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The Impact of Active-Learning Exercises on the Grade Distribution in a Large-Lecture, General Education Biology Course

Journal of College Science Teaching—May/June 2015

To make our general education biology course for nonmajors more relevant and engaging, we recently implemented an instructional approach featuring collaborative, active-learning exercises. The primary point of interest in this study was the impact of the exercises on students’ grades, particularly those students who struggle on tests. Expectedly, as grading of the exercises focused on collaboration and demonstrated effort, students scored higher on the exercises than they did on tests. What is surprising was how much more students could have increased their grades had they taken full advantage of the approach by being present and completing all of the exercises. The question of why some students—in particular those who struggle on tests—do not take full advantage of grading opportunities that emphasize effort and participation is perplexing. Studies that focus on student motivation and attitudes toward general education courses may help answer this lingering question.
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