Ronald M. Coleman: Resources for Students
Updated: October 26, 2013
This page is defnitely under construction!
The purpose of this page is to provide a common point of access to some of the concepts and tools that I use in my teaching and mentoring. I will be updating this page frequently over the coming months.
Bloom's Taxonomy (A Classification of Learning Objectives):
The basic tenet of Bloom's Taxonomy, as I understand it, is that learning objectives can be classified in a hierarchy, roughly like this
4. Analyze | Evaluate | Create
What it means is that there are lots of different kinds of knowledge. For example, at the lowest level, there is knowing what something is, e.g., a definition of concept such as "What is a definition of a species?" or "Define Interspecific competition". This is basic recall. I can teach a student a defnition and they then have to recall it on an exam. As we move up the taxonomy, the questions become successively "harder". For example, a question at one of the highest levels might be "Given that members of a Chinook salmon population exhibit a strong tendency to return to their natal stream and hence do not reproductively mix with other such populations, what would this mean if conservation policy is based on the idea of "species" as classically defined by Ernst Mayr's Biological Species Definition?" To answer this "higher-order" question implicitly requires that a student know and understand lower-level knowledge such as what exactly is Ernst Mayr's Biological Species Definition, a little bit about the Chinook salmon, etc. The student must then put all of this together to come up with an answer.
What does this mean to a student (and a teacher)?
The role of question-type. Some people argue that it is possible to test higher levels of learning using tools like multiple-guess (typically called "multiple choice") questions. I strongly disagree. I think recognizing a correct answer is substantially easier than formulating it in your head. The world is not full of multiple guess options, other than on TV game shows and perhaps DMV drivers tests. No matter how tricky or convoluted a multiple-guess question is, the process of answering it still comes down to selecting one or more of a few options presented to the student and ultimately the teacher will never know why the student chose the particular option that they did at that particular time. In fact, when the student gets the exam back, it is possible that they will not even recall why they chose option C on question 4. As such, I think there is very little value to multiple-guess questions and I do not use them (ever!).
Bottom line: Students should at least be aware of this idea in teaching. When studying, they need to focus not simply on remembering things, but also on formulating their own higher level questions (and answering them). An important point here is that a student must have a solid foundation at lower levels of learning in order to answer higher order questions. So for instance, if one does not know what Ernst Mayr's Biological Species Definition is, then they certainly cannot answer the higher order question about applying it.
Random (or not so random) thoughts:
Flash cards are evil. I frequently see students "studying" by whipping through stacks of flash cards as if that is going to help them on the exam. In general, while I see some value in making the flashcards, I see little value in looking at them. This relates to Bloom's taxonomy and question-type. As I see it, the real (and generally only) value of flashcards is in the mental process required to make them. At that point, the student's brain is somewhat engaged in deciding what the correct answer is to a particular question. I suppose that the hope is that in reading the card, the student will somehow reformulate the thinking that went into the making of the card. I suspect that this seldom happens. Rather the student simply learns to associate a particular answer with a particular question, without the active cognitive process of why that answer matches that question. For example, when asked the difference between "interspecific competition" and "intraspecific competition", students often mix up the answer. The reason for this is clear: they simply associated a particular answer with each of the word patterns and then got the two mixed up. What this tells me is that they really do not have any understanding of the words "interspecific", i.e., "inter" meaning "between" and "intra" meaning "within". As such, they will be hopelessly lost at the Los Angeles airport when they need to take a flight to Mexico because they will not translate that knowledge into the fact that the flight to Mexico will leave from the "International" (i.e., between nations") terminal.
Learn some Latin and Greek roots. Science, like any field, uses a large vocabulary of words that are unfamiliar to many nonscientists. A student faces two options: either try to learn each and every one of the thousands of scientific words used in a particular discipline, or learn the "roots" of which these words are composed. I argue that the latter is much easier.
Impact factor is a method by which academics rank journals, as in "this journal is better than that journal". Is it perfect? No. Is it used anyway? Yes. You at least need to know what it is
Software tools (Word, Excel, Powerpoint):
In modern science, it is essential that a student have command of certain tools.
Microsoft Word: A student must have reasonable command of Microscoft Word such that the student can compose and revise documents of arbitrary length without the program getting in the way. Besides the obvious skills of entering, deleting, and moving text, a student must be able to change the format of text (underlining, italics, font, size, etc), and use the Spelling, Grammar and Word Count tools. The ability to use the "Track Changes" features is increasingly important in collaborative work.
Microsoft Excel: A student must be able to use Microsoft Excel with some level of sophistication. This does not mean that they need to be able to use Pivot Tables, but it does mean that they need to be able to construct a spreadsheet, be able to insert/delete items (values, rows, columns), create formulas, use any given function (e.g., AVERAGE), and plot graphs. They need to know the difference between absolute versus relative referencing (i.e., what the "$" means in a formula), how to generate and plot regression lines on a graph (NOT using the stupid Trendline feature) and how to use the Data Analysis Toolpak. They need to be able to do these things WITHOUT using the "Wizards" or shortcuts, i.e. the student needs to know how and why to make various choices and not to simply let the program take its best guess. For example, the idea of creating a graph by highlighting the data and then telling Excel to graph it is a terrible disservice to students because the resulting graph reflects what some software engineer at Microsoft thought the graph should look like, not what the student thought the graph should look like.
Microsoft PowerPoint: A student must be able to construct a PowerPoint slide the way that they want it and not the way that PowerPoint wants it. A student must be able to bring in text, graphics (including images, data graphs) and manipulate such things as font, background color, etc. If a student really understands these things, then they can construct a simple PowerPoint presentation, but they can also construct a scienitific poster (by simply changing the size of the slide).