Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Moving Students from Information Recitation to Information Understanding: Exploiting Bloom's Taxonomy in Creating Science Questions

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Moving Students from Information Recitation to Information Understanding: Exploiting Bloom's Taxonomy in Creating Science Questions

Article excerpt

Recent studies have indicated that college undergraduates have retained little understanding of the information in the science courses they have taken when they graduate. Science is taught as detailed, factual content and most students are evaluated by their ability to recall and summarize the information provided. As such, students concentrate their a studies on terms and definitions, spending little time on application and analysis. To correct the problem, instructors are encouraged to formulate more questions around the mid and upper levels of Bloom's taxonomy in the examinations they prepare.

A little over a decade ago, a New York Times article appeared, alerting readers to the fact that more and more graduates from the nation's colleges and universities are leaving their academies without the ability to use information they have learned. The article reported a sharp gap emerging between the ability of students to learn basic principles and their ability to apply knowledge or explain what they learned (Bloom 1989). Unfortunately, few people in academia took note of this finding, and today the situation has reached a critical level. It doesn't seem to matter from what institution students have received their diplomas; graduates from our most elite universities share the same difficulty as those from open-enrollment colleges. Today's baccalaureate-degree recipients do not develop enduring understandings of the subject matter they've learned in college.

One of the most revealing studies supporting this issue comes from Harvard University. In their study on the university's graduates, Matthew Schneps and Philip Sadler found that Harvard's best and brightest students had enormous misunderstandings regarding basic concepts in physics, chemistry, and biology. When students randomly selected were asked questions on such topics as the phases of the moon, simple electrical circuits, and mirror reflection, they repeatedly could give no explanation or they provided plausible but erroneous answers to the questions (1988). In another study, a science professor at a midsized, state-supported university, noted that a month after completing a general biology course, few undergraduates were able to adequately answer questions concerning information they had previously learned in class (e.g., "beside divide, describe what a body cell does during its lifetime"). Even more discouraging is that many life-science majors revealed huge misconceptions on such basic biology topics as how the human body makes water, how a plant cell makes enzymes, or what happens during an inflammatory reaction (Lord 2005).

While the fault for the misunderstandings is generally leveled against students themselves, the institution's professors should also shoulder the blame. In a traditional college classroom, instructors tend to present large amounts of factual information by telling students what they need to know through lecture. To evaluate learning, instructors formulate questions based on the recall and summarization of the information they provided earlier in the class. In essence, college students today are expected to simply regurgitate the information they have been told to learn. This traditional approach to teaching neither challenges students to understand what is being taught, nor provides them with an opportunity to reflect on the information they have studied. It is not surprising, therefore, that students are graduating from the nation's universities without an appreciable understanding of information for which they have earned college credits. Recognizing this, highly esteemed academic societies are encouraging a modification in the way instructors evaluate students, a change from evaluating factual content knowledge to evaluating understanding.

Interestingly, many of the recommendations from these organizations center around the way instructors ask questions in their classes and on their exams (Brualdi 1998). …

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