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Improving students' understanding and perception of cell theory in school biology using a computer-based instruction simulation program.

A survey by the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC) revealed that students' academic performance and interest in secondary school biology has been generally poor. This has been attributed to the current methods of instruction and the lack of instructional resources amenable to the study and proper understanding of such complex areas as cell theory. The study reported here assessed the effects of a computer-based instruction simulation (CBIS) program developed for the teaching of school biology, as part of a classroom innovation for science instruction to improve students' understanding and perception of cell theory. This article presents results of an empirical evaluation undertaken over a four-week period with 102 form three students in Nakuru district. Comparisons of the pretest and posttest data of the experimental group ([E.sub.1]) and two control groups (C) and ([E.sub.2]) was used to determine the students learning gains with respect to their understanding and perception of cell theory. An analysis of the results showed that the CBIS program resulted in significant learning gains and better perceptions towards the cell division topic in school biology. In addition to corroborating earlier findings on the effectiveness of the use of educational media and hypermedia to improve students' academic achievement and affective behaviors, the study concludes that the innovation has major implications for improving those areas of science that are difficult to teach and learn using the regular methods and should therefore be integrated into the existing school curriculum.

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The primary educational goal for teaching cell division in school biology is to teach students the location and orientation of chromosomes and chromosomal movement during mitosis and meiosis. But with the lack of conducive learning environments and the employment of ineffective approaches, students understanding of cell division might not be effected (Wekesa, 2003). This could be partly the reason why the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) report (1999) asserted that a considerable number of secondary school students in Kenya hold inadequate understanding of cell theory and the associated underlying concepts as mitosis, meiosis, chromosomes, and chromatids, even after the conclusion of the instructional process. This should not be so because the topic occupies a central role in the biology curriculum at all levels (KIE, 1999; Wekesa, 2003).

Several authors have identified the factors causing this problem to include the lack of adequate instructional materials and/or poor ineffective teaching methods (Ramorogo & Kiboss, 1997). Furthermore. Kiboss (2002) has singled out the expository approach to be the dominant teaching method commonly used for science instruction in our schools. The expository approach is instruction in which the teacher spends most of the time giving verbal explanations in the form of talk-and-chalk while the students listen and write notes from the chalkboard. Obviously, such inadequate and limited teaching methods tend to negatively affect the learners' views of scientific concepts and associated methods (Kiboss & Ogunniyi, 2003). Unless urgent measures are taken to curb the problem, the poor performance on the subject at the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) national examination that qualifies students for tertiary and post secondary education, shall continue to persist.

Nevertheless, the use of computer-based instruction simulations (CBIS) that have proven useful for teaching areas of science that are considered difficult or dangerous to teach and learn through the regular methods, could prove beneficial in curbing the problem (Kiboss & Ogunniyi, 2003). The topic may also be improved by the use of CBIS program because the current recommended method of using a squashed young onion root tip or electronic micrographs are incapable of giving it the dynamic nature of the process. It is here that a CBIS instructional program would promote realism by incorporating movement and color. This is because a CBIS program is capable of incorporating a model of a process, phenomenon, or system, giving a description of the state of the model and showing its state of change through time and/or as a result of intentional manipulations (Njoo & De Jong, 1993). Moreover, it is an instructional technique that combines animated color graphics to present the dynamic nature of the process of cell division through a multi-sensory approach. This involves the students in complex study processes that allow them to examine a model in a very explorative and interactive way and thereby improve their understanding and perception of cell division (Wekesa, 2003).

While such electronic instructional systems have been successfully incorporated into the classroom and applied in the teaching and learning of various subjects with promising results (e.g., Ayersman, 1996; Christman, Badgett, & Lucking, 1997; Njoo & De Jong, 1993; Kiboss, 2002), no systematic study has been undertaken to examine whether or not a CBIS intervention could yield similar effects in school biology. This study therefore is an attempt to fill the gap by developing a CBIS program in school biology and investigating its effectiveness to improve students' understanding and perception of cell division.

