We’ve recognized the power of feedback in our virtual labs and interactive chapters for a long time, but have been frustrated at how limited we are when our only ways of giving feedback are multiple choice and numerical questions. There are many situations in our labs where we want students to be able to express their own ideas, whether that be through short answers, through constructing graphs, or through demonstrating an idea by applying it within a simulation.
Thanks to a National Science Foundation grant from 2012 – 2016 and additional SimBio funding, we had an opportunity, together with teams from several universities (MIT, Utah State, Cal State Fullerton), to dream up new tools for giving feedback to students on complex tasks. The core idea of the project was to look for ways of lightly constraining open-ended activities enough to enable computer algorithms to accurately categorize where each student was confused, in order to provide specific feedback to each student. We wanted to do this without losing students ability to construct their own answers to questions (as opposed to selecting between a few answers as in multiple choice), and to conduct open-ended explorations in our simulations.
Most of our research was directed at two question formats which could replace short-answer essay questions: LabLibs and WordBytes; and towards a simulation for helping students design experiments. We also looked at an interface for helping students learn about graphing, and a number of other spin-offs from the idea of constrained exploration.
You’ll see the results of this project in quite a few SimBio labs, most notably our new Understanding Experimental Design lab and a revised tutorial-style Darwinian Snails lab on natural selection. You’ll also find elements from the research in Isle Royale on population growth and Mendelian Pigs on mendelian and population genetics, both of which were involved in aspects of the research. You’ll find the tools we developed used now in at least half a dozen other SimBio modules. Clearly we think that this idea of adding light constraints, and some of the new question formats we explored, have a lot of promise. You can see more formal evidence for that in some of the papers which are being published from the project (more coming soon), including:
- Clarke-Midura J., Pope D.S., Maruca, S., Abraham, J.K., Meir, E. 2018. Iterative design of a simulation-based module for teaching evolution by natural selection. Evolution: Education and Outreach Volume 11 Number 4, 1-17.
- Kim, K.J., Pope D.S., Wendel D., Meir E. 2017. WordBytes: Exploring an Intermediate Constraint Format for Rapid Classification of Student Answers on Constructed Response Assessments. Journal of Educational Data Mining, Volume 9 Number 2, 45 – 71
- Pope D.S., Rounds C. M., Clarke-Midura J. 2017. Testing the effectiveness of two natural selection simulations in the context of a large-enrollment undergraduate laboratory class. Evolution: Education and Outreach Volume 10 Number 3, 1-16.
This material is based upon work partially supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1227245. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.