Reading Scientific Articles in Hybrid Courses: How does it Affect Students' Scientific Literacy?

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Our study investigates the effect of hybrid courses and reading articles on the   scientific literacy of biomedical engineering students. About 100 advanced undergraduate and graduate students participated in one or two of the courses titled From Cell to Tissue and Tissue Engineering. The courses required active participation in the face-to-face lectures, as well as weekly participation in asynchronous forum discussions on state-of-the-art scientific articles. Research tools included pre- and post-questionnaires and analysis of students’ forum discourse. The questionnaires focused on three scientific literacy skills: question posing, identifying the canonical research article structure, and suggesting subsequent experiment design.

Findings indicated that (1) participation in the hybrid courses and online discussions improved the students’ three scientific literacy skills, and (2) students who took the two courses in sequence achieved the best average scores. The students' discourse included questions that peer student tutors raised each week and the fellow students' answers to these questions. The complexity level of the forum discourse increased as the course progressed, reflected by the Q&A threads.  The outcomes of this study underscore the potential of hybrid course formats to strengthen the face-to-face meetings via online discussions. These discussions were based on the design principle of students learning from others and turned out to be a significant source of data as well as a basis for writing students' research proposals. We have shown the importance of practicing scientific literacy in higher education and suggest that integration of face-to-face sessions and online discussions of scientific articles are effective means to this end.

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Introduction

In recent years, a number of curriculum reform projects have championed the notion of students learning science in ways that move beyond hands-on work with authentic materials and methods, or developing a conceptual grasp of current theories (O'Neill and Polman, 2004; Sadler and Zeidler 2009). These reformers argued that students should come to an understanding of science through engagement activities in the discipline as well as taking a high degree of autonomy over investigations from start to the end. This tendency goes together with a foremost drift in science teaching increasingly calling for authentic scientific performances in the learning sciences (AAAS, 1993). According to the National Science Education Standards statement:

"Students should experience science in a format that engages them in the active construction of ideas and explanations" (NRC, 1996, p. 121).

It is recommended that science students should take part in activities that represent what scientists do while conducting an investigation, formulating a research question, raising a hypothesis, analyzing data, drawing conclusions, and writing research papers (Author and Colleague, 2008; NRC, 2011; Roth, 2004; Roth and Bowen, 1999). Involving students in the formulation of research questions and data analysis strategies results in better spontaneous use of empirical data collection and analysis strategies on a transfer task (O'Neill and Polman 2004).

One of the major concerns related to this course of action is getting undergraduate and graduate students involved with reading, comprehending, analyzing, and criticizing scientific texts – skills which can be classified as types of scientific literacy (McNamara and O’Reilly 2009; Norris and Phillips, 2012). In order to promote the implementation of scientific literacy in higher education, several studies have focused on students' learning outcomes through reading research papers and criticizing scientific texts (Almedia and Liotta, 2005, Ghent, 2010, Norris, Phillips and Korpan, 2003). Other studies were concerned with students' attitudes towards learning from research papers (Gardner, Jones, Taylor, Forrester and Robertson, 2010).

Scientific literacy is characterized by the ability to coherently read and write scientific text in a meaningful context (Bybee, 1997; Shamos, 1995). Bybee (1997) proposed that scientific literacy should be set as a general educational goal since it encompasses the knowledge, skills and values that ought to be common to all students as members of a society. Indeed, these days, promoting scientific literacy actually serves as one of the central aims of science education in terms of preparing students for life and citizenship, complex reasoning and reflective practices, and robust understanding of the nature of science (Sadler and Zeidler, 2009). Scientific literacy is important in order to comprehend the complexity of content, context, and method in understanding current problems (Gray, Camino, Barbiero and Gray, 2006).

In this study, we focus on fostering scientific literacy in two hybrid courses, in which the participants were advanced undergraduate and graduate biomedical engineering students. These two courses combine face-to-face lectures with asynchronous online learning activities, such as online forum discussions based on reading research articles. Such a combination of  face-to-face teaching and online instruction in higher education seem also to be  effective in promoting a learner-centered approach as well as active learning (Colleagues and Author, 2009; Hmelo-Silver and  Erkens, 2006). In order to shed some light on the process of fostering scientific literacy in those bioengineering hybrid courses, we chose to trace three scientific literacy skills: question posing, identifying the canonical research article structure, and suggesting subsequent experiment design.

Hybrid Courses in Higher Education

Hybrid courses combine face-to-face classroom discussions with online activities, interrelating teaching, learning, and assessment (Colleague and Author, 2009A). Based on recent research reports, the hybrid (also referred to in the literature as blended) learning model is now the preferred model for online course design. Its superiority over online learning, which lacks face-to-face interaction, is evident from studies that examined both student achievement and satisfaction (Precel, Eshet-Alkalai and Alberton, 2009).

These days there seems to be greater demand for advanced models of hybrid courses in all areas of academic education. These types of courses are the preferred choice for students who are unable to attend regular classroom lessons, and they offer students all the necessary levels of knowledge required to graduate. In addition, these courses afford academic institutions to enlist large "classes" despite lack of physical space, while still offering careful attention to individual students' progression. These courses utilize the benefits of face-to-face teaching and online platforms along with educational technologies for advanced visualization, in order to promote dialogue and other cultural and social needs (Tsaushu, Tal, Sagy, Kali, Gepstein, and Zilberstein, 2012). On one hand, the hybrid learning discourse provides students the opportunity to construct meaningful understanding and knowledge. It offers a distinct advantage in supporting and facilitating higher levels of learning through interactive discussions, reflective thinking and critical discourse. A critical thinker takes control of one’s thought processes and gains a metacognitive understanding of these processes (Garrison and Kanuka, 2004). 

On the other hand, hybrid courses require more students' work on pre-exam activities and a much more intensive participation on their part in discussions (Djenic, Kreneta and Mitic, 2011). Hybrid learning is not just finding the right mix of technologies or increasing access to learning. It is inherently about redesigning teaching and learning dynamics. Designing a hybrid course typically means adding more formative assessments and reducing the value of summative assessments. Blended instruction is also an opportunity to introduce asynchronous online discussions and essays or other formal writing assignments in science (Colleague and Author, 2009A). Additional long-term benefits are easily updatable course materials, more student collaboration and engagement with content, and a more up-to-date, enjoyable and effective way of teaching and learning science (Bergtrom, 2011). Those aspects are well valuated also in visualization-rich environments with potential of creating knowledge by peers, in both face-to-face and online setting (Chiu & Linn, 2012).

The combination of face-to-face teaching with online instruction in higher education promotes learner-centered as well as active learning and sharing novel ideas and knowledge by peers (Colleagues and Author, 2009; Hmelo-Silver and Erkens, 2006). Studies exploring undergraduate hybrid courses were examined in psychology, education, educational science and computer science (Alonso, Manrique, Martínez and Viñes, 2011; Cacciamani, Cesareni, Martini, Ferrini and Fujita, 2012; Djenic, Kreneta and Mitic, 2011; Colleagues and Author, 2009; Kenny, 2011;  Schworm and Gruber, 2011).

