Improving Biology Education

Knight and Corwin GroupKnight and Corwin Group (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.

My group has worked on a variety of different projects directed at improving undergraduate biology education. We have 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 currently collaborate with the Automated Analysis of Constructed Response group, designing questions and helping to diagnose student misunderstandings11, and studying faculty use of active learning tools12. Currently we are focusing on understanding how students engage in complex problem solving and scientific reasoning, particularly in genetics, but also in introductory level CURE labs13. I have also been involved in faculty development-I directed the Mountain West Regional National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education in Biology for 5 years (2010-2015), and am still involved in these projects through the Mobile Summer Institutes, and as a facilitator for other regional institutes. I am also a fellow in CU's Center for STEM Learning.


  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. Problem Solving Through Practice: Identifying Common Student Struggles in Solving Complex Biology Problems and Developing Tools to Drive Improvement. NSF DUE 1711348.