Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2011

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Science Education

First Advisor

Hand, Brian

First Committee Member

Park, Soonhye

Second Committee Member

Forbes, Cory

Third Committee Member

Ankenmann, Robert

Fourth Committee Member

Koland, John


This study is an investigation into the science literacy of college genetics students who were given a modified curriculum to address specific teaching and learning problems from a previous class. This study arose out of an interest by the professor and researcher to determine how well students in the class Human Genetics in the 21st Century responded to a reorganized curriculum to address misconceptions that were prevalent after direct instruction in the previous year's class. One of the components to the revised curriculum was the addition of a multimodal representation requirement as part of their normal writing assignments. How well students performed in these writing assignments and the relationship they had to student learning the rest of the class formed the principle research interest of this study. Improving science literacy has been a consistent goal of science educators and policy makers for over 50 years (DeBoer, 2000). This study uses the conceptualization of Norris and Phillips (2003) in which science literacy can be organized into both the fundamental sense (reading and writing) and the derived sense (experience and knowledge) of science literacy. The fundamental sense of science literacy was investigated in the students' ability to understand and use multimodal representations as part of their homework writing assignments. The derived sense of science literacy was investigated in how well students were able to apply their previous learning to class assessments found in quizzes and exams.

This study uses a mixed-methods correlational design to investigate the relationship that existed between students' writing assignment experiences connected to multimodal representations and their academic performance in classroom assessments. Multimodal representations are pervasive in science literature and communication. These are the figures, diagrams, tables, pictures, mathematical equations, and any other form of content in which scientists and science educators are communicating ideas and concepts to their audience with more than simple text. A focused holistic rubric was designed in this study to score how well students in this class were able to incorporate aspects of multimodality into their writing assignments. Using these scores and factors within the rubric (ex. Number of original modes created) they were correlated with classroom performance scores to determine the strength and direction of the relationship. Classroom observations of lectures and discussion sections along with personal interviews with students and teaching assistants aided the interpretation of the results.

The results from the study were surprisingly complex to interpret given the background of literature which suggested a strong relationship between multimodal representations and science learning (Lemke, 2000). There were significant positive correlations between student multimodal representations and quiz scores but not exam scores. This study was also confounded by significant differences between sections at the beginning of the study which may have led to learning effects later. The dissimilarity between the tasks of writing during their homework and working on exams may be the reason for no significant correlations with exams. The power to interpret these results was limited by the number of the participants, the number of modal experiences by the students, and the operationalization of multimodal knowledge through the holistic rubric. These results do show that a relationship does exist between the similar tasks within science writing and quizzes. Students may also gain derived science literacy benefits from modal experiences on distal tasks in exams as well. This study shows that there is still much more research to be known about the interconnectedness of multimodal representational knowledge and use to the development of science literacy.


Multimodal Representation, Science Literacy


v, 138 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 136-138).


Copyright 2011 William D. Bennett