However, in science or engineering education, only a few studies explored hybrid learning, referred to in these studies as blended learning (Bergtrom, 2011; Kavadella1, Tsiklakis1, Vougiouklakis1 and Lionarakis, 2012; Tsaushu, Tal, Sagy, Kali, Gepstein and Zilberstein, 2012).  

In this study, we investigated fostering scientific literacy in two hybrid courses in which advanced undergraduate and graduate biomedical engineering students took part. The courses combine face-to-face lectures with asynchronous learning activities. The lectures included interactive features as well as visualizations of key concepts and processes being taught, in order to foster students' deep understanding of science and engineering. In order to prompt socio-constructivist learning and higher order thinking skills, students functioned as peer instructors in students' online forum discussions. While students posed questions on research articles and led or participated in the discussions in the From Cell to Tissue course, they also prepared scientific posters based on reading 3-4 scientific articles in the Tissue Engineering course. We chose to combine those previous course activities using the design principle of "students learning from others" based on the recommendations of Kali and Linn (2007) and Kali and colleagues (2009). This design principle emphasizes the importance of giving students the opportunity to teach and learn from others by explaining and exchanging ideas and thoughts with other students. In the course, From Cell to Tissue, the design principle in the online forum was that students served as peer-tutors for their fellow students. In the course, Tissue Engineering, this design principle was incorporated by asking students to work in teams, submit research proposals, and then present their scientific posters to their peers and instructors.

The hybrid model of the biomedical engineering courses is shown in Figure 1.

 Figure 1: The hybrid model of the biomedical engineering courses.

 

Learning Science in Higher Education

Students’ experiences during their studies in higher education seem to be a very important element in their decision to stay or leave their field of study (Tobias, 1990). According to Tobias (1990), one of the negative features for students, majoring in science programs, is that sometimes not enough attention is given to students’ conceptual understanding. In science courses in higher education, it is especially important to focus on students’ conceptual understanding and less on details, even though it is considered to be a more challenging mission for both teachers and students (Malacinski and Zell, 1996; Trowbridge and Wandersee, 1996; Yarden & Marbach-Ad, 2004).

In view of that, in the last decade, science education tended to focus more on the learner and the learning process in higher education (Marbach-Ad and Sokolove, 2000, Kali et al., 2009). Many science disciplines have moved away from the more traditional, lecture method of teaching toward a more active approach (Yarden and Marbach-Ad, 2004, Kali et al, 2009). As a result, learning outcomes become an interactive result of what information the student has encountered, and how the student processes it (Marbach-Ad and Sokolove, 2000). Increasing students' scientific literacy, a goal which can also promote students' meaningful and lifelong learning of science, and according to the National Science Education Standards state (NRC, 1996), this should be one of the important learning outcomes in higher education.

Scientific Literacy

The need to create a scientifically literate community is a widely accepted educational goal (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990; Uno and Bybee, 1994). The question of what represents scientific literacy, or what a literate person should know or be able to do, is far more arguable (Baram-Tsabari and Yarden, 2005). Scientific literacy is a general concept that has had, and continues to have, a wide variety of meanings (DeBoer, 2000). According to Norris and Phillips (2003), the fundamental sense of science literacy is the ability to read and write science texts.

Scientific literacy can be thought of as a blend of three knowledge dimensions: nature of science, interaction of science and society, and enduring important scientific terms and concepts (Bybee, 1997). Palincsar and Brown (1984) introduced several activities that readers can exercise for improving their scientific literacy while reading scientific articles, such as: questioning, clarifying, and predicting.

According to Shamos (1995), there are two major operational definitions for functional and "true" scientific literacy (quotation marks in the original). Functional scientific literacy is characterized by the ability to converse, read, and write coherently in a nontechnical but meaningful context. Still, a functionally-literate person, according to Shamos, lacks an understanding of the fundamental role played by theories in the practice of science, as well as the role of experiments, reliance on evidence and the ability to think critically. On the contrary, the "true" scientifically literate individual has the ability to use those scientific ways of thinking (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990; Shamos, 1995).

Recent trends in cognitive science have not made scientific literacy easier to attain, but they have made the practices, through which educators meet its challenges more interpretable (Klein, 2006). Science literacy education helps students achieve formally valid reasoning using perceptually driven operations, construct written explanations and arguments using speech-like and narrative language. The prototypical example of a science text is the professional research article (Klein 2006). It is prototypical in the sense that it has been integral to the history of science (Bazerman, 1988), and it is considered the common genre for communication among scientists (Yore, Hand and Prain, 2002). Most importantly, other forms of science discourse, including textbooks and students’ own science writing, share some of its distinctive features.  Therefore, one possible way for gaining scientific literacy is using scientific research articles for learning. This process can facilitate a deeper exploration of knowledge-building, such as the formulation of investigable questions and the development and defense of knowledge claims (O'Neill and Polman, 2004).

According to several studies in higher education, which were carried out in this context, when university students are asked to read scientific research articles, they face difficulties in distinguishing explanations of phenomena from the phenomena themselves (Murcia, 2009; Norris and Phillips, 2003). Reading research articles might then give the learners important elements of scientific literacy (Colleagues and Author, 2011) and reduce their high level of over-rated self-confidence of their ability to understand scientific research papers (Norris and Phillips, 2003). Reading scientific articles can assist not just in closing the gap between public knowledge and the frontiers of scientific inquiry, it can also help promote components of scientific literacy including acquaintance with the rationale of a research plan, exposure to research methods and their suitability to the research questions, and developing the ability to critically assess the goals and conclusions of scientific research (Yarden, Brill and Falk, 2001). It can also serve the view of education, which promotes young people's awareness of multiple points of view, an ability to establish relationships between processes, scales, and contexts, which may be nonlinearly related, and creatively practice forms of interrelations with others (Gray, Camino, Barbiero and Gray, 2006).

Question Posing and Experiment Design

In recent years, educators have investigated and verified the importance of the asking questions by students in the teaching and learning processes (Dillon, 1988; Author and Colleague, 1999). A few studies have also been conducted at the college level (West and Pearson, 1994; Marbach-Ad and Sokolove, 2000). By asking questions, students frequently reveal what they want to learn, what they know, and what they do not know (Colleague and Author, 2009B). Specifically in the learning sciences, the value of student questioning has been emphasized in the National Science Education Standards, which stated that "inquiry into authentic questions generated from student experiences is the central strategy for teaching science" (National Research Council 1996, p. 31). Even though these studies were conducted at the college level, they were not specifically focused on question posing following reading and interpreting scientific research articles. In terms of scientific literacy, emphasis on students' question posing conveys the message that inquiry is a natural component in any science discipline and that questions need, therefore, to be constantly raised (Orr, 1999; Woodward, 1992). Posing questions following reading an article may also improve one’s knowledge—a cognitive function, or monitor one’s thought processes—a metacognitive function (Colleague and Author, 2009B).

