Course Research Project

Your grade for this course will be primarily based upon satisfactory completion of a research project. You have three options for your project:

  1. Curriculum Study of a Biology Course
  2. Mapping Students’ Conceptual Landscapes
  3. Analysis of a Biology Assessment

For each project, you are expected to produce a research-based paper of at least 20 pages in length with appropriate references.

You will provide a preview of your topic at the midpoint of the course, and a presentation of your final project during the last three weeks of class; final project papers are due on the last day of class (December 11th?).

Option A: Curriculum Study of a Biology Course


  • What course will you be studying, and why?  Which section of the course will you be concentrating on?

Conceptual Analysis

  • How do you define "concepts"? What are the major concepts to be learned in the section of the course you are analyzing?
  • What does the ‘Atlas for Science Literacy’ have to say about the necessary prerequisite knowledge for learning these concepts? 
  • Are there implicit assumptions being made about what students already know, prior to instruction?  How are these assumptions validated? (or are they?)
  • What does the literature say about student understand/misunderstand about concepts to be taught in the section of the course you are analyzing?

Course Analysis

  • With the permission of the instructor, visit at least 3 relevant class sessions of the course you have chosen. Provide an overview of the syllabus as well as a summary of the topics covered in the sessions you attended.
  • Interview the instructor about the design of the course.
  • Interview X students about the course.

Proposed Design & Assessment

  • Given your analysis of the concepts underlying this course, as well as the information about the course analysis, how do you propose restructuring this course? Draw upon readings from class, especially Wiggins & McTighe, when you are making your argument.
  • Present a sample syllabus for your version of the course.

Discussion and Conclusion

Option B: Mapping Students’ Conceptual Landscapes


  • What concept will you be studying, and why?
  • Why is this an important concept?  What background information is required for its understanding/acceptance?

Conceptual Analysis

  • What will be your audience (e.g. MCDB undergraduates, K-12 students, etc.)?
  • According to science education policy documents, what do you expect a person at this age/educational level to know about the concept you will be studying?
  • Drawing upon readings from class, as well as your own literature search, what is already know about what students know/do not know about this concept?
  • Based upon what you expect students to know, and the common misconceptions they may have, develop an interview/written assessment to give to at least 4 students. The interview/assessment should have enough items to truly probe students’ understanding’ see the instructors for approval before administering to students. Take careful notes or audio/videotape responses for later analysis.

Interview Analysis

  • Analyze transcripts of audio/videotaped interviews or responses to written assessments to bring evidence to bear on what your “subjects” know about the concept.  In analyzing the data, you need to grapple with your “unit of analysis”: the word, phrase, sentence, complete thought, or entire response to item/task or some other unit.  You then need to create a way of categorizing similar units and counting frequencies of the different ideas students have about this concept.
  • For each question you asked, what were the most common student responses? What kinds of patterns emerged in terms of what students know, and what misconceptions they might have? Provide summaries based on your categorizing of the student responses and, if necessary, visual representations of the data.
  • Where do you think students’ misconceptions or incorrect understandings may have come from?

Discussion and conclusions

  • How do your findings compare to the literature base on student understanding of this concept?
  • What are the implications for Biology teaching and learning given what you found?
  • How might students’ misconceptions/incorrect ideas be used as resources for instruction?

Option C: Analysis/Development of a Biology Assessment


  • Select a biology assessment or conceptual inventory and explain why you have chosen this test to analyze. If the assessment has many items, you may want to select a subset (<15) for your analysis.
  • What does the test purport to measure?  That is, what knowledge or cognitive process does the test claim to measure?
  • What empirical evidence is there, to date, to support the interpretation of the test scores as measuring the knowledge or process claimed to be measured?  This includes a brief literature review on what is known about the test, common student misconceptions in this area, and readings from the class. 

Task Analysis

  • In your analysis, recall that an assessment consists a task, a response format, and a scoring system.  Be sure to include information about all three in your analysis.
  • Conduct a thorough analysis of the demands imposed on a student by a single, representative item/task from the assessment.   Start with an easy task.
  • Conduct an extensive task analysis to see if and how to modify the results of the intensive analysis to include all the items on the test, revising your intensive analysis to encompass all the items. 
  • If you have a heterogeneous assessment covering different content areas, knowledge types, or both, you may want to stratify the test and do intensive and extensive analyses within each stratum.
  • On the basis of this analysis of the task demands of the test, what do you conclude about what the test measures?

Cognitive Analysis

  • Conduct a cognitive analysis of your test by having at least 4 “subjects” “think aloud” while answering the items on the test.
  • Collect verbal protocol by taking detailed notes as your “subjects” talk or, preferably, audio or video record.
  • Transcribe the verbal protocol from notes or audiotape for analysis.
  • Analyze the transcripts to bring evidence to bear on what your “subjects” are thinking as they perform the tasks on the test.  In analyzing the data, you need to grapple with your “unit of analysis”: the word, phrase, sentence, complete thought, or entire response to item/task or some other unit.  You then need to create a way of categorizing similar units and counting frequencies or of tracking cognitive processes over the course of working on the item/task perhaps in a flow diagram.
  • On the basis of your cognitive analysis what do you conclude about what the test measures?

Discussion and Conclusions

  • What does the assessment purport to measure (see Introduction)?
  • Combining the findings of the task analysis and the cognitive analysis, what evidence to you have that confirms or disconfirms the claims made about what the assessment measures?
  • Conclude what you think the assessment measures referring to your task and cognitive analyses.


© M.W. Klymkowsky & E. Furtak 2008