Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Trevor R Anderson

Committee Member 1

George Bodner

Committee Member 2

Brenda Capobianco

Committee Member 3

Nancy Pelaez


Biology has become increasingly more interdisciplinary in nature. Therefore, the Association of American Medical Colleges-Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the National Research Council have called for reform in biology curricula. In particular, the Vision and Change report emphasized the importance of integrating biology with physical sciences such as chemistry and biochemistry in order to help biology majors understand the importance of biochemistry and chemistry to biology. The report also stipulated the need to design assessments that are informed by learning objectives in order to assess if students have attained the targeted conceptual knowledge. Currently, meetings and workshops have, and are still being used to collect curriculum related data regarding the chemistry and biochemistry concepts to include in chemistry or biochemistry courses designed for biology majors. Furthermore, studies have reported that most of the designed assessments still do not address the intended learning objectives. Therefore, the current study was conducted in order to address the following goals: (i) Goal 1, to design and test a simple three-stage process for identifying the chemistry and biochemistry concepts, representations, and ways of reasoning important to biology courses; Goal 2, to investigate the specific acid-base content that the biology instructors consider to be important for their courses and how they expect students to use the acid-base knowledge; and Goal 3, to design a model that instructors could use for the design, evaluation, and validation of assessments. In order to address Goal 1, the following research questions were explored: (i) Which biochemistry and chemistry concepts do the biology instructors at a Midwestern university consider relevant to the courses they teach; (ii) How do these biology instructors expect students to use the identified concepts in the courses they teach; (iii) Which biochemistry and chemistry representations do the biology instructors at a Midwestern university consider relevant to the courses they teach; and (iv) How do these biology instructors expect students to use the identified representations in the courses they teach? Application of the three-stage process yielded 74 concepts which were grouped into 6 consensus themes: properties of water, chemical bonds and biomolecular structure and function; (bio)chemical reactions, enzymes, cellular processes and their regulation; thermodynamics including chemical equilibrium, ATP and membrane transport; acids and bases; solutions, mixtures and analytical techniques; and atomic theory and structure and the gas laws. Types of representations include a range of particulate models, graphs, chemical equations, and mathematical equations. Instructors also expect students to develop skills such as the ability to integrate, transfer and apply knowledge in order to develop sound explanatory frameworks, and the ability to decode representations, interpret and use them to explain and solve biological problems. To address Goal 2, the following research questions were addressed: (i) How is knowledge of concepts and ways of reasoning about acid-base used by instructors in their particular biology courses; and (ii) How are visual representations and ways of reasoning with acid-base representations used by instructors’ in their particular biology courses? The results showed that the instructors wanted the students to have both declarative and procedural knowledge. That is, the biology instructors want their students to not only know the factual knowledge related to the acid-base concepts, instead they also want them to be able to reason with the acid-base knowledge to explain how biological processes work. Regarding Goal 3, the following research questions were addressed: (i) What is an appropriate model for designing and validating assessment tasks; and (iii) Do acid-base assessments designed by an organic chemistry instructor support the validity of this model? The results suggested that using the organic chemistry acid-base assessments to validate the assessment design model was good because it revealed the strengths and weaknesses of the assessment design model. The strengths include the fact that the model helps instructors to qualitatively validate the assessments whereas the weaknesses include the fact that the model cannot help the instructors to design assessments that explicitly reveal the reasoning and visual skills that students lack. In general, although the three-stage process and the assessment design model can be used by instructors at any institution, more studies need to be conducted to more fully establish their usefulness in the field.