Question posing is a skill that can potentially lead to developing the skill of experiment design. According to the National Science Education Standards, students should experience actions in science that engage them in the active construction of ideas and explanations (NRC, 1996). Indeed, question posing and experiment design represent what scientists do through conducting an investigation, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions (Roth, 2005). We will present in this paper findings concerning students' scientific literacy skills that include question posing, identifying the canonical article structure, and suggesting subsequent experiment design. In addition, we will represent qualitative findings concerning the students' scientific literacy as reflected in analyzing their discourse in the asynchronous forum of the course.

Research Goal and Objectives

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of reading research articles on biomedical engineering students' scientific literacy, in the context of hybrid learning in higher education. For that purpose, the following research questions were formulated:

  1. What are the differences, if any, in the scientific literacy of biomedical engineering students before and following taking an academic course,  focussing on reading research articles, in the following skills:
  1. Question posing following reading a research article?
  2. Identifying the canonical research article structure?
  3.  Suggesting subsequent experiment design for the experiment discussed in the research article?
  1. What are the differences, if any, in scientific literacy of biomedical engineering students, as expressed in the forum discourse in the following dimensions:
  1. The questions raised by the peer-tutor students in the discussions following reading research articles?
  2. The responses given by the participants in the forum following reading research articles?

Research Participants and Course Descriptions

The study included 108 undergraduate and graduate students in a biomedical engineering program. The students participated in two of the courses titled, From Cell to Tissue and Tissue Engineering during the academic year 2010-2011. Research participants included 57 students who participated in the course From Cell to tissue; 70% of the students in this course were females and 72% were undergraduates. In the following course, Tissue Engineering, 51 students participated; 74% were females and 94% were undergraduates. We can note that about two-thirds of the students in both courses were females studying for their B.Sc. degree. In addition, 16 students who studied in the course From Cell to Tissue continued to take the following course, Tissue Engineering.

The From Cell to Tissue course comprised three topics: the cell and its communication with its surroundings, reproduction and differentiation of cells, and the structure of tissues. Tissue Engineering is a more advanced course. It integrates principles of engineering and life sciences for developing and manipulating laboratory-grown molecules, cells, tissues, or organs to replace or support the function of defective or injured body parts.

Fifty-seven students participated in the course From Cell to Tissue during the academic year 2010-2011. They employed a hybrid model, which combined face-to-face teaching with asynchronous learning in a web-based environment. Students could be interactively involved using clickers, responding during the lectures to multiple- choice questions asked by the professor. Figure 2 is a screenshot of the website showing Professor Levenberg lecturing in the course Tissue Engineering. It also shows the following applications used in the website through the Panopto system: (1) Recording the lectures, (2) Uploading the course presentations, and (3) Using clickers to respond to multiple-choice questions during the lectures.

Figure 2: Screenshot of Prof. Levenberg lecturing in the course Tissue Engineering website. 

Before we started our study, Professor Levenberg had taught the biomedical engineering courses according to the traditional teaching and learning approach. Table 1 presents a comparison of the characteristics of the hybrid courses investigated in our study with the traditional teaching and learning courses. This comparison is partly based on the feedback written by the instructor (see Figure 2) for a Senate meeting at the Technion.

Table 1: Characteristics of hybrid courses vs. traditional F2F courses

 

Hybrid courses

 

Traditional F2F courses

Type of course

Characteristics

  • Upgraded lectures (the clarity of the PowerPoint slides and the accompanying visualizations were improved in comparison to the lectures in the traditional courses)
  • Constructing new multiple-choice questions for students' usage of clickers in order to enhance students' active learning in the classroom. Recording lectures and uploading them to the course websites

Teaching with a chalkboard and presentations

Lectures

  • Online forums designed to enable students to discuss learning tasks
  • Students posed questions for the online forum and led the discourse in the From Cell to Tissue course
  • Students seeking sources of information other than the lecturer

The instructor asks questions; students respond in writing or orally

Practices

 

  • F2F meetings of the lecturer and instructor with the students
  • Rapid  response of the instructor using the course website
  • Student-student interactions in the F2F meetings and the online forum

Within the lectures and practice

Interactions in the course

 

The lectures and tutorials which were recorded enabled students to observe and listen to these recorded lectures and tutorials via the course website. Students' discussions in the online asynchronous forum took place in the learning Moodle (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) environment in the course website, enabling students to discuss the relevant scientific articles. The assessment in the course was based 70% on the traditional final exam and 30% on forum activities, which served as an innovative and alternative assessment tool (Libman, 2010; Colleagues and Author, 2009). The weekly participation in the asynchronous forum discussions was based on questions posed by the students after they had read assigned scientific articles.

About one-third of the face-to-face lectures in the Tissue Engineering course were based on reading and discussing state-of-the-art scientific articles, while the online forum in this course was dedicated to writing research proposals in teams of three or four students. Each group received a different topic with three related articles and was required to find a fourth article and compose the research proposal.

Research Methodology

Following the mixed method (Creswell, 2008; Johnston and Onwuegbuzie, 2004) in this research, we employed two tools: pre- and post-questionnaires and students' forum discourse analysis.

We established research trustworthiness through (a) investigator triangulation, were three experts in science education research and one in bio-medical engineering conducted content analysis of students’ responses, reaching 90% inter-rater consent, and (b) data triangulation, using the two data sources—the questionnaires and the discourse (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005).

Research Tools and Data Analysis

The questionnaires

The pre- and post-questionnaires were based on adapted scientific articles and aimed at determining differences in students' scientific literacy skills before and after each course. The adapted scientific articles in both the pre- and the post-questionnaires for each of the two courses were shortened versions of the originals, which still retained the canonical structure of a research article. Each adapted article was followed by three open-ended questions. Each one of the four (two pre- and two post-) questionnaires was based on a different scientific article, but the accompanying open-ended questions were similar in all four questionnaires.

These questions focused on three aspects of scientific literacy: (1) Question posing – the students were asked to raise two questions concerning the article they had just read, for which the answer did not appear in the text; (2) Identifying the article structure in terms of matching the type of heading from a given list (introduction, methods, findings, etc.) for each paragraph in the adapted article, and (3) Experiment design – the students were asked to suggest a follow-up experiment based on the experiment described in the article. Each answer in the pre- and post-questionnaires was analyzed using content analysis, descriptive statistics and statistical analysis.

We noted that the number of students in the analyzed sample for the statistical data analysis was lower than the number of students who participated in every course. According to the Technion regulations, students' mobility between courses is permitted during the first three weeks of the semester. This explains why students who joined the course later did not answer the pre-questionnaire, while students who left the course did not answer the post-questionnaire.    

We will now introduce two tables and an example, which present the rubrics of the three skills we graded in the questionnaires. In Table 2 we introduce the indications for low and high levels of the question posing scientific literacy skill.

Table 2. Indications for low and high levels of the question posing scientific literacy skill

Example

Level of the example

Description of the categories

Which factors affect the cell remodeling?

Low

 

  • Interdisciplinary-only biology
  • Question content-evolved from the phenomenon in the text
  • Thinking level-Knowledge, Student has to find and know the information to the question.
  • Understanding and organization level-cell and molecular level.

Would using stem cells other than MSCS* affect the experiment results?

