (me) knowing they answered incorrectly. However, anonymity can also be a bad thing if they decide to take advantage of it and not take the quizzes seriously. Buy- in on the project had not been an issue and the students seemed intrigued by the idea that I would involve them in the research process; apathy on their part was unexpected. Notably it was a small number of students that hid behind their anonymity and did not take quizzes seriously but it required me to strategize and determine better ways to deploy quizzes for the future. This project certainly taught me a number of unexpected things about how to manage this type of activity with students and it is these ‘lessons learned’ that will make this strategy more meaningful for my students in the future.

My task is now to take what I have learned and continue to do it, but more effectively, through reflection on the lessons I have learned. Further, I will be looking for strategies to bridge the gap between student exposure to and appreciation of Bloom’s Taxonomy and improving performance through use of that knowledge. Being in the metacognitive group has already facilitated my thinking on this through discussions at our affinity group meetings. Future action research (spring 14) will therefore be used to polish my efforts toward the original project and, importantly, to begin building that bridge.  For additional details, see my full report on Metacognition and Bloom’s Higher Order Questions in Biology 120.

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