Evaluate scientific information


This design memo describes a strategy implemented in Introductory Biology for non-majors during the Fall 2014 Semester.  This exercise was implemented in the lecture portion of the course over a series of 3 different lectures throughout the semester. The goal of the exercise was to help non science majors better evaluate scientific information as well as become engaged in the subject matter.

What is the strategy?

Two weeks after completing the lab activity, students were required to bring 2 copies of their lab reports for an in-class peer review activity. During lab class, each student graded the formal lab reports of two of their classmates using the grading rubric given to them at the beginning of the semester. This means that each student had their formal lab report graded by two of their classmates. After receiving input and grades from their peers, students had 1 week to incorporate revisions before turning in a final copy to their instructors.

At the first class meeting during the third week of the semester I post a few articles on blackboard as assigned reading before they come to class. In class I walk them through the articles and how to evaluate the validity of the information included. During the sixth week I provide more articles this time on specific topics related to what we’ve already discussed this semester and post them on blackboard for students to read before coming to class. In class in groups students choose one article and assesses credibility and validity of the article (based on checklist provided on blackboard).  Before the next class students post credibility of article results on blackboard. During the tenth week I ask students to find their own articles about something of interest related to the topics we’ve discussed in class during the semester. Students then post the article and a two paragraph summary of the article as well as the checklist of credibility on a discussion board on blackboard.

Why should I use it?

(How are they useful for the students? How are they useful to the instructor?)

I use this exercise to encourage students to question the validity of the information that they read. The exercise also forces them to seek biological information and to engage in the material beyond my lectures and what they read in the textbook. It also has student working in groups and discussing biological issues which further raises awareness of biological issues, and helps them to think critically about the information that they do read.

How do these tasks fit into my class?  How long will they take?

I dedicate about 30 minutes to complete this task in each of three different lecture sessions. The topics always relate back to other material that we have discussed in lecture but go more in depth thus reinforcing some of the material that was already presented.

How should I grade these problems?  Should I grade these problems?

I grade these problems because students most likely wouldn’t do them if they couldn’t earn points for their efforts. I add these exercises to the larger grouping of homework assignments throughout the semester. Each exercise is worth 10 points and count as the homework for the week. Each week of the semester has a different 10 point homework assignment.

What pitfalls do I need to avoid?

A solid rubric or checklist for assessing credibility is critical, without it the students won’t know what information to look for in their articles. Students also need to be given potential sources of where to find articles.

What do I need to explain to my students about this new classroom activity?

One should explain what the assignment is, why you are assigning it, and how it will be graded. The assignment is a means to instruct students on how to evaluate scientific information and it is being assigned to help students think critically about the information that they read. I give them a rubric for the grading.