High

 

  • Interdisciplinary-biotechnology
  •  Question content-Leads to a well written research question. The answer is not provided in the text.
  • Thinking level-Analysis, In order to answer the question students have to analyze.
  • Understanding and organization level-cell and molecular level and the macro level of the experiment.

MSCs=Mesenchymal stem cells

The next skill we investigated while analyzing the questionnaires was identifying the canonical research article structure as an indication for students' scientific literacy skill. The students were asked to match the correct title to the suitable paragraph in the article, and this skill was graded according to the percent of suitability between the paragraph and the chosen title.

Below, we present an example for the correct matching of the title discussion to the suitable paragraph in the article. The correct paragraph matched to this title is:

"These findings strongly support the proposition that the primary function of dystrophin is to provide mechanical reinforcement to the sarcolemma and thereby protect it from the membrane stresses developed during muscle contraction. Furthermore, the methodology used in this study should prove useful in assessing the efficacy of dystrophin gene therapy in the mdx mouse."

An example of a student who matched the title discussion to the incorrect paragraph is presented below:

"If the primary function of dystrophin is to provide structural integrity to the muscle membrane, one would predict that the major determinant of membrane damage would be the level of membrane stress associated with contraction rather than the number of muscle activations. If, on the other hand, the fundamental problem in dystrophin-deficient muscle is an inability to handle Ca+2, then the high Ca+2 load associated with repeated muscle activation should result in the greatest level of damage."

In the last rubrics, we will introduce the analysis of students' scientific literacy as expressed in the skill of experiment design in the questionnaires, as can be seen in Table 3.

Table 3. Indications for low and high levels of the experiment design scientific literacy skill

Example

Level of the example

Description of the categories

I would like to see if doing an experiment similar to this but with one hydrogel would give better results of cell remodeling.

Low

 

  • Relevancy of the design - repetition of what is described in the article
  • Not innovative

 

To check the membrane permeability to Ca+2, check the amount of Ca+2 in the muscle cell after multiple activations.

High

 

  • Relevancy of the design- combines new aspects and extended beyond the experiment discussed in the article.
  • Innovative

 

Students' discourse analysis in the asynchronous forum

In order to trace students' progress in terms of scientific literacy in their discourse in the course website, as well as to validate the findings we have identified analyzing the questionnaires, during the course From Cell to Tissue, the students were obligated to read a research paper every week, and to participate in asynchronous forum discussions on the course internet website. The students were divided into four independent forum groups, each of them limited to about 25 students.

An Internet forum is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. They differ from chat rooms in that messages are at least temporarily archived (Garrison, 2006).

Each week another couple of students in the course From Cell to Tissue had to write down two or three questions for opening the forum discussion, as well as to track and direct the ongoing discussions in the forums. Those students served as peer-tutors for mentoring the ongoing forum discourse. The other students in the course had to respond to their peer mentors' questions and to comment on their peers' responses, accordingly serving as mentees. 

Forums have a specific set of jargon associated with them. A single conversation is called a thread (Garrison, 200). Analyzing the peer-tutor students' raised questions, as well as the accompanied answers by the participant students, namely the forums' threads, was carried out according to the following rubrics. To clarify the categories and their levels, Table 4 presents the students’ questions and answers along with a detailed analysis of the thinking and organization levels [in brackets].

Table 4. Rubrics for analyzing students' scientific literacy, as established in the asynchronous forum questions and answers:

Example of questions and accompanied  answers

Level of the  example

Description of the categories

Q: why woman have higher risk for Osteoporosis?

Low

 

  • Interdisciplinary-medicine
  • Content- The answer to   the  question is provided in the text
  • Thinking level-Seeking information and describing.
  • Understanding and organization level- organism.

 

 

A: According to the paper, in woman about the age of 40 there is about 5% less bone mass in comparison to men. In addition, in menopause there is a systemic decrease in the levels of the estrogen hormone [molecular level], which is responsible for building and protecting the bone mass. Therefore, an advanced process of loosing bone mass starts in women around menopause

Low

  • Interdisciplinary-biology
  • Content- The answer to the question is provided in the text.
  •  Thinking level- Seeking information and describing. organization level - organism level and molecular level

Q: If a growth in the calcium levels causes such damage to mdx cells  we can ask ourselves what is the mechanism which enable healthy cells overcome such change?

High

 

  •  Interdisciplinary- biology and chemistry
  • Content- the answer is not explicit in the text
  • Thinking level-Analysis Organization level- cell molecular and mechanism level.

A: Healthy cells know how to remove from extra amount of calcium using charge channels in the membrane Accordingly when in mdx cells there is damage in the sarcolemma (tears) , the channels will not work efficiently in balancing the calcium level in the cell (this is a toxic situation  for the cells). Due to high levels of calcium in the cell the cell regulation on processes such as muscle construction will be damaged

High

 

  • Interdisciplinary- biology and chemistry
  • Content- the answer is not explicit in the text
  • Thinking level-Analysis and conclusion.
  • Understanding and organization level- cell molecular and mechanism level.

 

Findings

The questionnaires

Our findings of students' scientific literacy skills relate to comparison of the total average scores in the pre-questionnaires to those in the post-questionnaires for the three different skills – question posing, identifying the article structure, and experiment design. The students' total scientific literacy average scores were calculated as the sum of these skills. For each skill, we compared students' average scores for the following students' groups: (1) The students who took the course From Cell to Tissue, (2) the students who took the course Tissue Engineering, (3) the students who took the course Tissue Engineering after taking the course From Cell to Tissue.

Total Scientific Literacy

Findings related to the students' total average scores of scientific literacy are presented in Table 5.

Table 5. Students' total scientific literacy average scores sorted by type of course*

Post

Pre

N

Course

SD

M

SD

M

1.70

6.17

1.69

4.74

26

One Course - From Cell to Tissue

1.23

5.99

1.52

4.55

26

One Course - Tissue Engineering

1.06

6.70

1.58

5.33

13

Two Consecutive Courses - Tissue Engineering

* The total scientific average scores was calculated according to four skills, and includes the graphic skill that we will not focus in this article.

When we examined the total average scores of all the three scientific literacy skills, we found that for all three groups the gain is positive, and it was noticeable for the group of students who studied both courses.

Statistical Analysis

The assumption that reading science articles improves students' set of inquiry skills was examined by a repeated measures test. We analyzed the data from the evaluation of two variables: group (first course – From Cell to Tissue, second course – Tissue or Engineering, and two consecutive courses – From cell to Tissue and Tissue Engineering), and time? (pre or post). We used the repeated measures test with one within-subjects independent variable (time) and one between-subjects independent variable (group). The dependent variable was students' total average scores. Paired samples t-test served as our post-hoc tests.

