Holt, Emily A.

Committee Member

Benedict, Lauryn

Committee Member

Higgins, Teresa

Committee Member

Reinsvold, Lori A.


College of Natural and Health Sciences; School of Biological Sciences


University of Northern Colorado

Type of Resources


Place of Publication

Greeley (Colo.)


University of Northern Colorado

Date Created



207 pages

Digital Origin

Born digital


The overarching goal of my dissertation research is to better understand how undergraduate students engage in biology. Considering the notable lack of interest in the sciences among undergraduates in recent years, actively engaging more students in biology throughout college could potentially increase their motivation to learn biology and retain more students in science fields. Using both quantitative and qualitative approaches, I sought to discover the dimensionality of learner-centeredness in the biology classroom using a variety of instruments. Outside of the classroom, I aimed to describe college-age adults’ learning experiences at informal learning settings such as zoos via development and administration of a novel survey, as well as to discover whether participation in structured or free-choice learning experiences at a zoo related to undergraduates’ motivation and interest to learn biology. I generally concluded that learner-centeredness in the college biology classroom is multidimensional, and often, that perceptions of those in the classroom environment as well as the metrics used to quantify learner-centeredness are misaligned. I found that informal learning experiences of biology undergraduates vary widely. Further, we discovered that all students report increases in motivation and interest to learn biology regardless of structure of learning group or academic level—though we cannot say with certainty that a zoo trip was the cause of these changes. I suggest that both reforming classrooms to be more learner-centered environments and including more learning experiences at informal settings have the potential to more fully engage undergraduate students in biology and improve retention rates of biology majors over time.


Recipient of Dean's Citation for Excellence and Dean's Citation for Outstanding Dissertation.

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