Date of Award

Summer 8-21-2020

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master's of Science in Teaching (MST)


Science and Mathematics Education


Sara Lindsay

Second Committee Member

Asli Sezen-Barrie

Third Committee Member

Natasha Speer


Undergraduate science education suffers from a lack of concrete instructional strategies that address real-world postgraduate skills such as visual literacy and science communication. Research within marine science education especially lags behind other, more well-researched fields such as physics or mathematics education, both of which have extensive literature addressing specific instructional strategies that instructors can implement in the classroom. Undergraduate marine science programs overlap with content areas from chemistry, physics, and biology, and provide a rich opportunity for examining how to include more authentic educational experiences in an undergraduate classroom. However, the types of assessments that are typically employed tend to encourage practices such as rote memorization and fact-recall, as assessed by lengthy multiple-choice quizzes and exams. Such assessments have come under scrutiny as professionals and educators alike call for undergraduate instruction to more closely align with actual scientific practice. This study assessed a drawing-to-learn strategy in a marine science classroom to determine if opportunities for students to utilize diagramming and drawing during formative assessments translated into greater depth of information and understanding obtained from their responses.

Three different years of student cohorts enrolled in an introductory marine science course at a public university in the Northeastern United States that focused on comparative anatomy and evolution of marine phyla were given formative assessment “notecard questions” throughout the semester-long course from 2017 – 2019. A prompt regarding the close linkages between circulatory and respiratory systems – which exemplified core concepts from guiding instructional documents, as well as addressed specific course goals – was examined in detail, with responses from 2017 and 2018 comprising of traditional written answers, whereas 2019 responses were drawn. Notecards were coded for a variety of holistic and specific parameters to determine the detail of response, whether alternative conceptions were present, and expertise of response, comparing written responses to drawn.

Results indicated that drawn responses tended to capture more core ideas (“Key Concepts”) out of three identified and greater depth of detail than written alone. In particular, drawn responses captured specific structures such as the heart (58.2% of responses) and lungs/gills (84.8% of responses) as compared to only 7.3% (χ2 = 73.08, df = 1, p < 0.001) and 43.8% (χ2= 38.26, df = 1, p < 0.001) of written responses, respectively. Certain Key Concepts also seemed to be more easily depicted in drawn form than written, such as the idea of circulatory – respiratory integration. Interestingly, although both response categories had alternative conceptions present, certain alternative conception codes that were more frequent in drawn responses required a higher threshold of knowledge for students to demonstrate before such a code could be invoked.

Taken together, the results from this study reveal that strategically incorporating drawing- to-learn opportunities in the undergraduate marine science classroom can provide instructors with more insight into student knowledge than writing alone. Future research can build upon the approaches taken in this study to implement more scaffolded approaches to drawing and diagramming in order to meet the challenges of providing authentic scientific learning opportunities.

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