In line with our assumption, there was a significant main effect for time (F(1,62) = 32.32, p<0.001), indicating that students' total average score in the post-questionnaires (M =6.39, SD =0.19) was higher than students' total average scores in the pre-questionnaires (M= 4.88; SD= 0.21). Likewise, there was a significant main effect for group (F(2,62) =2.88, p<0.05). Moreover, students who studied both-courses (M= 6.18, SD= 0.32) had significantly higher total average scores (p<0.05) than students who learned one course, Tissue Engineering (M= 5.27, SD= 0.22). No significant interaction effect was found between time and group (F(2, 62) =0.06, n.s.). Continued paired sampled t-tests were used to find the differences between the total average scores of the pre-, compared to the post-questionnaires in each group. The students' total average scores for each group was significantly higher for the post-questionnaires: For students who sstudied the course From Cell to Tissue, the total average score of the post (M=6.17, SD=1.70) was higher (t(25) =3.30, p<0.05)  than that of the pre- (M= 4.74, SD= 1.69). For students who studied the course Tissue Engineering, the total average score of the post (M=5.99, SD=1.23)  was higher (t(25) =3.70, p<0.01) than that of the pre (M= 4.55, SD= 1.52); and for students who learned in both courses, the total average scores of the post (M=6.70, SD=1.06) was higher (t(12) =3.61, p<0.01) than the pre- (M= 5.33, SD= 1.58).

Question Posing

Findings related to the students' question posing skill are presented in Table 6.

Table 6.  Students' average score in students' question posing skill

Post

Pre

N

Course

SD

M

SD

M

1.72

5.95

1.86

5.66

27

One Course - From Cell to Tissue

2.20

5.09

2.04

4.40

25

One Course - Tissue Engineering

2.48

5.97

2.19

4.90

14

Two Consecutive Courses - Tissue Engineering

The gain for all three groups is positive; students achieved higher average scores in the question posing skill in the post-questionnaire.  

Statistical analysis

The assumption that reading science articles improve students' posing question skill was examined by two repeated measures tests. We analyzed the data from the evaluation of the two variables: group (one course – From Cell to Tissue, one course – Tissue or Engineering or two courses – From cell to Tissue and Tissue Engineering), and time (pre or post). One repeated measures test was done with one within-subjects independent variable (time) and another was done with another between-subjects independent variable (group). The dependent variable was students' average scores. Paired samples t-test served as our post-hoc tests.

In line with our assumption, there was a borderline significant main effect for time (F(1,63) =3.79, p =0.056), indicating that students' total average scores in the post-questionnaires (M =5.67, SD =0.27) was higher than students' average scores in the pre-questionnaires (M =5.00, SD =0.26). Likewise, there was a significant main effect for group (F(2,63) =3.24, p<0.05). Students who learned in one course, From Cell to Tissue had significantly higher (p<0.05) total average score (M =5.81, SD =0.29) than students who learned in the other course, Tissue Engineering (M =4.74, SD = 0.30). No significant interaction effect was found between time and group (F(2, 63) =0.06, p= n.s.). No significant differences were found in the continued paired sampled t-tests between the average scores of the pre compared to the post for each research group.

Identifying the Article Structure Skill

Average scores for identifying the article structure are presented in Table 7.

Table 7. Students' average scores in identifying the article structure skill

Post

Pre

N

Course

SD

M

SD

M

2.67

6.10

2.63

5.33

39

One Course - From Cell to Tissue

3.23

6.27

2.58

3.67

30

One Course - Tissue Engineering

2.91

7.29

2.78

6.12

17

Two Consecutive Courses - Tissue Engineering

The gain for all three groups is positive, and it is noticeable for the group of students who studied Tissue Engineering.  Students who took the two courses achieved, in the post-questionnaire, the highest average score in the skill of identifying article structure.

Statistical analysis

The assumption that reading science articles improves students' skills in identifying the canonical article structure was examined by a repeated measures test. We analyzed the data from the evaluation of the two variables: group (one course – From Cell to Tissue, one course – Tissue or Engineering, and two-courses – From cell to Tissue and Tissue Engineering), and time (pre or post). We used repeated measures test with one within-subjects independent variable (time) and one between-subjects independent variable (group). The dependent variable was the students' average scores. Paired samples t-test served as our post-hoc tests. According to our assumption, there was a significant main effect for time (F(1,83) =12.86, p<0.001), indicating that students' average scores in the post-questionnaires (M =6.55, SD =0.33) was higher than students' average scores in the pre-questionnaires (M =5.04; SD =0.302). Likewise, there was a significant main effect for group (F(2,83) =3.81, p<0.05). Students who learned in both courses (M =6.07, SD =0.51) had significantly higher average scores (p<0.01) than students who only studied in the course Tissue Engineering (M =4.97, SD =0.38). No significant interaction effect was found between time and group (F(2, 83) =2.16, n.s.). Continued paired sampled t-tests were used to find the differences between the total average scores of the pre- compared to the post in each group. We found that the students' average score for students who studied the course Tissue Engineering was significantly higher (t(30) =3.67, p<0.01) in the post questionnaire (M =7.29, SD =2.91) than in the pre questionnaire (M =6.12, SD =2.78). 

Experiment Design

Table 8 presents the total average scores for the experiment design skill in the pre- and post-questionnaire, in the three compared groups.

Table 8. Students' average scores in the experiment design skill

Post

Pre

N

Course

SD

M

SD

M

2.10

6.18

2.94

4.87

19

One Course - From Cell to Tissue

3.20

5.68

2.84

5.45

22

One Course - Tissue Engineering

2.18

7.05

2.58

6.14

11

Two Consecutive Courses - Tissue Engineering

The gain for all three groups is positive (examined by repeated measures test), and it is noticeable for the group of students who took the course From Cell to Tissue.  Students who took the two courses achieved in the post-questionnaire the highest average score in the skill of identifying the article structure skill.               

Statistical analysis

The assumption that reading scientific articles improves students' skills regarding  experiment design was examined by a repeated measures test. We analyzed the data from the evaluation of two variables: (1) group (one course - From Cell to Tissue, one course - Tissue Engineering, or two consecutive courses - From cell to Tissue and Tissue Engineering), and (2) time (pre or post). Using repeated measures test with one within-subjects independent variable (time) and one between-subjects independent variable (group). The dependent variable was the students' average score. In line with our assumption, there was no significant main effect for time (F(1,49) =2.03, n.s.). There was no significant main effect for group (F(2,49) =1.32, n.s.), and no significant interaction effect was found between time and group (F(2, 49) =0.39, n.s.).

Forum discourse

We will introduce representative examples from the qualitative analysis of the mentor students' questions, followed by the answers, from the asynchronous forums discourses in the course From Cell to Tissue. Discourse content was analyzed according to the following categories: Interdisciplinary level, content level (Colleagues and Author, 2012), organization level (Knipples, 2002), and thinking level (Yang, Richardson, French, Lehman, 2011). All the categories were coded on a scale of 0-3. Each question or answer will be followed by a rubric, which will demonstrate the analysis of the example. We present the students’ questions and answers along with a detailed analysis of the thinking and organization levels [in brackets], to clarify the categories and their levels.

The first examples are from the beginning of the course, namely the establishment of the discourse in the asynchronous forums. The next examples are taken from forum No.1 of group No.1:

Question 1, Forum No.1 , Group No.1

"Explain a possible mechanism [Mechanism level] which connects between a lack of dystrophyn in the cell and high levels of calcium in times of rest [Cell and Molecular levels][Seeking information and Describing], therefore an ununited activation of the muscle fibers. Why calcium which gets in from inner cell reserves does not cause such an effect?" [Seeking information and Describing].

