First-year college students' patterns of thinking in a biology course using heuristic and cognitive approaches

Hector Ruben Crespo, Fordham University


The main purpose of this study was to investigate the patterns of thinking behaviors of eight first-year college students in biology as evidenced by their answers to a protocol interview. The protocols were based on the cognitive and heuristic approaches to problem solving in a science unit. The students' patterns of thinking were described through the analysis of the protocol interviews. Each interview involved a series of four genetics questions. Responses for both approaches were tape recorded, transcribed, and analyzed during a relistening session. It was found that the heuristic approach produced a greater number of occurrences of patterns of thinking when compared to the cognitive approach. It was also found that the patterns of thinking most used by the students for either approach were Developing Concepts, Formulating Questions, Affective Responses, and Identifying and Using Criteria. Among all the patterns of thinking Developing Concepts showed the greatest number of occurrences when either approach was used. It should be concluded that students need to develop concepts as part of their process of analyzing or solving any problem. Some patterns of thinking appeared exclusively when a specific approach was used. Grasping Whole-Part/Part-Whole Connection, and Working with Consistency and Contradiction were only exhibited when the cognitive approach was used; Considering All Phases of the Problem and Looking out for Informal Fallacies appeared only when the heuristic approach was used. The patterns of thinking Drawing Inferences from Hypothetical Syllogisms and Recognizing Differences of Perspective were not exhibited by either approach. The results revealed that the heuristic approach is a technique that favors the occurrence of a greater number of patterns of thinking in comparison to the cognitive approach. More metacognitive behaviors were activated when the heuristic approach was used. In terms of the most used patterns of thinking there was not a great difference between the approaches used. The fact that the number of wrong answers was small for both approaches make these approaches most desirable for classroom use.

Subject Area

Science education

Recommended Citation

Crespo, Hector Ruben, "First-year college students' patterns of thinking in a biology course using heuristic and cognitive approaches" (1989). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8918441.