HAPS Exam Demonstrates Comparability Across Teaching Modalities

This week's post comes from HAPSter Susan McDonald.
Meet HAPSter Susan McDonald of Western Iowa Tech Community College.

Administrators and faculty have questioned the effectiveness of online, hybrid and dual credit sections of a course as opposed to a traditional face to face section.  The opinion voiced most often is that the online and dual credit sections cannot begin to equal the learning in a traditional face to face classroom.  Indeed, in our era of transparency in education, this question has arisen amongst state and federal education agencies as well as the administrative offices of colleges and universities.  Studies have been conducted to compare modalities of delivery effects on student satisfaction, student retention, GPAs, as well as other parameters.

To address this question, Western Iowa Tech Community College Science Department in Sioux City, IA implemented a common assessment requirement for Human Anatomy & Physiology I and II.  Initially the A&P common assessment consisted of an in-house exam created by full-time A&P Instructors.  When HAPS re-created the comprehensive final exam and piloted A&P I and A&P II versions of the exam in 2014, WITCC students participated in the pilot.  WITCC’s choice for separate A&P I and II exams was based on the observation that not all students complete their 2 semesters sequentially.  Occasionally students begin their study of Anatomy & Physiology while to complete coursework during their wait to be admitted.  Occasionally a student is accepted into their program more quickly than expected resulting in the withdrawal of the student from the second semester to focus more completely on their program specific courses.  

WITCC’s results for semesters where all A&P students were tested included traditional face to face classes, hybrid sections where the students are provided an hour of lecture and 2 hours of lab per week, league classes which are dual credit high school students where the high school instructor is also the college instructor, hybrid league classes where there is both a college instructor and a high school instructor, and online students from WITCC only.    Below is a graph of all of the data for the modalities  demonstrating the comparability of instruction between the modalities.  In addition to the scores and test statistics, users of the exams are provided statistics for all of the exams twice a year in June and again in December.  These statistics are provided by school type such as 4-year college, 2-year college, technical college, etc.  It is helpful to be able to compare my student performance with that of the students in other colleges similar to mine.2-12-18


The effects of course delivery modality on student satisfaction and retention and GPA in on-site vs. hybrid courses
https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED496527.pdf 

A Comparison of Teaching Modalities for Student Success http://zone2.asee.org/papers/proceedings/3/56.pdf

Comparing Student Performance in Online and Face-to-face Delivery Modalities  https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1030563.pdf

The HAPS Standardized Exam, Course Performance and Subsequent Professional School Performance

In 2014, when I was teaching at a school of nursing, I was asked to develop a Human Anatomy and Physiology course sequence for undergraduates at our university who were interested in pursuing a degree in nursing.  Human Anatomy and Physiology was required for admission to our school, and we were interested in attracting more undergraduates from our university.  We wanted to make these undergraduates more aware of nursing as a possible career path, particularly bright students who already expressed an interest in science.  Additionally, we were seeing that many students who matriculated into our traditional BSN program (to obtain a first bachelor’s degree) either were not well prepared, or seemed to have forgotten a significant portion of their basic science coursework.  A colleague and I developed a pilot course that combined Human Anatomy and Physiology II (a common nursing prerequisite course) with Health Assessment (a course that is often offered early in the professional nursing curriculum) into a novel course that we called Physical Assessment:  Normal Human Form and Function.  Students in this novel course would take the traditional Human Anatomy and Physiology II lecture but would have a separate lab where the Health Assessment skills would be taught.  We got approval from our university’s IRB, and also from our School’s curriculum committee.  We obtained funding through a small grant from our university’s Center for Faculty Development and Excellence, and funds from the Center for Science Education.  Our pilot course launched in the spring of 2016 with 10 students.

