Using Digital Photography to Supplement Learning of Biotechnology

By Norflus, Fran | The American Biology Teacher, April 2012 | Go to article overview

Using Digital Photography to Supplement Learning of Biotechnology


Norflus, Fran, The American Biology Teacher


Teaching methods have become more visual as technology has evolved over the years. It is no longer common to simply see professors writing on a blackboard. Instead, they use websites to present diagrams of different processes. Various schools have used some form of photography or imaging to teach their students. For example, a study conducted in a developmental biology class at Davidson College required the students to make a poster instead of writing a lab report. This task taught the students about imaging and how to verbally present scientific data (Watson & Lom, 2008). In an undergraduate program at the Dental School of the University of Wales, students still learned oral pathology by looking through the microscope, but this was supplemented by color pictures placed next to the microscope (Aldred et al., 1990). In the U.K., photographs were shown to medical students and health care professionals to stimulate small group discussions about various topics (Parsell et al., 1998). In another study, the effectiveness of computer-graphic color still images was compared with that of color transparencies (Sneiderman et al., 1992).

All these techniques use technology and images to try to improve on teaching. Similarly, I used digital pictures to supplement traditional instruction in teaching students how to use micropipettes, how to balance a rotor in a centrifuge, and how to read settings on a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine. The students then had to apply what they had learned to different situations--for example, by drawing what a gel would look like, given specific band sizes.

I assessed the effectiveness of digital photography compared with more traditional methods by analyzing the results of students' exams, which included questions that were based on digital-photography instruction and others that were non-photography-based. The students were in two different classes, taught using the same techniques.

** Methods

This study was conducted in two biotechnology classes at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia. The first class had 18 students and the second had 23 students. The average ([+ or -] SE) overall GPA for the students in the first class was 2.95 [+ or -] 0.1, and that for the second class was 3.0 [+ or -] 0.12. These two sets of grades are not statistically different from each other as indicated by a t-test (P = 0.753). The distribution of the grades is shown in Figure 1. All the experiments performed in class were based on kits purchased from a well-known biotechnology supply house that is geared toward high school and college students.

** Assessment

On the exams given during the semester, there were questions based on the use of digital photography and other questions that were not based on digital photography. The success of the students on both types of questions was analyzed, using data from all students in both classes. The digital-photography-based questions required the students to read micropipettes, know how to balance a centrifuge rotor, and know how to read settings on a PCR machine. They also required the students to use what they had learned to draw a picture of a gel under different circumstances and compare staining with ethidium bromide versus methylene blue. The questions that were not based on digital photography were more factual in nature. The exact questions used are shown in Table 1. Identical questions were asked in the two classes.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

** Data & Statistical Analyses

The success of the students on the exam questions in both classes was analyzed. Each student was given a score of 100 if they got the question correct, or a score of zero if they got the question incorrect or partially incorrect. The graphs represent the mean [+ or -] SE. The standard error was determined from the number of students receiving a 100 or a zero.

Student's t-tests, analyses of variance (ANOVAs), and Tukey post hoc test comparisons were performed in Minitab.

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