The purpose of this two-part study is to examine how to improve introductory level non-majors biology courses to improve student attitude and learning gains in the sciences. The first part of this study examines the collective effect of three different pedagogies (service learning, concept mapping and guest lectures) on student attitude and learning gains in a freshman, non-majors biology course. Two classes, one with the three pedagogies, and one without, were compared. Data were collected from two classes in Fall 2008 (one treatment and one control) and two similar classes replicated in Fall 2009. Learning and attitude gains were measured by a pre and post biology assessment and the Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG) survey. Our findings indicate that the treatment methods did not improve student learning or attitudes compared to the control group. However, there was a significant increase in variability in the treatment group, indicating that the students exposed to the three pedagogies either had a very positive experience or a negative one, whereas the control group did not have this variability. Thus, the treatment did have a positive effect on some students. Both treatments experienced significant gains from pre to post on the biology assessment and SALG survey. The second part of the study investigated what concepts are considered by students and faculty to be most important to teach in introductory non-majors biology courses. A survey with 17 biology concepts was given to life science professors at BYU and UVU and biology students at BYU. Participants were asked to rank the concepts from most to least important. There were significant differences between professor and student mean rankings for 11 of the 17 biology concepts. This study showed a large discrepancy between what professors want students to learn and what students feel is important. It was particularly noteworthy that students ranked ecology and evolution as least important. This was especially alarming since evolution is considered to be the capstone of all biology and ecology is vital for capturing the "big picture" in biology.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





service learning, concept mapping, guest lectures, attitude, biology, learning gains, introductory biology course, pedagogy