Students Are Rarely Independent: When, Why, and How to Use Random Effects in Discipline-Based Education Research

– CBE Life Sciences Education

Discipline-based education researchers have a natural laboratory—classrooms, programs, colleges, and universities. Studies that administer treatments to multiple sections, in multiple years, or at multiple institutions are particularly compelling for two reasons: first, the sample sizes increase, and second, the implementation of the treatments can be intentionally designed and carefully monitored, potentially negating the need for additional control variables. However, when studies are implemented in this way, the observations on students are not completely independent; rather, students are clustered in sections, terms, years, or other factors.