How does skill in biology-specific problem solving develop during an undergraduate career?

With this line of research, we seek answers to research questions like:

  • What are students thinking while solving biology-specific problems?
  • What are the sources of individual variation during problem solving?
  • To what extent do students’ problem solving steps predict their success and persistence in science?
  • How does biology-specific problem solving compare between beginning and advanced college biology students?

We pursue this research by interviewing students while they solve biology problems or collecting their written accounts of their problem-solving strategies. We are particularly interested in how students solve problems about protein structure and function and metabolism, two fundamental concepts in biology and biochemistry.

We focus on well-defined problems that require conceptual understanding, visual literacy, and explanation.

How do curricular and pedagogical interventions impact undergraduates’ biology-specific problem-solving skills?

We can apply our knowledge of undergraduates’ biology-specific problem-solving skills to develop curricula and teaching approaches that support all students, such as students in introductory biology courses who are at risk of failing and students in advanced biochemistry courses who are ready for more challenges.

We have created an online problem-solving tutorial called SOLVEIT that walks students through the process of applying conceptual knowledge to a biology problem that requires interpretation of visual representations and an explanation of the solution. SOLVEIT has been shown to improve students’ conceptual understanding of biology and the structure and quality of their problem-solving approach (Kim, Prevost, and Lemons 2015).


What types of support do college faculty need to use evidence-based teaching strategies?

With this research we pursue knowledge about research questions including:

* What factors influence college faculty as they make decisions about teaching?

* What motivates faculty to begin and persist in teaching professional development?

* What do college faculty perceive to be their role in the classroom and the role of their students?

* How do faculty ideas about teaching and learning change as they implement evidence-based teaching strategies?

We pursue this research by interviewing and observing faculty who are changing their teaching. When we studied biology faculty who had changed their teaching to incorporate case studies, we found that they prioritized personal experiences over empirical evidence when making teaching decisions and that faculty under-utilize their colleagues as a resource to help them improve their teaching (Andrews and Lemons 2015). Currently, we are continuing this work by exploring faculty who have recently started using assessments developed for the Automated Analysis of Constructed Response (AACR) project.