How Much Can Students Gain in Data Analysis and Critical Thinking Skills in One Semester?

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Background/Question/Methods: The effective preservation and sustainable use of ecosystems is a complex endeavor that requires proficiency in skills of critical thinking, data analysis, oral communication, broad synthesis of information and teamwork across diverse groups. However, there is concern that US undergraduate science students do not currently develop these fundamental process skills they will need as professionals. In this study, we investigate how we can best ‘operationalize’ the teaching of process skills and how we can assess their development in undergraduate students. We are implementing a multi-year, multi-institutional research project to: (1) develop a set of instructional materials and assessment tools for critical thinking, oral communication, and data analysis; and (2) pilot these materials in a diversity of classroom settings under two instructional modalities: individual student reflection versus intensive classroom discussion of the skill.

Results/Conclusions: Twenty-four conservation biologists have collaborated during the last year to create and validate instructional materials for process skills development, led by the Network of Conservation Educators and Practitioners (ncep.amnh.org). The instructional set for each skill consisted of pre/post student self-assessments, two exercises with rubrics for evaluation of student performance, and pre/post exercise content assessments. In fall 2011, nine professors piloted these materials in biology, ecology, and conservation biology courses. We present preliminary results from a subset of their students, from instructional units on data analysis using an intensive classroom discussion (DA; N=22) and critical thinking using individual student reflection (CT; N=20). For DA, we find significant increases in student self-confidence on data representation and interpretation (P0.05). For both skills, we find gains in content knowledge after the application of exercises (DA: g=0.22±0.082; CT: g=0.4±0.11). Observed gains in the skills vary depending on the aspect analyzed. For DA, students experienced significant gains in data representation and interpretation (V=17, P


Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting (ESA)


Portland, OR