Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Getting the Most out of Dual-Listed Courses: Involving Undergraduate Students in Discussion through Active Learning Techniques

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Getting the Most out of Dual-Listed Courses: Involving Undergraduate Students in Discussion through Active Learning Techniques

Article excerpt

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is now responsible for cultivating 21st-century scientists to be analytical and creative in developing practical solutions to current and future societal problems. Increasingly complex and diverse challenges require knowledge of concepts within disciplines that traditionally are not presented in undergraduate science education, including human values, attitudes, and behavior and the interrelationships of global social, political, environmental, and economic systems (Geppert, 1995; Splitt, 2002). Consequently, many undergraduate students are seeking graduate education to gain the necessary skills to meet these challenges. Undergraduate students are not waiting until graduate school to enroll in graduate-level courses either, with many seeking preparation during their undergraduate study through graduate course enrollment. Universities are accommodating this demand by offering dual-listed courses--courses that are available to both undergraduate and graduate students and taught by a single instructor with a common meeting schedule.

Dual-listed courses will persist, in part because of institutional resource constraints, even though each level of education has a different emphasis and mission. Undergraduate STEM programs promote development of reasoning skills and proficiency in problem definition, problem solving, and quantitative expertise. Although alternative teaching techniques have been suggested to improve instruction, routine learning and assessment avenues in undergraduate education are traditional lectures, practice problems, and conventional exams (Freeman et al., 2014). Graduate study, however, provides opportunities to contemplate issues, think reflectively, and engage with theory in ways that notably differ from those generally permitted by traditional undergraduate courses of study. These pedagogical differences between undergraduate and graduate STEM student groups are a reflection of the underlying distinction in intellectual development levels between the two student groups (Barna & Haws, 1982; Luthy et al., 1992; Perry, 1970, 1981); subsequently, this complicates the inclusion of undergraduates in dual-listed courses. In our experience, this variation in epistemic development contributes to possible difficulties that undergraduate students may have while learning to communicate about complex issues in the same way as graduate students, particularly in a course in which students are asked about topics rather than told about topics (Freeman et al., 2014). Active learning techniques are a possible remedy to the hardships that undergraduate students experience in graduate-level discussions (Bozorgmanesh, Sadighi, & Nazarpour, 2011; Driscoll, 2005; Ellington, Fowlie, & Gordon, 2013; Freeman et al., 2014).

The ultimate goal of an active learning technique is to limit the quantity of students who simply watch, listen, take notes, and quickly exit the lecture session and thereby encourage student-centered learning (Felder & Brent, 2009; Prince, 2004). Discussions, collaborative and cooperative learning experiences, and active learning techniques, although often mentioned separately and differing in some ways, are actually more similar than different (Slavich & Zimbardo, 2012); all can be categorized as settings that firmly support student-centered instruction (Prince, 2004). Cooperative and active learning in STEM disciplines has been shown to consistently have positive academic impacts on students (Springer, Stanne, & Donovan, 1999; Freeman et al., 2014). Collaboration provides an environment that promotes interpersonal skills, positive student attitudes, and material retention, and active learning strategies, such as role play, create an environment conducive to teaching students how to be lifelong learners in the field (Prince, 2004). Furthermore, discussions have been shown to increase student learning (Hollander, 2002), and students are more likely to retain information if it is placed in a larger context, rather than only hearing the information in lecture (Hollander, 2002; McKeachie & Svinicki, 2011). …

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