PURPOSE AND OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY

The purpose of this study was to develop a CBIS program and determine its effectiveness to improve students' understanding and perception of cell division in secondary school biology. The following objectives guided the proposed study:

1. To determine the effects of a CBIS program developed on students' understanding of cell theory and the underlying associated concepts.

2. To determine the effects of a CBIS program on students' perception of their learning experiences in cell division lessons.

RESEARCH HYPOTHESIS

In pursuance of this purpose with these objectives, the following two hypotheses were formulated for testing:

1. H[O.sub.1]: The use of a CBIS program in the teaching and learning of cell division will have no significant effect on students' understanding of cell theory and the underlying associated concepts.

2. H[O.sub.2]: The use of a CBIS program will have no significant effect on students' perception of their learning experiences in cell division.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

This study was based on the cognitive paradigm that addresses the mental structures and processes explaining the network of verbal and visual representations. According to this theory, human cognition is specialized to deal with verbal and nonverbal objects and events since there is a referential connection linking the verbal and nonverbal clues (Park & Hopkins, 1993). This connection has a complementary function that serves to activate both in different or the same system. As such, something is likely to be remembered if coded both verbally and visually because representatives of one form reinforces the other.

The underlying assumption for using CBIS in the teaching and learning of cell division in school biology is that the interactive attributes and the dynamic nature of the computer combines verbal codes with graphical illustrations and animations to give the learner not only a wider range of learning activities and tasks within the concept but also provides them with the options to interact more overtly with the instructional material and hence engender more active processing of information (Kiboss, 2000; Wekesa 2003).

In this regard, this theory has major implications for the study because the CBIS graphical illustrations, animations, and/or simulations are capable of improving the acquisition of cell division concepts and the prolonged retention of the otherwise abstract information as the illustrations complement the verbal codes in the memory subsystems.

METHOD

Research Design

The research design adopted for this study is the Solomon-Three Quasi-Experimental Design, which is considered sufficiently rigorous and appropriate for experimental and quasi-experimental studies (Fraenkel & Wallen, 2000). The design involves a random assignment of subjects to three groups with two groups taking the pretest and one not. The study adopted the quasi-experimental approach because the subjects of this study were already constituted and it was not possible to randomly select them individually for experimental purposes. Moreover, Kenyan school authorities do not normally allow a random assignment of individual students once they are constituted.

Nevertheless, this design can provide adequate control of the extraneous variables that would have affected the internal and external validity of the study. Besides, the reactive effects of experimentation are more easily controlled because the subjects are less aware of the fact that they are being subjected to the experimental sessions (Koul, 1984). Contamination was addressed by having the treatment and control groups situated in different schools while the statistical regression was taken care of by having another group of subjects not taking the pretest. In the study therefore, one group served as the experimental group ([E.sub.1]) and two others served as control groups. One control group (C) received the pretest measure while the other control group ([E.sub.2]) did not. All groups were posttested immediately after the cell theory course was terminated.

SUBJECTS

In this study, provincial mixed secondary schools in Nakuru district, Kenya were selected on the basis of the availability of computers and accessibility by the researcher. A total of 102 subjects, 38 girls and 64 boys, took part in the study. All 102 subjects were exposed to the same content on cell division in school biology (taught in 10 lessons) over a period of three weeks (KIE, 1992). The experimental groups ([E.sub.1] and [E.sub.2]) received their cell division lessons through the CBI simulation program while the true control group (C) was taught cell division lessons through the conventional or regular teacher directed methods.

Materials

The CBIS courseware was implemented in a natural instructional setting, which involved comparisons between the treatment groups and a control group. The CBIS courseware material was contained in Visual Basic frames of animated color graphics accompanied by relevant text explaining what was happening.

Instruments

The variables of interest reported are understanding and perceptual change. Understanding was taken to mean the level of learning exhibited by the subjects' performance on pretests and posttests on cell division lessons taught over a period of four weeks. This was measured using a Biology Understanding Test (BUT) instrument, which consisted of 20 multiple-choice and 11-structured test items developed to measure students understanding on the concept of cell division in school biology. In a field test, the instrument yielded a reliability coefficient of 0.81 using the KR-21 formula.

The students' perceptual change on the other hand is the subjects' realization of the significance of what they were studying, their learning experiences and/or interaction during cell division lessons. The students' perceptions of cell division lessons were measured using the Biology Classroom Learning Environment Questionnaire (BCLEQ), an instrument adopted from Kiboss (1997) and modified to suit the study. It contained 20 five-point bipolar Likert scale items. A field-testing of the instrument (N=20) yielded a reliability of 0.78 using the Cronbach alpha formula. Both the BUT and BCLEQ instruments were administered to the students in the [E.sub.1] and C groups prior to the commencement of the biology topic of cell division and to all the subjects ([E.sub.1], C. and [E.sub.2]) at the end of the biology topic on cell division.

Procedures

Before the CBIS treatment was implemented, the subjects and the teachers in both the experimental condition ([E.sub.1] and [E.sub.2]) were instructed for one week on the basic computer operational skills to enable them easy access and/or navigation of the courseware. One week was deemed sufficient to familiarise those in the experimental group with the CBI simulation program (Kiboss, 1997). This was essential because not all the teachers and students in the research schools were computer literate.

The CBIS courseware was implemented in a natural biology classroom setting. The courseware was contained in Visual Basic frames of animated colour graphics accompanied by relevant text explaining what was happening. Clicking on the start button and on the task bar to select programs, and then choosing Computer-Based Instruction on the program menu gave the subjects access to the CBIS program. This put the students into a Menu frame from which they could choose the type of cell division lesson to learn. The subjects continued the lesson by pressing the ENTER key on the keyboard or clicking on the NEXT button on the screen. They could also go back to previous frame by clicking the BACK Button or end the lesson by clicking the EXIT Button. Clicking the EXIT Button at any stage of the topic returned the students to the menu frame automatically.

Two lesson variation methods namely (a) The CBIS and (b) the regular mode were used. In the CBIS mode, the teacher's role was to facilitate learning (i.e., organize and supervise students' learning). Under this mode, the students received all their instruction on cell division through the CBIS. All the instruction content and tasks were conducted within the natural classroom setting. In the regular mode, the teacher gave instruction using the conventional or usual teaching method as per the KIE syllabus to cover the same content on cell division as those in the CBIS program.

Results and Discussion

In this section, the findings of the effect of a CBIS program on the students' (a) understanding as measured by BUT and (b) perception of cell theory as measured by BCLEQ are presented and discussed.

Effect of CBI on Students' Understanding of Cell Theory

A perusal of the subjects' comparative results of their performance on the BUT shown in Table 1 indicates that prior to the commencement of the biology course on cell division, the subjects were equal because the mean scores (M=3.43 and M=3.40) and the standard deviations (SD=1.76 and SD=1.74) for the [E.sub.1] and C groups that received the pretest were similar.

Notable from the results also is the fact that after the commencement of the course, the performance of the subjects in the CBIS experimental program was higher than the performance of those in the regular program. This is because the mean scores (M=28.03 and M=29.03) obtained respectively by the two groups ([E.sub.1] and [E.sub.2]) that learned cell division using the CBIS were similar. Similarly, the mean scores obtained by the subjects in the treatment condition ([E.sub.1] and [E.sub.2]) also markedly higher than that (M=19.88) obtained by the regular group (C), which did not receive the CBIS treatment. An ANOVA test was performed to determine whether the subjects mean scores were significantly different at the 0.05 level confirms this finding.

The ANOVA results on the subjects' BUT presented in Table 2 yielded an F-ratio of F(2,99 = 28.28, p<0.05), which clearly indicates that the performance of the subjects in the CBIS program is superior because the mean scores are statistically significant at 0.05 level. This finding is supported by the Tukey's-Honest Significant difference (THSD) for multiple range test data shown in Table 3. The data portray a trend - [E.sub.1] = [E.sub.2] < C an implication that the performance of the subjects in the CBIS experimental condition ([E.sub.1] and [E.sub.2]) on posttest BPT was similar because their mean difference (0.99) is not statistically significant. However, the mean difference (8.16) between the CBIS experimental group ([E.sub.1]) and the control group (C), which received the pretest was statistically significant at the 0.05 level. The same case applies to the mean difference (9.77) between the other CBIS experimental group ([E.sub.2]) that did not receive the pretest, and the control (C) that received the pretest prior to the commencement. The fact that the mean difference of the two groups ([E.sub.1] and [E.sub.2]) that received their course through the CBI simulations program was not statistically significant at 0.05 level is a clear indication that the intervention was equally effective in influencing the subjects' understanding of cell theory and hence their high performance on the BUT.

