Document Type


Publication Date




Publication Title

Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education






e00110-21 (1-4)


The high failure rate of students in "gateway" science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses has been a persistent problem for biology programs nationwide. Common wisdom contends that addressing this problem requires major curricular overhauls. While desirable, such large systematic changes are often expensive or impractical. We propose an alternative approach: supplementing the regular instruction with brief online modules targeting specific cognitive (learning) and motivational mechanisms. We conducted an intervention study to test the effects of different combinations of cognitive and motivational modules on undergraduate introductory biology students' learning, motivation, achievement, and intentions to remain in science. Introductory biology students at three research universities were randomly assigned to a no-treatment control condition or one of several combinations of cognition motivation modules. In this article, we describe the modules that are easiest for instructors to integrate with existing course content: worked examples (demonstrations of biology problem solving) and relevance writing (brief open-ended writing assignments about connections of biology concepts to one's life). Increased student engagement in these modules led to higher motivation, biology reasoning, and course grades. These findings support the effectiveness of delivering brief online supplemental modules on students' success in introductory biology courses. This easily implemented intervention can utilize online tools such as Blackboard, Canvas, or Moodle and provides an option when major changes to course instruction are not practical.


© 2021 Mara et al.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

Original Publication Citation

Mara, K. R., Kaplan, A., Balsai, M. J., Cromley, J. G., Perez, T., & Dai, T. (2021). How instructors can enhance biology students' motivation, learning, and grades through brief relevance writing and worked-example interventions. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, 22(2), 1-4, Article e00110-21.