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Reading and analyzing the primary literature increases critical thinking, scientific literacy, and student confidence. However, students often struggle with understanding primary research articles, especially in lower level courses. We are interested in determining the hurdles that students face when reading a research article. We hypothesize that these obstacles will differ between under- and upperclassmen. To examine differences in reading the scientific literature, and to determine how these differences may prevent students from understanding an article, we conducted individual “think aloud” sessions with upper- and underclass biology majors. During these sessions, students think aloud as they read a research article. To enrich data collection, we designed a set of questions about the article that students answered orally as part of the exercise. We transcribed, coded, and qualitatively analyzed these sessions. Comparison of the codes from the think alouds showed that upperclassmen use more tools to understand the text more often than underclassmen. Upperclassmen are also better able to evaluate arguments and interpret graphs and statistics. Underclassmen encountered more issues with jargon but looked up such words less often than upperclassmen. Additionally, during focus groups, upperclassmen were able to better describe why they found primary research articles confusing, and they made more suggestions for ways professors can help students better understand articles. Our current data suggest tools that instructors can use to support underclassmen in reading the primary literature.


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  • Subject
    • Biology

  • Institution
    • Dahlonega

  • Event date
    • 25 March 2016

  • Date submitted

    18 July 2022

  • Additional information
    • Acknowledgements:

      Dr. Segura-Totten