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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

John J. Clement

Second Advisor

Randall W. Phillis

Third Advisor

Florence Sullivan

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction | Educational Methods | Higher Education | Higher Education and Teaching | Instructional Media Design | Science and Mathematics Education


At UMass Amherst a method of personal response system (clickers) use in large lecture biology called Guided Application of Model-based Reasoning (GAMBR) has been designed to give students experiences in reasoning like expert biologists: In large lecture biology many instructors appear to use clickers mainly as a quizzing and attendance tool. Less well documented and examined are uses of clickers to facilitate cognitive engagement in learning scientific models and skills. In GAMBR, clicker questions ask students to apply and perturb biological models; this is designed to engage them in model-based reasoning. In an attempt to understand such a course, an exploratory case study of GAMBR was conducted to examine and describe three main components: clicker questions design, the hierarchical organization of the course, and student utterances during class-wide discussions. Field notes and course materials served as the primary basis for case study descriptions of hierarchical organization, clicker questions, and for open coding to generate new categories of student talk. A taxonomy of types of student utterances was identified, including utterances that suggested student engagement with the models. An important subset of the latter type suggested model-based reasoning. Results indicated that 89% of utterances during class-wide discussions following clicker questions suggested engagement with the model, and within those 33% suggested reasoning with the model. Two major types of diagrams were used with clicker questions. Model representation diagrams presented a partial model. Data diagrams presented data related to the model. Other questions had no accompanying diagram. Student talk that suggested engagement in model-based reasoning occurred at a higher frequency when clicker questions were accompanied by a diagram and especially with a model-representation diagram. A hypothesized model of six nested levels of processes in the instructional approach and hypotheses on why GAMBR produced a high percentage of model talk and model-based reasoning talk were generated, grounded in the case study observations of clicker question and course structure. It is suggested that GAMBR contains interesting alternatives to the more commonly used approach of peer instruction in large lecture biology courses using clickers, especially for those interested in promoting scientific reasoning.