It is therefore safe at this juncture to conclude that this higher performance evident with the statistically significant mean differences observed in favor of the subjects in the CBIS experimental treatment is not unrelated to the use of the CBIS program in which the subjects were exposed to. Thus, the null hypothesis suggesting that use of CBIS program will have no significant effect on the subjects' understanding of the topic of cell division in school biology was therefore rejected.

Effects of the CBI Module on Students' Perception of Cell Division in School Biology

This study also investigated the students' affective behavior as a result of their exposure to the CBIS program as measured by BCLEQ. Table 4 presents the findings of how the students perceived cell division lessons in the biology classroom.

While the results seem to suggest that the use of CBIS program was modestly effective in that it affected both treatment groups equally, these results do not signify whether or not the mean scores differences are statistically significantly different at the 0.05 level. Nevertheless, an ANOVA test performed on the BCLEQ revealed that the subjects' mean scores on the BCLEQ shown in Table 5 differed significantly at 0.05 level as indicated by the F-ratio of F(2,99 = 28.28, p<0.05). This finding supports the notion that the subjects in the CBIS program rated their perception of the biology classroom environment higher than did those in the regular program.

Results of the Tukey's-Honest Significant difference (THSD) for multiple range test presented in Table 6 confirms the fact that the ratings of subjects in the CBIS experimental condition ([E.sub.1] and [E.sub.2]) at the end of the program on the BCLEQ were similar because a mean difference of 1.68 is not statistically significant at 0.05 level. But the mean difference of 21.46 between the experimental ([E.sub.1]) and control group (C) subjects which received the pretest on the one hand and that of 23.14 between the experimental group ([E.sub.2]) that did not receive the pretest, and the control (C) that received the pretest prior to the commencement are statistically significant at the 0.05 level.

The fact that the two groups ([E.sub.1] and [E.sub.2]) that received their course through the CBI simulations program rated their perception of the biology lessons the same on the BCLEQ is of course a clear indication that the intervention was equally effective in boosting their affective behavior and hence their perception of cell theory learning experiences. In this regard, the null hypothesis suggesting that use of CBI simulations program will have no significant effect on the subjects' perception of cell division in school biology was therefore rejected.

DISCUSSION

The findings from this study supported the general hypothesis that CBIS instructional programs positively affect the development of students' understanding and perception of cell division lessons in school biology. In the two treatment groups, the subjects reported more positive perceptions of their classroom learning experiences and performed higher on the BUT than their counterparts in the regular program.

In light of this, these findings reaffirm previous studies that concluded that the use of computer-based instructional programs tend to improve achievement scores of students as compared to the use of traditional or regular methods of instruction (Kiboss, 2002; Kiboss & Ogunniyi, 2003; Njoo & De Jong, 1993; Tanui, 2003; Wenglinsky, 1998). They are also congruent with the hypothesis posited earlier that reported incompatibility of regular methods to simultaneously maximize students' perception of their learning experiences and hence their academic performance, which may well be a function of teacher-dominated expository methods that characterize the regular methods of teaching.

In fact, the results from this study confirm Ayersman (1996) assertion that the use of computer-based instructional programs that involve the students more actively in the learning process often result in higher academic achievement than those that put them in a more passive role. It was for this reason that the CBIS module used in this study was designed to be highly interactive and to afford the students an opportunity to manipulate variables, set their own learning pace and navigate through simulated nonlinear learning material. In response, the results of the study have proven that the CBIS program was useful and might be one solution to the constraints that teachers often experience with the regular methods commonly used in our science classrooms (Kiboss, 1997).