Our hypothesis was that students who participated in the pilot offering of this novel course would demonstrate improved learning of the basic anatomy and physiology concepts, as well as better retention of these concepts, than students who did not participate in the innovative pilot course.  We used the HAPS standardized exam as a pre-test / post-test to measure students’ improvement from the beginning of the course sequence (August 2015) to the end (May 2016).   We found that all students had significantly improved post-test scores on the HAPS exam when compared to the pre-test scores.  We did see that participants in our pilot study did outscore non-participants in terms of exam scores, overall course scores and HAPS exam scores.  These students appeared to be more satisfied with their overall experience.  Further, participants also appeared to have stronger course scores in Pathophysiology, the first science course they encountered as professional nursing students, than non-participants.  We noted a correlation between the learning gains on the HAPS exam and scores in Pathophysiology – this may be the first observation of correlation of pre-professional coursework performance with professional performance.  Our pilot course experience resulted in a poster presentation at the 2017 annual HAPS meeting in Salt Lake City.

The biggest limitation of our study was the small sample size – our pilot cohort was 10 students.  We chose the students in this cohort carefully for this first iteration in an attempt to minimize the potential disruption to their entry and progression through a professional nursing curriculum (ie, we chose students that appeared likely to be successful).  Thus, we cannot generalize our results widely to pre-nursing students, and we cannot rule out the possibility that the participants would have out-scored their non-participant counterparts in any case.  

There were several challenges specifically associated with the HAPS exam we faced as we developed this course.  One challenge was the cost of the HAPS exam – about $10 per student.  Since we opted to use the exam as a pre-test / post-test assessment, we needed $20 per student to obtain this data.  Funding from the CFDE / Center for Science Education covered the cost of the exams.  Another challenge in the use of the HAPS exam was that it is completely online.  One required element in administering the exam is a professionally-supported computer lab.  Students were not allowed to use their own computers, and there is no compatibility with any “lock-down browser” mechanisms that would prevent students from accessing online resources during the exam.  While our school of nursing still had a computer lab, many schools have stopped supporting these in lieu of having students provide their own computers.  Some students taking the HAPS exam at the beginning of the academic year expressed their anxiety when viewing their scores, and some dropped the course shortly afterward.  Additionally, we did not include an incentive for students to perform to their best ability on either the pre-test or the post-test, which may have indicated that their HAPS exam score was not important.


This post comes from Dr. Ann Massey, PhD, Senior Lecturer for the Department of Cellular Biology at The University of Georgia.

What is the HAPS Exam?

Take Rational Course Design with Margaret Weck!
HAPS President Emeritus Margaret Weck, shares some history about the HAPS Exam.

From the founding of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society (HAPS) as an organization in 1989, there has been a general agreement that many of our students find the study of Human Anatomy and Physiology to be difficult.  For some there is the difficulty in the sheer volume of new words to process and for most there is also a difficulty in conceptualizing the body as a set of integrated organ systems with interdependent processes necessary to sustain the life of the whole person.  Partially to counteract grade inflation pressures on individual campuses, partially to justify requests for baseline prerequisite courses, and partially just for our own reference, there has been an ongoing desire for more “objective’ ways to know how well our students are doing.  Out of this impulse the “HAPS Comprehensive Exam” was born in first draft around 1992 and piloted in June of 1993. I have great familiarity with the exam as I took over scoring the exam from Chris Farrell (Trivecca Nazerene University) and did all the central scoring of paper and pencil exams from the summer of 2007 through the spring of 2015, when the paper and pencil version was discontinued.

The exam has undergone several major revisions through time and has migrated from the original mail order, self-scored, paper and pencil form to a secure on-line testing environment.  The HAPS Exam Program continues to write new questions and refine the scoring algorithm.  Some questions (up to 20 per administration) are being tested for validity and reliability before being permanently added into the master question database.  The exam has costs associated with the maintenance of the database, validation of new questions, test administration, and data analysis of the results.  Consequently the exam is offered on a per-test fee basis to faculty and administrators at accredited institutions of higher education.

The HAPS exam is now a secure 100+ item test correlated to the HAPS Learning Outcomes for Undergraduate Anatomy and Physiology.  It is currently the only validated means for obtaining comparison data across textbooks and publishers to help benchmark the performance of your students against the performance of other A&P students across the North American continent.

