Using preprint peer review to enhance scientific literacy and identity formation: preliminary data

Rebeccah Lijek
Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences
Mount Holyoke College

Need: Undergraduate science education focuses on how experiments are carried out and the knowledge generated by that research literature, but misses an opportunity to engage students in the critical validation process that translates one into the other – the peer review of scientific manuscripts. Peer review is integral to the scientific process and so we envision a paradigm shift that makes teaching peer review integral to undergraduate science education, thereby unmasking part of STEM’s hidden curriculum. Few training opportunities exist in authentic peer review and none are designed for or tested in undergraduates. Guiding Question: We created and are evaluating a constructivist, service-learning curriculum in which biology undergraduates learn about the importance and mechanisms of peer review, then write and publish their own reviews of manuscripts in prepublication (“preprints”). Preprints are widely available online for free throughout the biological sciences, making this curriculum applicable to practically any disciplinary course. Students’ authentic engagement with works-in-progress created by practicing scientists is central to our approach, as it allows students to meaningfully contribute to the community of scientists. Our research asks: does this peer review curriculum improve students’ understanding of peer review and how to constructively critique the literature? Does it improve their sense of identity as a scientist and belonging in the scientific community? Outcomes: We hypothesize that this curriculum will increase students’ scientific literacy and scientific identity as measured by validated pre-post surveys (e.g. TOSLS, PITS) and thematic analysis of students’ writing. At the time of the 2022 IUSE Summit, we will have completed our first year of data collection at Mount Holyoke College, a small liberal arts college for women and gender minorities. Here, we present a “first look” at our quantitative pre-post survey data and a plan for textual analysis. Feedback on these preliminary data will be used to refine our year 2 & 3 plans to 1) scale-up the evaluation of the curriculum at Colorado State University and Oxford College, Emory University and 2) develop and disseminate open education resources and other curricular materials.Broader Impacts: Improving the scientific literacy of undergraduates is critical for creating a scientifically-literate public that values and can discriminate peer-reviewed scientific literature from pseudoscience. Facilitating undergraduates’ science identity formation will enhance their sense of belonging in the scientific community, critical for broadening participation and preparing students for success in the STEM workforce. This project will generate evidenced-based curricular materials for undergraduate science educators and new knowledge on pedagogy that enculturates undergraduates into the STEM community. By evaluating this curriculum in multiple, differing educational environments, we aim to create resources that are widely applicable to diverse undergraduate science education settings.


Gary McDowell, Lightoller, LLC, Chicago, IL; Sarah Fankhauser, Oxford College, Emory University, Oxford, GA; Meena Balgopal, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO; Rebeccah S. Lijek, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA