TIMMERMAN, BE*; STRICKLAND, DC; University of South Carolina; University of South Carolina: Can peer review improve freshman lab reports and does experience with peer review improve students’ scientific reasoning skills?

One of our departmental curriculum goals is for students to be able to “think like scientists,” but we are unable to provide individual research opportunities for 1000+ majors. We hypothesize that incorporating formal peer review into core courses provides sufficient intellectual stimulation to cause an increase in students’ scientific reasoning skills over time while still being a manageable innovation on this scale. Using a web-based freeware program, our large introductory courses (400+ students per course per semester) and sophomore lab courses (100-150 students) have incorporated formalized peer review of written lab reports into their regular curricula over the last two years. Data indicate that undergraduates provide consistent feedback (overall scores had an average std dev of 15%, n=335). The quality of the feedback is higher when phrased as a question (5.1 + 2.7 pieces of useful feedback) rather than as a comment (2.4 + 1.7) (n=61), but writers find comments easier to incorporate. A detailed analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of student papers (content accuracy, quality of hypotheses, data interpretation, degree to which conclusion are based on data, etc.), peer feedback, and resulting changes in final papers will be presented. In addition, a previously published multiple-choice test of scientific reasoning ability has been administered over a range of courses. Correlations between increases in scientific reasoning skill and increasing experience with peer review (as opposed to increasing academic experience in general) will also be presented. Initial results suggest that a single experience with peer review improves student scientific reasoning scores by 8% and that all quartiles of student performance see equivalent gains.