Doctoral defence: Helin Semilarski “An assessment of biology learning and an evaluation of biology self-perceptions by upper secondary school students related to biological literacy”

On 22 August at 10:00 Helin Semilarski will defend her doctoral thesis “An assessment of biology learning and an evaluation of biology self-perceptions by upper seconday school students related to biological literacy” for obtaining the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (in Education).

Supervisor:
Associate Professor Anne Laius, University of Tartu

Opponent:
Associate Professor Eleni A. Kyza, Cyprus University of Technology (Cyprus)

Summary
The aim of this dissertation was to contribute to a growing area of research by exploring the meaning behind biological literacy to explain and elucidate the meaning and components of Estonian biology education. This research aimed to measure the biological content knowledge and cognitive skills of upper secondary school students. Also, the aim of this study is to determine self-perceptions held by Estonian upper school secondary students in relation to biological content knowledge and cognitive skills as key components of biological literacy and expectations for undertaking a biology-related cognitive skills assessment as components of biological literacy. The systematic literature review indicated six components (1) cognitive (cognitive skills, conceptual understanding, biological inquiry); (2) affective, from the systematic literature review; (3) sustainability; (4) interdisciplinarity; (5) career awareness; and (6) the nature of biology. Furthermore, data to assess the conceptual understanding and cognitive skills of upper secondary school students was collected by means of a paper‐and-pencil test. Such a format can only cover selected components but not the whole framework of biological literacy. Study 1 assessed the biological understanding and cognitive skills of grade 10 and grade 12 students. After three years of secondary school biology studies, the students in grade 12 had significantly better results than they had in grade 10 in five out of the eight tasks. Grade 12 students did not show statistically better results in problem-solving. The results of Study 2 showed that the mean results of the students’ answers to questions vary greatly. According to item difficulty (which was decided according to the mean score of the item), there were 4 different items: items performed at an advanced level, items performed at a high level, items performed at an intermediate level, and items performed at a low level. The aim of Study 3 was to use two different biological literacy assessment instruments combined, both were used accordingly in the second and third study. Among the biological core concepts, metabolism appeared to be the most difficult topic of biology and the topics of ecology and evolution were the simplest for the students to answer.

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