Total

Thinking levels

(0-3)

Organization levels

(0-3)

Content

 

(0-3)

Interdisciplinary

(0-3)

Dimension

6

1+1

2

1

1

Grading

 

Seeking information and Describing

Molecular, cell and mechanism levels.

The answer to the question is provided in the text

Two disciplines, Chemistry and Biology.

Justification

Answer 1, Forum No.1 , Group No.1

"The main function of dystrophyn, according to the article, is in stabilizing the sarcolemma. In the article a hypothesis is being raised that there is a relationship between high levels of dystrophyn [Molecular level] in the cell, and the lack of dystrophyn, and that when there is a lack of dystrophyn, tears are being created in the sarcolemma, through them outer calcium is getting in. In contrary the cell controls the inter-calcium secretion [Cell level]. The increase in the amount of calcium in the cell is a kind of signal to the cell to contract. Therefore, a growth in the level of outer calcium causes an unregulated activation of the muscle cell [Mechanism level], [Seeking information and Describing]. 

Total

Thinking levels

(0-3)

Organization levels

(0-3)

Content

(0-3)

Interdisciplinary

 (0-3)

Dimension

 

4

1

2

1

0

Grading

 

Seeking information and describing

Molecular, cell and mechanism levels.

The answer is provided in the text

Only biology.

Justification

 

As can be seen, both the question as well as the accompanying answer is at a low level of scientific literacy, in terms of the thinking, content and organization level. We will now introduce another answer, given by another student participant, which also accompanied the first peer-tutors' question:

Answer 2, Forum No.1 , Group No.1

"A lack of dystrophyn causes tears in the cell membrane, therefore calcium outside the cell can enter [cell level], the calcium inside the cell is no longer regulated which causes an ununited activation of the muscle cell [Molecular and mechanism levels].   Calcium from inner cell does not cause such an effect since this calcium is being regulated [Seeking information and Describing]."

Total

Thinking levels

(0-3)

Organization levels

(0-3)

Content

 

(0-3)

Interdisciplinary

 

(0-3)

Dimension

4

1

2

1

0

Grading

 

Seeking information and describing

Molecular, cell and mechanism levels.

The answer is provided in the text

Only  Biology

Justification

Following introducing an original question being raised, and two examples of accompanied answers; we will now introduce a concatenation question, which evolved in the thread from the original question the peer-tutor students' raised. The next derived question was also raised by the peer-tutor students in the first week of the course, Forum No. 1 in Group No.1, in order to promote the discourse in the asynchronous forum in the course website:

A derived question 1a, Forum No.1 , Group No.1

"How exactly does dystrophyn prevent damage in the muscle cell fibers? [Analysis] How a lack of dystrophn leads to tears in the sarcolemma [Molecular and mechanism levels], when we know that the membrane can keep its structure due to its fluid structure [Cell level]. Raise hypotheses and use sources in the article [Analysis]."

Total

Thinking levels

(0-3)

Organization levels

(0-3)

Content

(0-3)

Interdisciplinary

(0-3)

Dimension

12

3+3

2

3

1

Grading

 

 

Analysis

Molecular, cell and mechanism levels.

The answer to the question is not provided explicitly in the text, and is in the form of a research question

Biology and Chemistry

Justification

In consequence, here are the two accompanied answers of the presented derived question:

Answer 3, Forum No.1 , Group No.1

"In relation to the question of how the Dystrophyn protein prevents tears in the muscle cell fibers, I used a reference which appeared in the article. McNeil PL, Steinhardt RA. Plasma membrane disruption repair, prevention, and adaptation. Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol, 19, 697–731, 2003. According to this paper [Seeking information and Describing] the fusion mechanism of the membrane is complex and it is not caused only by the hydrophobic effect, but also from the process of exocytose, when vesicles, contained the sufficient materials fused on the damaged region in the membrane and fix the damage [Molecular and mechanism level]. This mechanism, as other processes in the cell [Cell level], is mediated by many enzymes and factors.  Therefore my hypothesis is that the dystrophyn protein has a critical role in the chain of reactions of the membrane fusion, and due to its lack the fusion of the vesicles does not carried out properly, therefore calcium from outside can enter inside the cell.[Analysis and drawing conclusions].   

Total

Thinking levels

(0-3)

Organization levels

(0-3)

Content

 

(0-3)

Interdisciplinary

 

 (0-3)

Dimension

9

1+3

2

2

1

Grading

 

Analysis and drawing conclusions

Molecular, cell and mechanism levels.

The answer is based on information in the original text, also on added source.

Biology and Chemistry

Justification

As can be seen clearly, the derived question, as well as the accompanying answer, are at a higher level of scientific literacy than the beginning questions and answers, expressed mostly in the content and the thinking level dimensions. We will now present another answer to the derived question, which also reflects the same trend, an increase in the level of scientific literacy:

Answer 4, Forum No.1 , Group No.1

"According to our paper, the assumptions concerning the Dystrophyn function are based upon its location in the cell. According to the paper, the Dystrophyn is connected from one side to the sarlecomma, and from the other side to an actin fiber in the costomer. In the paper of Rybakova IN, Patel JR, Ervasti JM, The dystrophin complex forms a mechanically strong link between the sarcolemma and costameric actin, they stress that dystrophyn has an important function in the connection between inner and out of the cell, and a role in the disarming of stress in the muscle [Cell level], [Seeking information and Describing]. Therefore, I tend to agree with my friend who answers before, that in the lack of Dystrophyn, the muscle does not comprehend with the pressures, and tears are formed in the cell membrane [Mechanism level]. Due to the tears, calcium is entering the cell in an unregulated way, which accelerates the erosion of the cell [Molecular and mechanism levels], [Analysis and drawing conclusions]"  

Total

Thinking levels

(0-3)

Organization levels

(0-3)

Content

(0-3)

Interdisciplinary

(0-3)

Dimension

9

1+3

2

2

1

Grading

 

Analysis and drawing conclusions

Molecular, cell and mechanism levels.

The answer is based on information in the original text, also on added source.

Biology and Chemistry

Justification

After presenting examples of raised questions and accompanied answers from the first forum discussions, we would like now to introduce more representative examples of original questions accompanied with two answers, as well as derived questions accompanied by two answers, this time from the last forum in the course:

Question 2, Forum No.12 , Group No.2

"The paper presents the concept 'remodeling', which relates to two types of cells. Describe this process. Relate in your answers to the importance of equilibrium in the remodeling process [Molecular and mechanism levels]. Refer to the third type of cells which are also involved in this process [Cell and mechanism levels], [Seeking information and Describing]

Total

Thinking levels

(0-3)

Organization levels

(0-3)

Content

 

(0-3)

Interdisciplinary

 

 (0-3)

Dimension

4

1

2

1

0

Grading

 

Seeking information and describing

Molecular, cell and mechanism levels.

The answer is in the text.