The HAPS Exam is now a computerized assessment.
The HAPS Exam is now a computerized assessment.

There are now several versions of the exam including the combined exam and subsets for A&P I only and A&P II only.  Neither the complete exams nor the individual items contained in the exams are, or have ever claimed to be, perfect or without flaws.  The HAPS exam is not an exhaustive examination of everything that your students actually know or even theoretically should know.  The HAPS exam is not a substitute for a final exam targeted to your student population and your particular course.  The HAPS exam score by itself in isolation is not a total representation of your students’ learning or the quality of your course(s).  But in this era of assessment and accountability the HAPS Exam remains the only nationally normed and somewhat standardized examination over the content and concepts of Human Anatomy and Physiology.

What makes the HAPS Exam valuable?

The HAPS exam data is very useful in accreditation reports to validate efficacy of curriculum changes that have been made or to provide leverage to support requests for proposed changes.  Sequentially administered test results over several years is a potentially powerful data source for answering the question, “How do you know it works?”  Although administrators often find this the most compelling reason to justify the annual expense of the exam, I have found, personally, that the ability to gain perspective on my students’ performance to be of even more value.

I have found that the HAPS exam gives us at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy the opportunity to step back away from our local concerns and get a bit of perspective on how our students are actually doing.  They may not be mastering the nervous system in the way we would like, but guess what?  Turns out that many students across North America are struggling with that system.  This doesn’t mean that we give up or quit trying.  It just means that we have a more realistic sense of the challenge we are facing – not just at our school but across all of HAPS.  If we are all having difficult in getting our students to deeply engage with a particular topic or system, I know I can go to the HAPS listserv (I still call it that) and ask around for what others are doing to address the issues we are facing.  It is very empowering to know that neither I, nor my colleagues, nor my students as a group, are necessarily failing, even when I can see room for improvement in my students’ development of meaningful understanding of A&P.  Perspective taking can be very powerful.

And if my/our students do particularly well in one area compared to the normed average?  Well then I/we have the perfect topic/technique/workshop to share at the next HAPS annual meeting, or an article for HAPS Ed, or other publication!  I can feel especially confident in offering my thoughts, suggestions and materials to others because I have evidence that what I and my colleagues are doing is helping our students meet not only our expectations, but allowing achievement at or above the national norm.

The more schools and students who participate, the more meaningful the results become.  If you have not done so before, think about the HAPS exam this year.

Looking for Community College A & P Instructors Who Wish to Engage in Research on Student Attrition

First, a few questions:

  1.  How many of these abbreviations do you know?
  • SoTL
  • DBER
  • IUSE
  • CAPER
  1.  Where do most students in the USA take entry-level anatomy and physiology?

The answer the first question will be at the end, but it’s the second question that is important now.  Answer: Community Colleges!

Community Colleges are where thousands of instructors are teaching tens of thousands of students lessons in anatomy and physiology every day of the academic year.  Students in these courses often have high hopes – they hope to change their lives by gaining the qualifications to enter allied health professions such as nursing, surgical technology, and emergency medicine.  But as most of us know, many students do not complete the two-semester A & P sequence, and others complete the course but do not have high enough grades to continue in the program.  The course needs to be difficult; it’s a difficult topic. But too many students are failing.

I recently gave a SoTL (Science of Teaching and Learning) workshop at a community college that had an attrition rate of well over 50% in A & P.  The instructors in the program all talked about students being academically ill prepared for the rigors of an A & P course.  Other students, they said, were just too busy with work, kids, and “life” to devote the time required to succeed.  “Stress” was a common theme; stress caused by financial problems, family problems, and in many cases academic struggles.  In the workshop we talked about different strategies that “might help” students who struggle.  We can never “save” all our students, but we can improve the present situation.  We can help a few students succeed in A & P who otherwise might fail.

