2018 Mastering Biology
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We wanted to explore if Mastering Biology use helps students achieve better exam results. We collaborated on a research study with a North-American state-related, land-grant, doctoral university, where students were using Mastering Biology in the Spring 2017 semester for a foundational biology course.
We hypothesized that student usage and performance in Mastering Biology would be positively associated with exam scores. The instructor in this study used Mastering Biology for homework assignments.
To measure individual student use of Mastering Biology, we used data on the number of hints requested, time spent, and scores in pre-lecture and post-lecture homework assignments. We then assessed each student’s use of Mastering Biology against their exam scores, which we used as a measure of student achievement.
We found that there was a positive relationship between students who scored highly in their Mastering Biology homework assignments and their exam scores.
It is important to note, however, that this relationship was non-linear. That is, students only saw improvement in exam scores when averaging 90% or better on Mastering Biology homework assignments. This non-linear relationship can perhaps be attributed to how the instructor implemented Mastering Biology in the course.
Because the instructor afforded students multiple chances to reach the correct answer on homework assignments, and did not penalize students when they requested hints, the focus of the homework was practice rather than performance.
As such, although most students were ultimately able to attain relatively high homework scores, they may not have fully mastered the material. In other words, students who did not score at least a 90% on the homework assignments may not have achieved a level of mastery that would be beneficial to their performance on exams.
Read our Mastering Biology Research Report
Averaging at least 90% or better on Mastering Biology homework assignments is associated with a 9% increase in exam scores.
Our efficacy statement reflects a relationship between Mastering Biology and performance above and beyond students' prior achievement. That means, for the whole sample of students in the study, researchers took into account students' prior academic achievement such as their estimated prior grade point average (GPA), and measured the contribution of Mastering Biology on top of that.
At Broward College, assistant professor Thaddeus McRae used the resources in Mastering Biology to engage students at different points in the learning process.
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“Mastering Biology helped me understand some material better than a textbook would because of all the different methods they used to explain various topics.”
— Intro to Biology student, Broward College, US
At Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology, instructor Cathy Hughes found students weren't reading the textbook. After implementing pre-lecture Mastering Biology assignments, students came to class more prepared to learn.
“...with a few exceptions, my students have a better grasp of the basics, which frees up my class time to focus on the processes, as well as conduct collaborative learning activities and labs.”
— Cathy Hughes, Instructor, Seneca College, Toronto, Canada
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