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Scholarship Domain(s)

Scholarship of Discovery, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning


The purpose of this mixed method case study was to examine the effects of methods of instruction on students’ perception of relevance in higher education non-biology majors’ courses. Nearly ninety percent of all students in a liberal arts college are required to take a general biology course. It is proposed that for many of those students, this is the last science course they will take for life. General biology courses are suspected of discouraging student interest in biology with large enrollment, didactic instruction, covering a huge amount of content in one semester, and are charged with promoting student disengagement with biology by the end of the course. Previous research has been aimed at increasing student motivation and interest in biology as measured by surveys and test results. Various methods of instruction have been tested and show evidence of improved learning gains. This study focused on students’ perception of relevance of biology content to everyday life and the methods of instruction that increase it. A quantitative survey was administered to assess perception of relevance pre and post instruction over three topics typically taught in a general biology course. A second quantitative survey of student experiences during instruction was administered to identify methods of instruction used in the course lecture and lab. While perception of relevance dropped in the study, qualitative focus groups provided insight into the surprising results by identifying topics that are more relevant than the ones chosen for the study, conveying the affects of the instructor’s personal and instructional skills on student engagement, explanation of how active engagement during instruction promotes understanding of relevance, the role of laboratory in promoting students’ understanding of relevance as well as identifying external factors that affect student engagement. The study also investigated the extent to which gender affected changes in students’ perception of relevance. The results of this study will inform instructors’ pedagogical and logistical choices in the design and implementation of higher education biology courses for non-biology majors. Recommendations for future research will include refining the study to train instructors in methods of instruction that promote student engagement as well as to identify biology topics that are more relevant to students enrolled in non-major biology courses.


Ph.D. dissertation completed in 2012 for Capella University.