During the next month, a group of HAPS members will develop a National Science Foundation (NSF) ISUE (Improving STEM Undergraduate Education) grant targeting the attrition problem in community colleges.  If funded, we will work with instructors at community colleges who wish to try out a new teaching practice and conduct a small research project on its effectiveness (i.e., Discipline Based Education Research, or “DBER”).  We have to start out small, but if successful we will expand the program to include larger numbers of instructors and community colleges.  (And of course, NSF grants are hard to get – but you’ll never get one if you don’t apply!)

Are you teaching at a community college?  Are you interested in such a project?  If so, read about our project (CAPER) in the text below, which will also be posted on the HAPS List serve later today.    

And now the answer to the first question:

  • SoTL: Science of Teaching and Learning
  • DBER: Discipline Based Education Research
  • IUSE: Improving STEM Undergraduate Education
  • CAPER: College Anatomy and Physiology Education Research

(CAPER is the name of our HAPS/NSF research project!  So a bonus point if you got that one.)

College Anatomy and Physiology Educational Researchers (CAPER) – We want you!

One topic guaranteed to start up chatter on the HAPS Discussion Board is attrition – the disturbingly high number of students failing and withdrawing from our A & P courses, especially at 2- year colleges.  The HAPS Attrition Task Force has spent the past 18 months gathering data to document the problem.  The causes are complex, and the solutions equally so, but as HAPS members we posit that how we teach matters.   Unfortunately, while many of our members teach at 2-year schools, very little data that we use to inform our practices has actually been gathered at these institutions.  We are submitting an NSF grant application to help address this deficiency, and we need participants.  We are looking for 6 to 8 instructors at large enrolment community colleges serving diverse student populations who are willing to act as partners and participants in this grant. We want people who love teaching, love their students, and want to develop methods to help their students succeed – especially those who struggle.

Our goal is to identify specific classroom interventions that will reduce attrition in diverse student populations.  These interventions will target two important components of student success: conceptual understanding of physiology and psychological distress. Educators involved in this project will work together to develop, implement, and evaluate the impact of curriculum and pedagogy designed to influence one or both of these determinants.  We know full well that we cannot “save” all students, but we know that implementing some simple methods into our regular teaching practice can make a big difference our students’ chance of success.

Here is our preliminary plan, but we are interested in working with grant participants to fine-tune the methods.

What Do I Have To Do?

  1. July to December 2018:  Complete a 1-credit HAPS –I course (Title:  Introduction to Educational Research Methods) that covers basic principles of instructional design and assessment, and the mechanics of carrying out classroom research projects. The course includes online sessions as well as an in-person meeting at a regional HAPS conference in the Fall, and your tuition and travel will be covered by the grant.  We know that many of you are also teaching during this period, so will be asking to commit no more than 3 hours per week for this endeavor during the Fall semester. By the end of the course (probably in early December) you will have a plan for an intervention that you would like to try out, and evaluate, in your course.
  2. While completing the course, you will work with one of the course instructors to refine your classroom research project focusing on your specific student population.  Each participant will test the impact of an intervention on student performance (attrition) and stress levels using tools such as validated student surveys, instructor reports, and/or student interviews.  We will provide you with a list of interventions and research tools to choose from, but participants are also welcome to come up with their own.  For instance, one participant might look at how student stress and performance is impacted by two-stage cooperative quizzes, in which students complete a quiz both individually and in groups (cooperative quiz).  Another participant might decide to investigate if his or her students feel less psychological distress, and/or perform better, if they spend 3-5 minutes at the beginning of each group activity discussing their everyday lives. A third might examine the impact of instituting active learning activities, such as those that will be published in an upcoming Special Issue of the HAPS Educator, the inquiry activities on the HAPS website (HAPS Archive of Guided Learning Activities), or the many teaching tips on the HAPS website (A & P Teaching Tips).  We will also help you get Institutional Research Board (IRB) approval for your project. Note that interventions will be realistic and achievable – we are looking for small-scale interventions, not changing an entire course.
  3. January-May 2019: Carry out, analyse, and write up your classroom research project, with the support of the instructional team.  We hope that all participants can present their findings at the 2019 Annual HAPS conference at the end of May, and we also would encourage participants to submit their findings to the HAPS Educator.
  4. We will also ask each participant to participate in informal entry and exit interviews, in which your will discuss your perspectives on teaching and educational research with an interviewer.

