New study method improves grades for microbiology students


Katriana Popichak teaches the MIP 300. She uses the U-Behavior study method developed by James Folkestad. Credit: Colorado State University

A new study method has improved Colorado State University students’ grades in introductory general microbiology by about a letter, according to CSU education professor James Folkestad, director of the Center for Analysis learning and teaching (C-ALT).

The U-Behavior system – which Folkestad says could be used in any classroom – ironically improves grades by using quizzes that only track progress instead of marking answers.

“We kind of targeted (MIP 300) because, on the one hand, the instructors were extremely interested in what we were offering and, also, it’s just a tough class,” Folkestad said. “Most people who have taken microbiology courses will attest to this. Lots to know, lots to learn, lots to digest. So we were looking for a challenging and challenging course on our campus in which we could put this and that. is unmarked, so we started there.”

The improvement in letter grade has been consistent over several semesters, so Folkestad said there was not just one class of superstar students. Over the past semester, he has expanded the practice to include courses in geology, psychology, and computer science.

“We’re stepping up and trying to integrate other courses in subsequent semesters, including physics,” Folkestad said of its unique system that grew from 200 students to around 2,000 in spring 2022. weren’t fully prepared” with the onboarding process, so Folkestad said that would be changed.

What is the U behavior?

Folkestad said 40 to 50 years of learning research has not led to the successful implementation of behavioral changes to help students succeed by adopting better study habits. He rose to the challenge head-on.

“U-Behavior was designed over 3.5 years of tinkering,” Folkestad said. “It includes visualizations (practice and performance correlated) that seem to really resonate with students, and they start to change their behaviors.”

On a CSU webpage, U-Behavior is described as a learning and teaching method that uses the Canvas quiz tool to promote optimal study behaviors and practices for students.

After two or three courses/sections/lessons, students take quizzes, called Recovery Practice Activities or RPAs, on a series of concepts. They can take over an RPA, but the questions and answers change.

“I thought it was really exciting and it seemed almost simple, philosophically wise,” said Jennifer McLean, one of the MIP 300 instructors, “but to put it into practice and get students to actually change their behavior , that’s a whole other story.”

No notes, but spaced studies

McLean and Katriana Popichak, who are teaching three sections of the MIP 300 this semester, agreed that the key to the method isn’t scoring RPAs.

“I think I was initially skeptical of the students’ perspective – usually by the time they reach that stage of their undergraduate career in their studies – I hope at least they have somehow understood the majority of their studies,” said Popichak, who added that she was worried until they decided not to grade the quizzes. “That’s when I was particularly excited about it, because it gives students an opportunity to really practice and focus on the study side rather than just chasing points for accuracy.”

Folkestad said most fellow teachers were receptive to incorporating U-Behavior into their courses. He said the results indicate improvement across all learners, who space out their studies throughout the semester.

He said some students are better than others at cramming for a test. But Folkestad added that it is not an education that students can “regurgitate in an exam” and then forget it is not an education.

“What is learning? ” he said. “You really haven’t learned anything if you don’t remember.”

A student look

Brandon Lowry is an older-than-average, first-generation undergraduate who has started and left college twice due to non-educational issues. He immediately liked the U-Behavior concept in MIP 300.

“It was the first time I had encountered this kind of activity or commitment. It was very different from the busy job I had before,” Lowry said. “It seemed geared towards… behavioral changes that seemed to have some purpose or intent behind it.”

Lowry said a colorful, aesthetically pleasing graph shows study patterns and trends and how these affect the rating.

Lowry did well on the first two exams and, distracted by extracurricular issues, dropped on the third when he failed to follow the U-Behavior pattern.

“There’s a lot of built-in thinking in there,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you have them good or bad. You just do them. You want to see an upward trend in your scores.”

A courageous strategic transformation

McLean said most students embrace the system.

“It’s learning how to learn well,” she said. “I’d like to see it start in this introductory freshman class in our major and then we’ll continue it…I can see it working. I can see the professors embracing it and wanting to do it.”

Lowry is on track to graduate in fall 2022 with a degree in biomedical sciences. He hopes to obtain a doctorate. and teach anatomy, perhaps using the Folkestad method.

He said the system could work across campus. “I think that would be incredibly valuable,” Lowry said. “I think it’s a unique way to teach and encourage student learning.”

Changing the way an entire university learns appears to align with the goals of CSU President Joyce McConnell’s courageous strategic transformation in interdisciplinary, experiential, and collaborative education.

“The idea really transforms the behavior of students from the moment they walk in to the moment they leave,” Folkestad said. “And really change how they orient themselves around learning and how they behave around learning. That would be amazing. That would be the goosebumps moment.”

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Provided by Colorado State University

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