Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

The Impact of a Four-Step Laboratory Pedagogical Framework on Biology Students' Perceptions of Laboratory Skills, Knowledge, and Interest in Research

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

The Impact of a Four-Step Laboratory Pedagogical Framework on Biology Students' Perceptions of Laboratory Skills, Knowledge, and Interest in Research

Article excerpt

Greater awareness of new and increasingly complex social, economic, and environmental challenges of the 21st century has prompted a national call for more authentic research experiences within undergraduate science education (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2011, 2015; McLaughlin & Metz, 2016; National Research Council [NRC], 2003, 2009). This emphasis on research experiences is a direct response to a growing body of evidence indicating that undergraduate research is positively associated with persistence to degree completion and to academic success in biology, particularly for historically underrepresented students (Jones, Barlow, & Villarejo, 2010; and articles contained therein). Unfortunately, authentic research experiences generally take place outside the prescribed curriculum, thereby reducing the number of students who can benefit from these experiences.

Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) provide a way to increase and broaden participation of students in authentic research (Auchincloss et al., 2014; Bangera & Brownell, 2014) and to train students in the essential elements of scientific research, which include reading peer-reviewed literature, generating questions (that don't currently have answers), forming a hypothesis, designing an experiment, collecting and analyzing data, working toward significant findings, and presenting results (Lopatto, 2003; Seago, 1992; Spell, Guinan, Miller, & Beck, 2014). All of these elements are present in an inquiry-based laboratory experience if performed at the higher levels of "guided" or "open" inquiry (Auchincloss et al., 2014; Brownell, Kloser, Fukami, & Shavelson, 2012; Herron, 1971; NRC, 2000; Schwab, 1960). However, these types of curriculum-based research experiences remain rare, particularly in introductory biology laboratory courses. A recent national survey revealed that undergraduate students in introductory biology laboratory courses spend on average only one third of their time on authentic research activities, with 23% of courses having no research and 56% of courses spending less than a quarter of total class time engaging in research (Spell et al., 2014). The survey results also indicated that the main barrier to implementation was lack of time for faculty to develop new research experiences. The finding suggests that developing models for faculty to design authentic research experiences in biology laboratory classes might increase the likelihood that students will engage in these experiences. Figure 1 describes a simple and flexible step-wise model proposed as a tool to decrease faculty time required to design and implement effective course-based undergraduate research experiences (McLaughlin & Coyle, 2016).

As illustrated, the model uses a four-step pedagogical framework that includes all essential elements of authentic research. This inquiry-focused model was designed to simplify and streamline the development and implementation process for curricular design in an introductory biology laboratory. During Step 1, students are taught essential and relevant experimental techniques via prelab videos and hands-on training. This step serves to introduce critical elements of the scientific process and to allow students to gain familiarity and practice with cutting-edge and pertinent scientific equipment and methods. Students are also introduced to the overall study system and to its larger societal significance. During Step 2, the instructor asks a large-scale guided question related to the study system. Students then work in small groups (3-4 students) to research, select, and read primary literature related to the guided-question to devise a more specific, self-directed research question; formulate a hypothesis; and design an accompanying experiment to test the hypothesis. In Step 3, students conduct their autonomous experiments while using learned techniques and collecting data. Finally, in Step 4, students interpret their data and present the results of their research experiment in a professional scientific manner. …

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