Why?  What’s in it for me?

First of all, the educational community needs your input, and data from your students, to inform our practices.  Second, it will be FUN.  Educational scholarship has the potential to revitalize your teaching, and make your job more interesting, challenging, and satisfying.  Third, we will help support your travel to two HAPS meetings (one regional and one national), and there will be a stipend for completion of the manuscript describing your work.   

Sounds Interesting….What’s the Catch?

First, all participants will need to talk to their administrators. They must know what you are doing (research on teaching and student retention), support you in your efforts, help secure IRB / Human Subjects approval for you to conduct your project with students, and work with us to collect data on attrition.

Second, the project will work best if we have teams of two or three anatomy and physiology instructors from one community college, city, or region.  It isn’t an absolute requirement, but apply with a colleague from your own or neighbouring colleges if you can.  It’s even better if your school in involved in a program such as Community College Biology Instructor Network to Support Inquiry into Teaching and Educational Scholarship, or the SEPAL project.  

And third, please remember that this is a grant proposal, and there is no guarantee that the grant will be funded.  We can only accept 6 to 8 participants for the first year, but, if funded, we would run a second group of 6 to 8 participants in the second year.  

Still interested or have questions?  Email the project lead, Murray Jensen, at msjensen@umn.com.  Please include as much of this information as possible:

  • Names of instructor(s):
  • Name of your school:
  • Number of students enrolled in your anatomy and physiology program each year:
  • A rough estimate of your attrition rate (that is, the percentage of your class that receives a D or an F or withdraws before completion:
  • School involvement in national programs:
  • Name and title of your administrator who will support you in this project:

We need to have the list of participants finalized by November 21, so let us know if you are interested ASAP!   

Curriculum that Works:  Classroom Activities that Promote Conversations and Questions

Consider this post an invitation to submit classroom activities for possible publication in a special issue of the HAPS Educator!

My boss, Robin, and I were talking one day about our best classroom activities.  “Do you have anything that’s a guaranteed hit?” she asked.  “I have two or three,” I said. Robin replied with “That’s good!  I have one, or maybe two.”

Wow.  After several years of developing curriculum for the active learning classroom (pictured below) you would think that we would have more than that.  Nope.  Curriculum development is far from easy; it requires the right combination of students, topics, questions, graphics, and more.

The open learning classroom
An active learning classroom at the University of Minnesota.  Nine students sit at a round table, and there are 14 tables in the classroom.

The days I use the “Inside and Outside” activity with entry level students I know will be good.  And by good I mean students will be talking with each other using the language of anatomy and physiology and there will be many moments where you witness students thinking, doubting, questioning, and even going back and revising answers to previous questions.  There will be good questions generated by the students.  There will be learning!

I use the “Inside and Outside” activity as an introduction to the digestive system, but I have many colleagues in other entry-level classes using it to introduce the respiratory system, others use it to introduce the integumentary system, and a couple even use it on the first day of the semester. The activity involves one graphic and several guiding questions that help students develop a conceptual understanding of what is inside and outside the body and the anatomical barriers involved.  The following questions are included; and it’s important to note that the answers to these questions are quite obvious to us (experts) but are quite novel, and sometimes even a bit troubling, for entry level students.

  1. Is air that is inside the lungs considered inside or outside the body?
  2. Is a piece of gum that is inside the stomach inside or outside the body?
  3. Is a fetus developing inside the uterus inside or outside the body?
  4. Is a tattoo inside or outside the body?