Only Biology

Justification

As can be seen, also as in the case of the beginning question in Forum No.1, the first question in the thread is low in terms of scientific literacy, mostly in the terms of the content and thinking level. This tendency is also reflected in the accompanied answers to this question: 

Answer 5, Forum No.12 , Group No.2

"The process of remodeling involves two types of cells [Cell level]: Osteoblasts, which shape the bone, and Osteoclasts, which decompose the bone. The decomposition occurs when the osteoclasts connect to the bone and release enzymes which decompose the bone by creating holes from which calcium is getting out.  The restructure of the bone is created by the secretion of matrix by the Osteoblasts, which together with calcium Collagen and other minerals create Hydroxyapatite [Molecular level]. When there is equilibrium between the formation of the bone and the decomposition of the bone, the bone mass will be strong and stable [Mechanism level] [Seeking information and Describing]. "

Total

Thinking levels

 (0-3)

Organization levels

 (0-3)

Content

 

(0-3)

Interdiscip-linary

 

 (0-3)

Dimension

5

1

2

1

1

Grading

 

Seeking information and describing. 

Molecular, cell and mechanism levels.

The answer is in the text.

Biology

Justification

As can be seen, as in forum No.1, a low level question in terms of scientific literacy is accompanied by a low level answer, on the same rubrics. This trend is continued in another answer to the same question:

Answer 6, Forum No.12 , Group No.2

"Since people have already answered concerning Osteoblasts and Osteoclasts, I would like to expand concerning the Octeocytes. These are the mature bone cells, which secrete different materials and form the matrix [Mechanism level] the matrix contains organic materials as well as inorganic salts as well as water [Molecular level]. The cells are separated unevenly inside this matrix [Cell level], [Seeking information and Describing]. "

Total

Thinking levels

 (0-3)

Organization levels

(0-3)

Content

 

(0-3)

Interdisciplinary

 

(0-3)

Dimension

4

1

1

1

1

Grading

 

Seeking information and Describing

Molecular and cell levels.

The answer is in the text.

Chemistry and Biology

Justification

 

Following presenting a question being raised in the beginning by the peer-tutor students, and its accompanied answers, we would like now to present the derived question in the thread:

Question 2a, Forum No.12 , Group No.2

"The paper presents synthetic estrogen estern. How or in what way the researchers have tested estern that is different in its function than the estrogen hormone? [Molecular level][Seeking information and Describing]. What do you think about this study's ability to convince that synthetic estrogen is not as dangerous as estrogen?[Organism level], [Analysis and drawing conclusions] "

Total

Thinking levels

(0-3)

Organization levels

(0-3)

Content

 

(0-3)

Interdisciplinary

 

(0-3)

Dimension

9

1+3

1

2

2

Grading

 

Analysis and drawing conclusions

Molecular and organism levels.

The answer does not appear explicitly   in the text.

Chemistry, Biology and Medicine.

Justification

As can be noticed this question is at a much higher level of scientific literacy than the beginning questions in both forums No.1 and No.12. Also, this question is at a higher level of scientific literacy than the beginning question in this forum. We will now see the level of scientific literacy in the accompanied answers to this derived question:

Answer 7, Forum No.12 , Group No.2

"The researchers have shown that estern is different from estrogen [Molecular level] by showing in mousses [Organism level] that were treated with estren there was no growth in the weight of the uterus or the spread blister. In that way, the researchers have shown that estern has no effect on tissues of the productive system [Tissue level][Seeking information ans Describing]. Still, in my opinion, this study does not convince that estren is not dangerous as estrogen due to several reasons:

*The effect on humans can differ from the effect in mice.

*The time period in which the effects of the estern were tested was not mentioned. It could be that the side effects evolve after a while. In addition, a paper published in 2006 has shown that the productive organs in mice [Organism level] have growth, contradictory to the findings in this paper [Analysis and drawing conclusions]".  

Total

Thinking levels

(0-3)

Organization levels

(0-3)

Content

 

(0-3)

Interdiscip-linary

 

(0-3)

Dimension

9

1+3

2

2

1

Grading

 

Analysis and drawing conclusions

Molecular organism and tissue levels.

The answer does not appear explicitly   in the text, and is based on additional sources or previous knowledge

Biology and Science in general.

Justification

This trend is continued in another answer to the same derived question:

Answer 8, Forum No.12 , Group No.2

"In order to show that synthetic estrogen is different in its hormonal effects than estrogen, the researchers used female mice [Organism level] and were looking for hormonal effects [Molecular level] such as differences in the weight of the uterus [Organ level][Seeking information and Describing]. Therefore, in my opinion this study does give an answer to the question, does estrogen affect the productive system, but it does not answer the question whether estren causes the damages such as using estrogen, or does it affect selectively [Analysis and drawing conclusions]  . Attached is a link to another paper which shows that estern works as a weak estrogen [Seeking information]: http://endo.endojournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/147/5/2203 .

The name of the paper: 'Estren Behaves as a Weak Estrogen Rather than a Nongenomic Selective Activator in the Mouse Uterus' "

Total

Thinking levels

(0-3)

Organization levels

(0-3)

Content

 

(0-3)

Interdis-ciplinary

 

(0-3)

Dimension

10

1+3+1

1

2

2

Grading

 

Analysis and drawing conclusions/

Molecular, organism and organ levels.

The answer does not appear explicitly   in the text, and is based on additional sources or previous knowledge

Biology and Science in general.

Justification

 

Discussion

Our study deals with promoting scientific literacy in advanced undergraduate and graduate students through reading research papers, in the framework of establishing hybrid courses in higher education. We have shown in our study the potential of hybrid courses in promoting student-centered approach and active learning, in face-to-face lectures as well as in online instruction.

Moreover, our findings stressed the potential of studying a series of hybrid courses based on reading scientific articles aimed at promoting scientific literacy.

Scientific literacy is a key set of skills that students at all levels must acquire (Bybee, 1997; Murcia, 2009; Norris and Phillips, 2003). To make it concrete and valuable, our study examined fostering three scientific literacy skills: question posing, identifying article structure, and experiment design skills; and the total average score composed of all three scientific literacy skills, through two specially-developed biomedical engineering hybrid courses. Analyzing the pre-questionnaires' average scores revealed that even engineering students in an advanced course lack scientific literacy in general and have difficulties with scientific articles. To remedy this, we introduced on-line activities, open forum as an integral part of the course, in which we have focused on analyzing the articles' key issues as part of the forum discussions and as a longitudinal contribution to the final score of the course.

Did the activities integrated in the hybrid courses improve students' question posing skill?

The total average scores for students' question posing skill for all three groups in the post questionnaires were the highest. Our explanation is that in both courses, students' assignments included the question posing skill after reading scientific articles. Practicing the question posing skill, improved this skill. The From Cell to Tissue course included the interactive dialogues in the online asynchronous forum, which were based on peer-tutor students' questions followed by students' answers. Students in the Tissue Engineering course practiced the question posing skill by posing their own inquiry question as part of a research inquiry project.

The additional qualitative findings of this study were concerned with students' scientific literacy as reflected in analyzing their discourse in the asynchronous forum of the course. We have analyzed the question the peer-tutors raised each week, as well as the accompanied answers by the peers. Those findings were aimed at validating the findings concerning students' progression in their scientific literacy by using similar criteria, which were identified in the questionnaires. The questions and answers of these students also shed light on patterns in this progression, as were reflected in the forum threads.