CONCLUSION

In respect to whether there would be any significant difference in terms of influencing the students' understanding of cell division concepts and their perception towards the biology topics on cell division between subjects exposed to CBIS and those not so exposed, the findings of this study are in the affirmative. In fact the results of this study are in not only in agreement with the earlier findings supporting the prowess of computer-based instructional programs to boost students' procedural and conceptual knowledge and to promote positive attitudes and/or motivation, but they have also proven that the use of the CBIS program can provide learners with more and better opportunities to experience the thrill of pursuing after the knowledge they really want.

In effect, the results lend considerable support to the assertion that the use of CBIS provided better opportunities of learning for the students in the experimental condition. Furthermore, the results have also demonstrated that the use of CBIS programs do not alienate learners from the classroom but instead lead to improved perceptions of their classroom environment. While we concur with Kiboss (2000) that computer-based instructional programs are not a panacea for science education problems, their prowess as effective instructional intervention for teaching areas that are difficult to teach or learn should not be underestimated.

The findings of this study suggest that the use of CBIS programs can be an effective approach to science instruction. This is consistent with observations of previous studies (e.g., Ayersman, 1996; Beichner, 1994; Christman, Badgett, & Lucking, 1997; Kiboss, 1997, 2002; Kiboss & Ogunniyi, 2003). In light of this, the study proposes the following recommendations:

1. Teacher training programs should be restructured to incorporate computer studies to enable teacher to design CBIS programs that make use of emergent technologies.

2. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) in science instruction should be integrated in the existing school curriculum so as to facilitate instructional reforms and change of instructional practice.

3. In the event that economy improves in Kenya, the government should increase the education budget to allow the provision of modern ICT to encourage and improve the use of modern instructional media in classroom practice.

On the whole, and considering the significant learning gains, there is evidence to suggest that the CBIS program was modestly effective in influencing the students' understanding of cell division in school biology as well as on their learning experience. Therefore, the CBIS designed and developed in this study provided a conducive classroom-learning environment that did not only allow better encoding and retrieval of the content but improved the learners' perception of the process of cell division. Of course, future studies involving the rural and urban schools are needed to establish whether or not these findings could apply to all socio-cultural and economic regions. Nevertheless, the results of this study is a further proof of the prowess of educational media and hypermedia to boost the teaching of science subject areas that are difficult to teach and learn through traditional methods.

References

Ayersman, D. J. (1996). Reviewing the research on hypermedia-based learning. Journal of Research on Computing in Education. 28(4), 500-525.

Beichner, R. L. (1994). Multimedia editing to promote science learning. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 3(1), 55-70.

Christman, E., Badgett, J., & Lucking, R. (1997). Progressive comparison of the effects of computer-assisted instruction on the academic achievement of secondary students. Journal of Research in Computing Education, 29(4), 325-337.

Fraenkel, J. R., & Wallen. N. E. (2000). How to design & evaluate research in education (4th ed.). Boston, MA.: McGraw-Hill.

Kenya Institute of Education, (1992). Syllabus for secondary education (Vol. 7). Nairobi: Kenya Literature Bureau.

Kenya Institute of Education (1999). Formative evaluation of the secondary education curriculum. Research Report Series, 22, 27.

Kiboss, J. K. (1997). Relative effects of computer based instruction in physics on students' attitude, motivation and understanding about measurement and perception of classroom environment. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Western Cape, Bellville, RSA.

Kiboss, J. K. (2000). Teacher/pupil perspectives on computer-augmented physics lessons on measurement in Kenyan secondary schools. Journal of Information Technology for Teacher Education, 9(3), 199-213.

Kiboss, J. K. (2002). Impact of a computer-based physics instruction program on pupils' understanding of measurement concepts and methods associated with school science. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 11(2), 193-198.

Kiboss, J. K., & Ogunniyi, M. B. (2003). Influence of a computer-based intervention on students' conceptions of measurement in secondary school physics in Kenya. Themes in Education, 4(2), 203-217.

Koul, L. (1984). Methodology of educational research. Delhi: Vikas House Publishing Limited.

