Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Does Active Learning Improve Students' Knowledge of and Attitudes toward Research Methods?

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Does Active Learning Improve Students' Knowledge of and Attitudes toward Research Methods?

Article excerpt


The lecture format has historically been the most popular teaching pedagogy utilized by collegiate faculty members in the United States. However, lecturing alone is not always the most successful approach to promote learning (Handelsman et al. 2004; Knight and Wood 2005). Encouraging students to formulate their own ideas, interpret data, generate conclusions from experimental evidence, and participate in other "hands-on" activities can be more effective than the passive learning that typically occurs during lecturing. In fact, many national organizations (American Association for the Advancement of Science 1993; Association of American Colleges and Universities 2007; NRC 1999, 2003a, 2003b; National Science Foundation 1996) encourage the use of active learning in the college science classroom.

The increased recognition of the value of active learning is supported by a growing body of evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of incorporating active learning techniques in the undergraduate classroom. Studies have found increased learning when active learning strategies were used in a wide range of science disciplines including physics (Hake 1998), chemistry (Niaz et al. 2002; Towns and Grant 1997), biology (Burrowes 2003), nursing (Clark et al. 2008), and physiology (Mierson 1998) and through the use of a number of different active learning activities (Prince 2004). For example, collaborative learning has been found to enhance academic achievement (Johnson, Johnson, and Smith 1998a, 1998b; Springer, Stanne, and Donovan 1999), student attitudes (Springer, Stanne, and Donovan 1999), and student retention (Berry 1991; Fredericksen 1998).

Many undergraduate programs include a one-semester research methods course in the curriculum. The research methods course is usually offered to upperclass students and is a course that students do not eagerly anticipate. One potential reason for the lack of interest is students' inability to perceive themselves as engaged in meaningful research activities (Rash 2005). Thus, we redesigned our research methods course to incorporate participation in a research project. We hoped that stimulating interest in research at the beginner baccalaureate level through active and collaborative learning would allow students to build on their knowledge base in subsequent courses and potentially encourage their participation in research projects. Therefore, we offered our research methods course to first-year students.


Despite the fact that the research process is inherently an active and collaborative process, there are few studies that have examined the efficacy of active learning in teaching scientific research methodology. Moreover, we are unaware of any studies that have examined how first-year students respond to an active learning project involving research methods. Therefore, the purpose of the present study was to evaluate the effectiveness of incorporating active learning teaching techniques in a first-year undergraduate research methods course.

Materials and methods

Course and student details

This study included 54 first-year students majoring in sports medicine enrolled in a required undergraduate research methods course during the spring 2009 semester. The course was taught in two separate sections with 27 students in each section, each meeting on a MWF, 50-minute class schedule. The sample was 70% female and 30% male. Institutional Review Board approval allowed us to examine student attitudes and content knowledge for research purposes.

General procedures

Previously, this course was taught in a lecture-based pedagogical approach. Students were required to read peer-reviewed journals and understand the major concepts of research methodology. The active, collaborative learning project was created to assist students to become more familiar with research methodology typically used in the sports medicine field and to work together as part of a team. …

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