Senior Honors Projects, 2010-2019

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Graduation

Spring 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (BS)


Department of Biology


Joseph Harsh


Graphs are used in our lives daily to communicate information such as political ads or car sales. In the sciences, understanding graphs is essential to effective communication as graphs are often used to report experimental results or observed trends. However, research suggests that college students are not fluent in this form of scientific communication. Additionally, research has also found that standardized assessments of quantitative literacy fail to be clearly defined at the curricular or institutional levels. This research looks at the differences between the cognitive and metacognitive strategies of how individuals along a continuum of biological expertise visually represent data. As a result, an instrument was created from expert feedback and graphing literature to test if differences exist in how individuals transform graph data and if those differences are a function of scientific expertise. The instrument collected data on graph drawing and cognitive interviews (i.e. think-aloud) from 35 participants with varying biology experience, including 13 non-biology majors, 9 non-senior biology majors, 7 senior biology majors and graduate students, and 6 biology faculty. Rubrics were used to evaluate performance in graph drawing and think-aloud components. Although no statistical differences were identified between groups in graph drawing tasks, analysis of specific graph drawing components (e.g., graph type) did reveal variation as a function of expertise. Significant differences were found between expertise groups in the cognitive and metacognitive strategies discussed in the think-aloud data (e.g., why a graph was drawn in that manner). These findings begin to identify differences between experts and novices in Biology, as well as the lack of alignment in one’s ability to depict graphical data and actual understanding of graphing practices, which may be used to inform instruction to increase graph literacy. Additionally, the instrument designed for this study has high face validity, but future work will be needed to establish reliability as only one researcher was able to score data. Increasing reliability will allow this instrument to be an effective tool for faculty interested in assessing their students’ data display skills.



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