Assessing the Value of Prerequisite Courses

Teaching Professors Brian Sato, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Justin F. Shaffer, Developmental and Cell Biology, and Pavan Kadandale, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, together with a team of undergraduate researchers are taking a unique approach to address a long-standing question in academia, “How well do course prerequisites prepare students for future courses?”

“While prerequisites are ubiquitous, there has been little effort to measure their impact in a data-driven manner and there have been mixed results on their usefulness,” says Professor Sato.

To address the question, they created a novel “familiarity scale” to measure the value of knowledge gained in prerequisite classes in the context of student performance in a molecular biology course and a human anatomy course. In their study, recently published in PLOS ONE, they discovered that topics that were covered extensively in a previous course led to better student performance on those same topics in a future course. However, topics that were covered only briefly in the prerequisite did not lead to improved performance in the later course when compared to topics that were introduced for the very first time in that later course. This finding argues that prerequisites covering fewer topics in depth using evidence-based but time-intensive teaching methods, like active learning, might have the most impact on student learning. This is an important finding that will allow us to further assess and improve our courses so as to provide the best education for biological sciences students at UCI. Additionally, the “familiarity scale” approach could be applied globally to other courses to assess the impact of prerequisite courses in different disciplines in a data-driven manner.

More information regarding this study can be found here.

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