Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Instructor Use of Group Active Learning in an Introductory Biology Sequence

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Instructor Use of Group Active Learning in an Introductory Biology Sequence

Article excerpt

National efforts to reform undergraduate science instruction, particularly introductory, gateway courses for science majors, have been underway for over 15 years with limited success (American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS], 2011; Handelsman et al., 2004; National Research Council, 2004; National Science Foundation, 1996). In particular, faculty have been challenged to integrate more active learning pedagogies into their courses so students are encouraged to construct an understanding of the material rather than passively receiving information from a lecture (National Research Council, 2000). Active learning pedagogies can vary widely, from instructor-generated verbal questions that students think about or respond to on their own, to small group activities and discussions, to personal response "clicker" questions--with or without group discussion. In each case, the goal is to help students take an active role in their own learning while in class.

Consistent with the assumption that active learning increases student learning, courses focused on these learner-centered pedagogies have been shown to increase student academic performance (Armbruster, Patel, Johnson, & Weiss, 2009; Freeman et al., 2007; Hake, 1998; Knight & Wood, 2005), as well as reduce the achievement gap between nondisadvantaged and disadvantaged learners (Haak, HilleRislambers, Pitre, & Freeman, 2011). Active learning has also been shown to lower failure rates in undergraduate biology courses (Freeman, Haak, & Wenderoth, 2011). Derting and Ebert-May (2010) reported that students who participated in introductory coursework with active learning had a better understanding of science as a process by their senior year. A recent multidisciplinary meta-analysis provided robust evidence that active learning increases student performance regardless of discipline (Freeman et al., 2014).

Although students acknowledge that active learning increases engagement in classes (Welsh, 2012), they also articulate that some instructors are better at using active learning pedagogies than others. Indeed, how active learning pedagogies are used makes a difference in student learning gains. Smith et al. (2009) and Smith, Wood, Krauter, and Knight (2011) documented gains in student learning from clicker questions and found that peer discussion in combination with instructor explanation was critical to maximizing student learning using this pedagogy. Turpen and Finkelstein (2010) found that the nature of classroom discussion in general appears to be important in helping physics students make sense of the material, yet how discussion is used in the classroom is extremely variable from professor to professor, with some fostering much higher levels of student discussion than others (Turpen & Finkelstein, 2009). This may be why some active learning reforms do not result in the same learning gains as others; how the instructor implements active learning may make a profound difference to its success (Andrews, Leonard, Cosgrove, & Kalinowski, 2011).

Student talk, specifically self-explanation, plays a vital role in the learning process as shown in both psychological (Chi, DeLeeuw, Chiu, & Lavancher, 1994; Webb, 1989) and educational research literature (Coleman, Brown, & Rivkin, 1997; Smith et al., 2009). Chi et al. (1994) proposed that self-explanation was the cognitive process responsible for enabling the incorporation of new knowledge into existing knowledge. Webb (1989) found that student achievement was increased after students gave explanations within small groups. Coleman et al. (1997) demonstrated that biology students participating in teaching each other experienced stronger learning effects compared with those participating in summarizing. Student talk, used in such group active learning pedagogies, has been shown to benefit students from all levels and disciplines, including undergraduate biology students (Smith et al. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.