.The BCI – Biology Concept Inventory

The BCI is a 30 question instrument that can be taken on-line (or through a paper version).  It is designed to be used primarily as a formative assessment, to reveal issues associated with student understanding of basic conceptual areas in biology. 

For its development, we have conducted research into students' conceptual landscape, captured through the use of short essay questions and analyzed using Ed's Tools and student interviews.


This first version of the BCI centers on three inter-related conceptual clusters: Randomness, Process and Structure.  Validated through student interviews, the 30 question BCI.1 has a Cronbach's alpha (a measure of the reliability and internal consistency of assessment instruments) of 0.83.   

The theme of the BCI.1 is on the common properties of biological systems, which can be viewed in terms of ancestral (homologous) and adaptive traits, rather than de novo assemblages.   


Evolutionary histories are influenced by both selective and random events, and subject to an inherent cost/benefit analysis, in which future adaptations are constrained by evolutionary history.

For example, when we look at organisms at the molecular level, we find that interactions with water shape essentially all biological structures, from the organization of cellular membranes, to the folding of proteins and nucleic acids.    At this level, molecular interactions are based on complementary surface features.  Genetic changes act in a number of ways to influence phenotype, from regulating the amount of gene product, when and where it is produced, to the interactions between the gene products and other molecular components.   

Finally, both evolutionary and molecular processes are influenced by random events: diffusion, drift and mutation.  Understanding how random events are controlled to produce highly structured behaviors is key to a nuanced view of biological systems.

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last update 13-Jul-2008