for student-centered research projects. It provides nine different
investigation themes on big ideas in plant biology to focus students’
investigations. Student team members and their scientist mentor
communicate asynchronously. Each team’s project page provides
areas for investigation information (e.g., research question, methods, conclusion), file sharing, and a blog-style conversation area.
Teachers can monitor and contribute on all of their teams’ project
pages. An early-career scientist is assigned to each teacher in a
liaison role to help set up and manage the teams’ projects and to step
in if a mentor is temporarily unavailable. Scientist mentors employ
an array of scaffolding techniques. The interplay of the techniques
they use models the integration of science content and practice
and enculturates students to the science community (see Adams &
Hemingway, 2014). Through the PS experience, students have an
opportunity to work like real scientists with their scientist mentors,
enhancing their team skills and their understanding of science.
No previous studies have examined the effects of an online,
authentic research experience on attitudes of CE students in an introductory biology course. The purpose of this study was to determine
the impact of an online, inquiry- and mentor-based research experience, offered via PS, on students’ attitudes toward science.
Our study focused on students enrolled in CE sections of an introductory nonmajors biology course (BIOL 100) offered by Southwest
Minnesota State University (SMSU). High school teachers taught the
CE course under the direction and mentorship of an SMSU tenured
professor of biology. All high school students enrolled in the CE
BIOL 100 course were either juniors or seniors. CE students are
not a random sample of all high school students. Rather, SMSU
requires seniors to have a 3.0 GPA and to be ranked in the top
50% of their class; juniors must have a 3.0 GPA and be ranked in
the top third.
All CE students in this study were from rural school districts
( i.e., local population <25,000). Five rural Minnesota high schools
participated in the PS mentoring program (the experimental
group). Another four high schools, also rural, served as controls –
that is, their students did not participate in the PS program but
did complete the Test of Science-Related Attitudes (TOSRA) survey
Both the experimental and control students conducted a seed
germination experiment as part of their laboratory experience. The
PS project students worked on the “Wonder of Seeds” seed germination and growth investigation theme, with a focus on seed ecology.
This theme required students to propose their own hypothesis
regarding seed germination, to design and conduct an experiment
to test their hypothesis, to collect and analyze data, and to draw conclusions based on their data. This process was done in consultation
with their PS scientist mentor. Students worked in small groups of
two to four, with each group being assigned a PS online mentor.
The control group of students also did a seed germination lab in
which they developed their own hypothesis. The lab did not have
a predetermined outcome ( i.e., it was not a cookbook lab). The control students, however, lacked the intensive consultations with a
mentor as they worked through developing their hypothesis,
designed their experiment, and collected and analyzed data.
Throughout the PS project, students in the experimental group
posted information to the PS website and communicated asynchronously online with professional biologists who served as mentors
offering feedback and encouragement. No information was posted
to the PS website that would identify any of the students as participants in a research study.
We used a modified version of the TOSRA questionnaire
(called TOSRA 2; see Ledbetter & Nix, 2002; available at http://
www.chemchapterzero.com/pdfs/AppendixJ1.pdf) to measure seven
distinct science-related attitudes called “scales.” The seven scales were
Social Implications of Science, Normality of Scientists, Attitude to Scientific Inquiry, Adoption of Scientific Attitudes, Enjoyment of Science
Lessons, Leisure Interest in Science, and Career Interest in Science.
The TOSRA pretest was given prior to the beginning of the PS
project for the experimental group and prior to the seed germination
lab for the control group. The TOSRA posttest was given within a
week of the end of the PS project for the experimental group and
at the end of lab exercises for the control group (7–10 weeks). The
PS project was conducted over a period of 6–8 weeks in fall 2015
and repeated with different students in spring 2017.
In addition to the TOSRA, we administered an open-ended
questionnaire in spring 2017 only to students who participated in
the PS program. The intent of the questionnaire was to gather qualitative summative data from students that would augment the quantitative survey data that we collected. The six open-ended questions
can be found in Table 1.
Four orientation-like webinars were developed by Desy, Adams,
and Mourad for high school teachers participating in PlantingScience.
The webinars included a discussion of (1) the logistics of the PS program; (2) what students should be able to do, know, and value at the
end of the experience; and (3) an article related to practicing scientific
inquiry by Ebert-May et al. (2004). The final webinar was used to
debrief, reflect on what worked and what did not, the impact of PlantingScience on students, and ways to improve the program.
TOSRA scores were computed for each of the seven attitude scales
for both the pretest and posttest, and for students in both the control
group and experimental group. Each TOSRA scale contains 5 items
with Likert-style responses (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree,
negatively worded items reverse-coded). Thus, scores on each scale
can range from 5 to 25, with higher scores more supportive of the
concept measured by the scale. A score of 15 represents the neutral
point on each scale. A total TOSRA score was also computed for each
student by summing the seven scale scores, yielding a measure that
ranges between 35 and 175, with a score of 105 representing an
overall neutral attitude about science. Data were included in the
analysis only for students who completed both the pretest and posttest (45 control group students and 129 experimental group students). Mean scores for these students on the seven TOSRA scales
are shown in Figure 1. Pretest scale scores for both the control and
experimental groups were two to four points above neutral for all
scales except Leisure Interest in Science.
A 2 × 2 mixed-design ANOVA was conducted for each of the
seven TOSRA scales as well as the total TOSRA score. The
between-subjects factor was Group (experimental vs. control) and