Analyzing long-term retention of information in science gateway course

Awardees: Susanne Jakob and William Anderson (FAS)

Summary: Awardees will administer a survey to Harvard College graduates to analyze the long-term retention of the concepts and abilities taught in a gateway science course.

Susanne Jakob and William J. Anderson (FAS) teach in a departmental gateway course (SCRB 10 – Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology) that focuses on the understanding of important biological concepts, the ability to think critically, and the ability to analyze and critique data. The course has undergone substantial reorganization and improvement since 2009 with an increasing focus on active learning elements, including the use of Learning Catalytics software in and outside of the classroom, more animated slides to better visualize critical concepts, and more interactive practice questions for exams.

With the aim of ultimately surveying students seven years after taking the course to investigate how the course changes affected long-term retention of relevant concepts, Jakob and Anderson administered a survey to investigate how changes in the SCRB 10 structure have impacted student opinion on learning and influenced long-term critical ways of thinking.

Between 47 and 75 percent of each class (Fall 2009 to Fall 2015) responded to the survey, corresponding to 265 individuals in total. Respondents reported enjoying many of the active learning activities and found them important for their learning. Interestingly, respondents indicated that they did not like doing the active learning exercises during section, even though they acknowledged that they were useful in learning the material. The information gathered will inform Phase 2 of their investigation—to measure long term retention—and will be presented to the department in a faculty meeting so that others can incorporate similar exercises. Jakob and Anderson are also submitting their work for an NSF application. They hope to publish the results of their two-part study.