Biomedical Sciences ETDs

Publication Date



Undergraduate discipline-based education research has shown that scientific problem solving involves five domains, spanning the steps of the scientific method as well as metacognition: Hypothesize, Investigate, Evaluate, Integrate, and Reflect. Student performance in each domain is measured with the Individual Problem Solving Assessment (IPSA). Others developed the Critical thinking Assessment Test (CAT) to measure critical thinking, with the view that problem solving is a component of critical thinking. A third group took the perspective that student attitudes about learning science will influence performance, and developed the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey for Biology (CLASS-Bio) to detect student attitudes. This study employed a framework of constructivism, cognitive dissonance, and scientific teaching to address the educational problem of facilitating process-oriented skills within an upper-level biochemistry curriculum. During IPSA development, research goals centered on establishing instrument validity and reliability, as well as describing typical ranges of individual student performance in each domain of problem solving across the junior year of our biochemistry curriculum. The evidence indicated that students could struggle in any IPSA domain, even after two semesters of deliberate practice of problem solving. The next goal was to describe average performance across the junior and senior years of a biochemistry curriculum, and explain score variability using hierarchical linear regression to account for contributions from time, academic factors, and demographic factors. The average student required two semesters to achieve the objectives for three domains of problem solving, two years for Evaluate, but did not achieve the Investigate objective. Regression equations explained that time, critical thinking, and learning attitudes promoted performance, yet in different ways across domains. Based on these results, our main pedagogical recommendation is to model and scaffold the problem solving process. Finally, we initiated a nomological network, or representation of relatedness among problem solving (IPSA), critical thinking (CAT), learning attitudes (CLASS-Bio), and biochemistry content knowledge (course exams), to visualize relationships among alternative perspectives of defining and assessing problem solving. Score correlations determined that the three process-oriented assessments converged when asking students to form a conclusion, weakly converged with content knowledge, and diverged from content when measuring metacognition and critical thinking.


biochemistry education research, scientific problem solving

Document Type




Degree Name

Biomedical Sciences

Level of Degree


Department Name

Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

First Committee Member (Chair)

Mitchell, Steven

Second Committee Member

Offerdahl, Erika

Third Committee Member

Parkes, Jay