Learning, and more specifically conceptual learning, is slow and non-linear.  Students frequently pause, think, ask questions, think some more, and slowly…slowly…figure…things…out.  To show this process, I videotaped a group of four freshmen completing the “Inside and Outside” activity.  (I especially like watching the body language of students while engaging in good active learning lessons: squirming, leaning in, leaning back, looking up in the air, etc…all evidence that learning is indeed taking place.)  It’s painfully slow to watch, and many old-school lecturer instructors would obviously ask “why don’t you just tell them the answer!”  Unfortunately, conceptual learning is not that easy; for students to understand a concept (e.g., how do you know if something is inside vs. outside the body), they must construct their own understandings, they must “figure it out for themselves,” and cannot simply be told what to know.

A key factor in the success or failure of curriculum is its fit with the students – it’s not a “one size fits all” thing.  What provokes and engages students in one classroom might be quite bland and flat in another.  For example, advanced anatomy and physiology students zip through the “Inside and Outside” activity and have few, if any, questions.  Entry level students, however, work slowly and have many questions, and also have more than a few “aha!” moments.

Over the next few years, our research team of Kyla Ross, Ron Gerrits, Kerry Hull and myself, hope to develop a library of curriculum materials for HAPS members.  The library will be an on-line collection of curriculum activities that enable HAPS members to pick and choose activities that best fit their students and course goals.  We’re starting that endeavor with a special edition of the HAPS Educator that is to be published this Fall.

For this special edition we’re asking all HAPS members the following question:

Do you have any curriculum that works?  Do you have a classroom activity that is a sure thing in terms of generating classroom conversation?  Generating those “aha!” moments?

If so, please consider submitting your activity for possible publication in a special edition of the HAPS Educator.

We’re starting this process with two activities that can serve as examples.  First is the “Inside and Outside” activity that targets entry level anatomy and physiology students, and the second, from Ron Gerrits, is on cardiovascular control and targets physiology students.  Both follow the format that is required for the submission process.

Links to the two sample activities, as well as more information for activity submission, can be found on the HAPS website.

Transforming, or “flipping,” your classrooms from traditional lecture to active learning is a huge endeavor, and you should not try to do it all at once.  But with help from colleagues in HAPS, and sharing good curriculum (curriculum that works!), the process can be a lot easier, student learning can be increased, and you are almost guaranteed to love the conversations and questions you’ll have with your students.


This week’s post is from Dr. Murray Jensen, Associate Professor of Biology Teaching and Learning at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

The 2017 Lab Instructor Survey Report is Now Available!

David Brashinger has engineered the 2014 and 2017 HAPS lab instructor survey reports.

Hot off the digital press…the results of the 2017 HAPS laboratory instructor survey are now available to HAPS members in a Special Edition of HAPS Educator. My thanks to all of you who participated in either the 2014 or the 2017 surveys. This year, we received over 560 submissions from 470 institutions over a two-month period. That’s more than four times the number of participants and more than five times the number of institutions than we had in 2014, and in half the time! Special thanks to the ADInstruments team for their suggested survey improvements and sponsoring the Amazon gift card drawing for our survey participants.

The report, Instructional Goals and Practices in the Introductory Undergraduate Pre-Health Professions Anatomy and Physiology Laboratory, contains all the 2016 survey data alongside the quantitative results from the 2014 report. The report is hefty with 21 data tables; however, it was important to share all the data we collected in a peer-reviewed and published format rather than just summarizing a few key findings. The report includes data on the participant population, institutional and program practices, and the instructional goals and practices in the A&P laboratory. I expect you’ll find the data in this report very helpful if you are needing to benchmark your current laboratory practices against the national trends. I also see the report as a foundation for our discussions on what our laboratory practices should be in the future.

I look forward to discussing the survey results and our next steps with y’all in Salt Lake City. I’ll be at the poster session during the update seminar portion of the annual meeting and I’m leading a workshop later in the conference. If you won’t be at the annual conference, please feel free to reach out to me by email with your questions and ideas.

In closing, I also wanted to take a moment and thank all the HAPS committee members, board members, and administrative staff who worked on the lab survey project over the last three years. This project started with a question I asked Ron Gerrits in 2013. I was still very new to HAPS and it was my first annual conference. Looking back reminds me how welcoming we are as an organization and how much we accomplish as volunteers in HAPS. If you’re not already on a HAPS committee, review the committee list on the HAPS website and consider joining one of these fantastic teams. The committees meet in person at the annual conference, but you can still get involved even if you’re not headed to Salt Lake City this year. Just reach out to the corresponding committee chair using their contact information on the HAPS website.

