Improving Biology Education

My group has worked on a variety of different projects directed at improving undergraduate biology education. We are currently exploring how students' use of metacognitive and self-regulatory practices influence their success in Genetics, and how to stimulate these behaviors to improve study strategies and learning. In addition, we are working with the journal CourseSource to deliver writing studios, and to study instructors' experiences in designing and writing active learning lessons.

Most recent publications:

Just out! Relationships between Prediction Accuracy, Metacognitive Reflection, and Performance in Introductory Genetics Students:

Former Postdoc Jennifer Avena (now Assistant Professor at San Jose State) worked on how students engage in complex problem solving and scientific reasoning, particularly in genetics13,14

Former Ph.D. student Alex Paine worked on collaborative problem solving  in introductory level CURE labs15.


We helped to develop concept assessment tools (the Genetics Concept Assessment1 and the Introductory Molecular Biology Assessment2, designed to diagnose student misunderstandings and measure learning gains in typical undergraduate biology courses, as well as programmatic-level assessments to measure progress across a major (the Molecular Biology Capstone Assessment3, and the PhysMAPS4), as well as an attitudes assessment (the Bio-CLASS5), and a taxonomy for measuring Scientific Teaching (MIST)6. We have also studied the use and benefits of clicker questions in large lecture courses, and have shown that students learn from each other during peer discussions of questions7, and that the nature of their discussions is heavily influenced by cues from instructors8, interactions with peer mentors9, and group random calling10. We collaborated with the Automated Analysis of Constructed Response group, designing questions and helping to diagnose student misunderstandings11, and studying faculty use of active learning tools12.

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Center for STEM Learning

Knight and Corwin GroupKnight and Corwin Group in 2019 (left to right): Jenny Knight's group: Postdoc Jennifer Avena, Graduate student Alex Paine, Graduate student Gretchen Geibel, Undergrad Oscar Whitney, Jenny Knight, Postdoc Betsy McIntosh. Lisa Corwin's group: Grad student Erin Fried, Lisa Corwin, Postdoc Ashley Rowland.



  1. Smith, MK, Wood, WB, Knight, JK (2008). The Genetics Concept Assessment: A New Concept Inventory for Gauging Student Understanding of Genetics. CBE Life Sci. Educ. 7, 422-430.
  2. Shi J, Wood WB, Martin JM, Guild NA, Vincens Q, Knight JK. (2010). A Diagnostic Assessment for Introductory Molecular and Cell Biology. CBE Life Sci. Educ. 9, 453-461.
  3. Couch BA, Wood WB, Knight JK. (2015) The Molecular Biology Capstone Assessment: A Concept Assessment for Upper-Division Molecular Biology Students. CBE Life Sci. Educ. 14,1-11.
  4. Semsar et al (in preparation) Phys-MAPS: A programmatic physiology assessment for introductory and advanced undergraduates.
  5. Semsar K, Knight JK, Birol G, Smith MK (2011). The Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS) for use in Biology. CBE Life Sci. Educ 10, 268-278.
  6. Durham MF, Knight JK, Couch BA (2017). Measurement Instrument for Scientific Teaching (MIST): A Tool to Measure the Frequencies of Research-Based Teaching Practices in Undergraduate Science Courses. CBE Life Sci Educ December 1, 2017 16:ar67. doi: 10.1187/cbe.17-02-0033.
  7. Smith MK, Wood, WB, Krauter, K, Knight JK. (2011). Combining Peer Discussion with Instructor Explanation Increases Student Learning from In-class Concept Questions. CBE Life Sci. Educ. 10, 55-63.
  8. Knight JK, Wise, SB, Southard KM (2013). Understanding clicker discussions: student reasoning and the impact of instructional cues. CBE Life Sci. Educ. 12, 645-654.
  9. Knight JK, Wise SB, Rentsch J, Furtak EM (2015). Cues Matter: Learning Assistants Influence Introductory Biology Student Interactions during Clicker-Question Discussions. CBE Life Sci. Educ. 14, 1-14.
  10. Knight JK, Wise SB, Sieke S (2016). Group random call can positively affect student in-class clicker discussions. CBE Life Sci. Educ. 15(4).
  11. Prevost LB, Smith MK, Knight JK (2016). Using student writing and lexical analysis to reveal student thinking about the role of stop codons in the central dogma. CBE Life Sci. Educ. 15(4).
  12. McCourt JS, Andrews TC, Knight JK, et al (2017). What Motivates Biology Instructors to Engage and Persist in Teaching Professional Development? CBE Life Sci. Educ. 16(3).
  13. Avena JS and Knight JK (2019). Problem solving in genetics: Content hints can help. CBE Life Sci Educ. 18:ar23 doi: 10.1187/cbe.18-06-0093

  14. Avena JS, McIntosh BB, Whitney ON, Wiens A, Knight JK (2021). Successful problem solving in genetics varies based on question content. CBE Life Sci Educ. doi: 10.1187/cbe.21-01-0016
  15. Paine AR and Knight JK (2020). Student behaviors and interactions influence group discussions in an introductory biology lab setting. CBE Life Sci Educ. doi: 10.1187/cbe.20-03-0054.