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Grappling with Graphs: Researching and Improving Student Graphing Skills Using An Interactive Digital Graphing Tool: 1726180

Principal Investigator: Stephanie Gardner
CoPrincipal Investigator(s): Joel Abraham, Eli Meir
Organization: Purdue University

Calls for reforms at all levels of undergraduate teaching in STEM fields encourage students to be active participants in the process of science with inquiry and quantitative data analysis, interpretation and construction of graphs, and decision-making. But there is currently a dearth of research-backed tools and curriculum for teaching overarching skills involved in the scientific process, including generating testable hypotheses, experimental design, exploring and interpreting data, and making evidence-based arguments. This is especially true in the large introductory classes that constitute many students’ first exposure to a scientific field in college. This project will build on a budding research base exploring where students have trouble with using graphs with and how they learn to construct graphs. It will expand this research base both in depth and breadth, using the GraphSmarts Research Tool, which was purposefully designed to reveal students’ competence and difficulties with graph construction. Data collected in this project will transform this research tool into an invaluable teaching tool which can provide both students and instructors rapid feedback on areas of student difficulty with graphing in order to fine-tune instruction and student learning of this critical skill.

The intellectual merit of this project is to leverage the resources of an industry-academia partnership to establish a rich database of student graphing practices and to use those data to equip introductory biology students with a strong foundation of graphing knowledge and skills. On a recently completed cyberlearning project, the SimBiotic Software company explored ways of giving students authentic scientific problems (using simulations) in open-ended environments, but still providing immediate and specific feedback to both students and instructors that can help guide students towards a better understanding of how to design a meaningful experiment. The current project will build tools for another key piece of the scientific process – data display and interpretation, as evidenced through constructing graphs. The first objective is to expand and validate the existing GraphSmarts tool’s ability to collect the full range of common graph construction competencies among undergraduate biology students. Qualitative data from student and instructor think-aloud graphing interviews will be critical in guiding the refinement of the GraphSmarts tool to enable future data collection in the absence of interviews. The second objective is to build an additional graphing scenario in ecology/evolution using the GraphSmarts tool and implement this scenario in diverse introductory biology settings to solidify the dataset of student competencies and difficulties with graph construction. Data from this project will be critical in guiding the development of GraphSmarts teaching modules to provide real-time feedback regarding graphing difficulties to both students and instructors and offer assessments to evaluate the development of student proficiency with graphing.

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