This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Characterizing and Changing Course Elements in Undergraduate Biology Education




Driessen, Emily

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Biological Sciences


I conducted a set of four studies to catalogue and examine course elements, including active learning strategies and evidence-based teaching practices, and their influence on student experiences and performance in college biology classes. In the first study, I defined the term “active learning” and catalogued the 300+ strategies used and researched in the context of biology education research, as it was previously amorphous. Second, I conducted a meta-analysis of the effect of group work on student performance in post-secondary biology courses, showing group work has the potential to increase student performance by approximately one letter grade. Third, I investigated student perceptions of and their preparation habits for online open-note exams in an undergraduate biology class, as compared to their previous experiences with closed-note exams in other classes. Results demonstrated (1) students perceived increased exam scores, decreased exam-anxiety, decreased study time spent personally, and decreased study time spent by their peers for open-note exams, and (2) students adapted their study habits for open-note exams and students who focused on understanding, note preparation and using external resources outperformed students who did not report those study habits. Finally, I documented how the emergency transition to online classes, due to the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, impacted undergraduate student study habits in an introductory organismal biology class over time. We identified several consistent similarities - as well as dramatic differences - in their responses as the time away from campus increased. Together, I highlight how course elements impact student experiences and performance in post-secondary biology courses.