We identified that the peer-tutor students' questions were at a basic level at the beginning of the threads, namely at a low level of complexity, as well as in a strong linkage to the text in the research article, presenting reading comprehension. However, the next derived questions from the original questions were at a higher level of scientific literacy. Students' question posing capability may serve as an evaluation tool for assessing the extent to which students understand and analyze scientific articles (Colleague and Author, 2009; Yarden, 2009). Students' gain was positive in all the peer-tutors' question posing categories individually – the thinking level, the question content level, and the complexity level – as well as in the total average question posing score. Our findings indicate that online discussions enabled collaborative learning, which accomplished knowledge construction and higher levels of analyzing and comprehension of the scientific research articles, as it was also shown by Garrison and Kanuka, (2004). Accordingly, these findings stress previous findings, that involving students in the formulation of research questions and data analysis strategies results in better understanding of empirical data and development of analysis strategies (O'Neill and Polman 2004). 

 

Did the activities integrated in the hybrid courses improve students' identifying article structure skill?

When comparing the starting points and gains for each of the identifying canonical article structure skill by analyzing the questionnaires, we can conclude that the post average scores of all the three research groups were higher than the pre-average scores in this skill. This indicates that reading scientific articles acquaints students with scientific literacy aspects, such as the language, structure, and process of scientific communication, and with the continuity of the scientific research process. Similar findings about students' improvement after reading scientific articles and exposing them to the scientific structure were reported by others (Baram-Tsabari and Yarden, 2005; Yarden, 2009; Yarden, Brill, and Falk, 2001; Colleagues and Author, 2012). We also found that students who studied in both courses improved their average scores significantly more than students who learned only in the course Tissue Engineering (effect of group). This finding indicates that students who studied in both courses improve their identifying canonical article structure skill because they carried out assignments that were based on reading scientific articles over two semesters rather than one.    

Did the activities integrated in the hybrid courses improve students' experiment design skill?

Students improved their scores in experiment design skill in all three research groups but no significant effect of time was found between the pre- and post-average scores. When answering the questionnaires, students were asked to suggest a follow-up experiment to the experiment described in the scientific article.  To accomplish the assignment, students were required to identify a new problem based on the experiment described in the text, and then to propose at least one new dependent or independent variable. One of the stages in an experimental design is the design of the experiment. The experimental design process is used by those people who can be considered experts, and it is a higher order cognitive activity (Koretsky, Amatroe, Barnes and Kimura, 2008). This indicates that the experiment design skill investigated in our study is a multi-stage higher order activity, and is therefore considered a scientific literacy skill that is difficult to attain (NRC, 2012, Padilla, 1990). We assume that students need more practice and time to significantly improve this skill. These results are in line with those of Coil, Wenderoth, and Cunningham (2010), who found that undergraduate biology students who practiced experiment design significantly improved at this skill.

However, the results show that, including in both courses, students' activities such as suggesting and writing an inquiry project, reading, understanding, analyzing and posing questions on the experiments in the scientific articles forum improved students' experiment design skill.

Summary and Conclusions

Our findings indicate that when students learned in one course, it promoted their scientific literacy into functional scientific literacy (Shamos, 1995), which is characterized by the ability to converse, read and write coherently in a nontechnical but meaningful context, as reflected in the forum discourse. Taking the two hybrid courses in sequence yielded the best results in post-average scores for each of the three skills examined: students’ question posing, identifying article structure, and experiment design skills. Those findings point to the need for the ongoing practice of this set of key skills, in order to promote the "true" higher level of scientific literacy, reflected in the ability to use those scientific ways of thinking (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990; Shamos, 1995).

One of the main limitations of our research is the fact that it was carried out among an advanced population of students, undergraduate and graduate students, majoring in biomedical engineering. Moreover, this population of students is not large. Therefore, we recommend repeating this research design in alternate populations of students in higher education, in larger-sized research populations. Taking these limitations into consideration, we believe our study is unique since it focused on question posing following reading and interpreting scientific research articles, specifically at the higher education level. We believe that the fundamental sense of science literacy is the ability to read and write science texts, most important at tertiary education (Norris and Phillips 2003). 

More specifically, students’ question posing skills have been examined in different settings and using a variety of criteria (Author and Colleague, 1999, Marbach-Ad and Sokolove, 2000). However, studies at the higher education level are rare and none of them used the idea of moving from a functional scientific literacy point of view, as characterized by the ability to converse, read, and write coherently to a "true" scientific literacy, characterized by the ability to use those scientific ways of thinking (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990; Shamos, 1995). Additional strength of this paper stems from the analysis of data gathered from both research tools – questionnaires (a quantitative analysis) and forum discussions (a qualitative analysis). We can clearly say that reading scientific articles can assist in understanding the rationale of a research plan, as well as developing the ability to critically assess the conclusions of scientific research, as Yarden, Brill and Falk (2001) have shown at the high school level using adapted primary literature.

This study can also contribute to practicing scientific literacy in higher education, most especially while majoring in sciences programs, where there is a need to give much more attention to students’ conceptual understanding (Tobias, 1990). Finally, we can conclude from our study that hybrid courses are activated by the variety of educational technologies and visualizations they combine (see Figure 3). 

Figure 3: Practicing scientific literacy skills in higher education via hybrid courses involving visualizations

These features of hybrid courses enable us to promote the students' scientific literacy and were based on the design principle of students learning from others. The technological features of the biomedical courses enabled students' asynchronous forum discussions between the students, based on peer-tutors' questions in the course From Cell to Tissue. While in the F2F classroom in the course Tissue Engineering, students worked in teams of three or four students. Each team wrote a research proposal and then prepared a scientific poster based on four scientific research articles.  

Research Contributions

The theoretical contribution of this study is the expansion of the body of knowledge of scientific literacy in science and engineering higher education, with particular focus on combining peer-tutor instruction in online Q&A forums. Our findings show that both the students' thinking skills and the complexity level of the questions posed by the peer-tutors increased over time, as did the quality of the peers' feedback. These findings indicate that reading scientific articles, followed by forum discussions or research poster presentations, improve students' higher order thinking skills, specifically those of question posing, identifying the canonical research article structure, and suggesting subsequent experiment design. The students' learning outcomes also underscore the potential of hybrid course formats to strengthen the face-to-face meetings via online discussions. The design principle of students learning from others served as the basis for these discussions, which turned out to be a significant source of data, as well as a basis for writing students' research proposals. The conclusions of this study can contribute to effective design and assessment of hybrid courses in science and engineering education for the promotion of students' scientific literacy. Finally yet importantly, we need to validate the detailed assessment criteria for evaluating and improving similar online learning activities, which eventually may serve lecturers in higher education to refine their online course assignments.

Acknowledgement

This study was conducted at TIDES – Technion International Distance Education & Studies, which was established for allowing engineers and scientists to continue their studies from a distance.

The research leading to these results has received partial funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement No. 262044 – VISIONAIR.

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