Aiming for the Bullseye: Targeted activities decrease misconceptions related to enzyme function for undergraduate biochemistry students

Cassidy R. Terrell, Thomas Ekstrom, Brian Nguyen, Kyle Nickodem

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biochemistry curricula present a particular challenge to undergraduate students with abstract concepts which can lead to misconceptions that impede learning. In particular, these students have difficulty understanding enzyme structure and function concepts. Targeted learning activities and three-dimensional (3D) physical models are proposed to help students challenge these misconceptions and increase conceptual understanding. Here we assessed such pedagogical tools using the Enzyme-Substrate Interactions Concept Inventory (ESICI) to measure (mis)conceptual changes from Pre- to Post- time points in a single semester undergraduate biochemistry course. A Control group of students engaged with the active learning activities without the 3D physical models and students in the Intervention group utilized these activities with the 3D physical models. At the Post- time point both groups had higher, yet similar ESICI scores of the same magnitude as the highest scoring group from the national sample. Concomitantly, many misconception markers decreased compared to the national sample, although some of these differed between the Control and Intervention groups. Based on this assessment, both pedagogical approaches successfully increased conceptual understanding and targeted many of the misconceptions measured by the ESICI, however, several misconceptions persisted. Surprisingly, the students who used the 3D physical models did not demonstrate a further decrease in the misconception markers. Additionally, psychometric evaluation of the ESICI with our sample recommends the revision of several questions to improve the validity of this assessment. We also offer suggestions to improve instruction and pedagogical tools with further avenues for research on learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)904-916
Number of pages13
JournalBiochemistry and Molecular Biology Education
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was partially supported by the National Science Foundation under award number 1711402 to the University of Minnesota, Rochester and award numbers 1323414 and 1725940 to the Milwaukee School of Engineering. We thank Jeffery Ewertz, Olivia Stiller, Sarah Styer, Cassandra Kersten, Thor Wirth, Naima Yusuf for helping design the 3D physical models used in this study. We thank Michael Warden for final model design and construction of the physical models. Finally, we thank all of the students who participated in this study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


  • active learning
  • assessment and the design of probes for student understanding and learning
  • assessment of educational activities
  • concept inventory
  • enzyme substrate interactions
  • enzymes and catalysis
  • molecular visualization
  • physical models as learning tools


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