Survey conducted in partnership with ADInstruments

Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read? Part 3

valerie-lee
A message from Valerie Lee, an assistant professor at Southern Adventist University who just started her 6th year of teaching and loves HAPS!

In Parts 1 and 2 of this blog series, we identified that Anatomy & Physiology students are having difficulty with reading comprehension.  More specifically, their struggles are not limited to understanding specific content; rather, they are struggling with general vocabulary comprehension.
(To view Part 1 &/or Part 2 of this series,  Click the Link(s):
“Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read
 -PART 1             -PART 2

For her Southern Scholars senior research project, Molly Theus, first year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student at the University of Georgia in Athens,  attempted to seek insight into this problem by asking four questions:

  1. Does a positive correlation exist between cumulative GPA and vocabulary comprehension?
  2. Does a positive correlation exist between time spent reading for pleasure and vocabulary comprehension?
  3. Does a positive correlation exist between being read to as a child and vocabulary comprehension?
  4. Is there a link between a student’s major and vocabulary comprehension?

Molly chose six classes as candidates for investigation: General Biology II, Principles of Biology, Anatomy and Physiology II, Cell and Molecular Biology, Studies in Daniel, and Pathophysiology (Table 1). These classes were chosen to include one lower (n=42) and one upper division (n=31) biology-major class, one lower (n=43) and one upper division (n=32) nursing class, and one lower (n=27) and one upper division (n=20) general education class (total n=195). To assess personal reading habits and history, a questionnaire was distributed to all students in the six selected classes. To assess vocabulary comprehension, a twenty-question multiple choice vocabulary quiz was also distributed. In order to assure anonymity, informed consent and student information forms were assigned a unique three number code corresponding to each questionnaire.

Participants were given a two-week period of time in which to complete the questionnaires. Once the packets were collected, each informed consent document containing student names was separated from the rest of the forms so that quiz scores were kept anonymous. The names were needed to compile average GPAs and class-standing information for each participant. GPA and class-standing was then matched to quiz scores using the unique numerical codes. We made use of an ANCOVA linear model to analyze our data. The number of questions missed on the vocabulary assessment was the dependent variable and the independent variables are listed in Table 2. University GPA was rank-transformed to meet parametric assumptions. Analysis was performed using R version 3.3.0.

The preliminary result yielded three key results:

KEY RESULT 1: Students’ reading for pleasure had no statistical significance for predicting higher scores on the vocabulary quiz (Table 2). This was contrary to what we had hypothesized based on the literature.  

KEY RESULT 2: In our model, the amount of time parents spent reading to their child was a statistically significant predictor of scores on the vocabulary comprehension quiz. This relationship was consistent even when controlling for university GPA (F(3, 183) = 4.80, p = 0.003; Figure 1).

KEY RESULT 3: A higher cumulative university GPA was also a significant predictor for improved quiz scores (F(1, 183) = 20.39, p = <0.001; Figure 2).

Molly and I were surprised that reading for pleasure was not a statistically significant indicator of vocabulary comprehension. Molly suggests several possible interpretations:

    • Students choose reading materiel at or below their reading level.
    • If a student’s reading level is low, that might inhibit acquisition of non-content specific collegiate vocabulary.
    • Self reporting is not a precise tool.

What can we do with this information?

  • Early intervention seems to be key to the issue of vocabulary comprehension
  • Collegiate students identified as struggling with non-content specific vocabulary comprehension need interventions as well. Possible interventions include encouraging them to read challenging books outside of class and providing mentor support.
  • This is an interdisciplinary issue that needs to be addressed in every department.

The preliminary results are very interesting and both Molly and I are interested in collecting more data in the future by expanding the background questions asked and surveying both private and public institutions. If you are interested in helping us, contact me at vlee@southern.edu.