Njoo, M., & de Jong, T. (1993). Learning process of students working with a computer simulation in mechanical engineering. Eindhoven, The Netherlands: Eindhoven University of Technology.

Park, O. C., & Hopkins, R. (1992). Instructional conditions for using dynamic visual displays: A review. Instructional Science, 21, 427-449.

Ramorogo, G. J., & Kiboss, J. K. (1997). Exemplary practice and outcome-based education. In M.B. Ogunniyi (Ed.), Curriculum 2005: A pancea or Pandora's box? The pursuit of excellence in science and mathematics education seminar series (pp.51-59). Bellville, South Africa: SSME.

Tanui, E. K. (2003). Relative effects of computer based instruction in accounting on students' achievement, perception of the classroom environment and motivation in secondary schools in Kenya. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Egerton University, Njoro, Kenya.

Wekesa, E. (2003). Effects of a computer-based instruction simulation module on students' achievement, perception of the classroom environment and attitude towards school biology in Nakuru district, Kenya. Unpublished master's thesis, Egerton University, Njoro, Kenya.

Wenglinsky, H. (1998). Does it compute? The relationship between educational technology and student achievement in mathematics. Princeton, NJ: ETS Policy Information Center-Research Division

ERIC WEKESA

Libinu High School

Kenya

chimboywa@yahoo.com

JOEL KIBOSS

Egerton University

Kenya

kiboss@yahoo.com

MWANGI NDIRANGU

Egerton University

Kenya

mndirangu@yahoo.com
Table 1 A Comparison of the Pretest and Posttest Mean Scores and
Standard Deviation (SD) obtained by the Subjects on the BPT

 Overall GROUP
SCALE (n = 102) E (n=30) [C.sub.2] (n = 32) [C.sub.1] (n = 40)

PRETEST 3.42 3.43 (a) 3.40 (a) -
SD 1.75 1.76 1.74 -
POSTTEST 25.65 28.03 (b) 19.88 29.03 (b)
SD 5.72 6.45 3.98 6.73

(ab) denotes similar mean scores

Table 2 Results of One-Way ANOVA of the Posttest Mean Scores Obtained by
the Subjects on the BUT

SOURCE df SS MS F-ratio P-value

Between Groups 2 1844.48 922.24 28.28* 0.00
Within Groups 99 3228.31 32.61
Total 101 5072.29

* significant p<0.05

Table 3 Results of Tukey's-Honest Significant Difference Multiple Range
Comparisons for BUT

Groups Mean Difference P-value

[E.sub.1] vs C 8.16* 0.00
[E.sub.1] vs [E.sub.2] 0.99 (ns) 0.70
[E.sub.2] vs C 9.77* 0.00

* significant p<0.05; (ns) not significant

Table 4 A Comparison of the Pretest and Posttest Mean Scores and
Standard Deviation (SD) obtained by the Subjects on the BCLEQ

 GROUP
 Overall [E.sub.1] [E.sub.2]
SCALE (n = 102) (n = 30) (n = 32) C (n = 40)

PRETEST 76.75 76.00 (a) 77.50 (a) -
SD 5.33 4.58 5.09 -
POSTTEST 95.54 102103 (b) 80.68 103.81 (b)
SD 7.75 8.22 6.91 8.12

(ab) denotes similar mean scores

Table 5 Results of A One-way ANOVA of the Posttest Mean Scores ratings
by the Subjects on the BCLEQ

SOURCE df SS MS F-ratio P-value

Between Groups 2 121.76 6080.88 91.31* 0.00
Within Groups 99 6593.12 66.60
Total 101 18754.87

* significant p<0.05

Table 6 Results of Tukey's-Honest Significant Difference Multiple Range
Comparisons for BCLEQ

Groups Mean Difference P-value

[E.sub.1] vs C 21.46* 0.00
[E.sub.1] vs [E.sub.2] 1.68 (ns) 0.78
[E.sub.2] vs C 23.14* 0.00

* significant p<0.05; (ns) not significant
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Author:Ndirangu, Mwangi
Publication:Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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