A Six-Year Review of Student Success in a Biology Course Using Lecture, Blended, and Hybrid Methods

By Gonzalez, Beatriz Y. | Journal of College Science Teaching, July-August 2014 | Go to article overview

A Six-Year Review of Student Success in a Biology Course Using Lecture, Blended, and Hybrid Methods


Gonzalez, Beatriz Y., Journal of College Science Teaching


Today's lectures are filled with active learning strategies whereby students actively work on building their knowledge from course material taught during a lecture (Allen & Tanner, 2005; Lord, 2001). These lectures are often interspersed with group work that has been shown to boost retention and student comprehension of course material (Hsiung, 2012; Lasry, Mazur, & Watkins, 2008). With the advances in technology, there are now other ways to teach that do not include as much face-to-face time as lecturing or in-class active learning; rather, they require student interactivity with course material that is delivered totally online or presented as a mixture of online and face-to-face meetings (Young, 2002). Although a recent analysis of the literature concluded that online education provided higher success rates than traditional face-to-face classes (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, 2010), these reported outcomes have been called into question. One of the problems with comparing pedagogical methods is the lack of proper controls, the small sample sizes, and the diversity of institutions and student cohorts (Bowen, 2013; Lack, 2013).

After teaching for several years, I noticed that it was harder for me to stay motivated and also to keep my students engaged while lecturing. Searching for ways to change the situation, I studied, attended workshops, and observed other teachers who were using active learning methods and innovative technology. I invigorated my lectures by including group quizzes and clicker-style questions (Smith et al., 2009). I also wrote and compiled exercises that used guided-inquiry and higher order questions (Gonzalez & van Oostrom, 2009). Over a period that spans 6 years, I have taught my students using one of three methods: lecture, blended, and hybrid. At times I have used more than one method, and the decision to do so depended on the needs of our institution. In this manuscript I present how I enacted each of these three methods to teach Core 1 Biology.

Course description and context

Core 1 Biology is the first term of a yearlong introductory biology course for majors. It is a four-credit course taught over a 15-week semester. The topics covered in this course include form and function of the cell, cellular reproduction, metabolism, respiration, photosynthesis, genetics, molecular biology, and evolution. The laboratory is a corequisite for the course, taken concurrently with the lecture, and both are taught by the same professor. The course has an annual enrollment of about 800 students. Our institution is a suburban, primarily 2-year college with an annual enrollment of approximately 17,000 students; it comprises a diverse student body of adult learners, recent high school graduates, and students with prior degrees. Completing Core 1 Biology with a grade of C or higher is a prerequisite for Core 2 Biology, the second semester of the course. Because we are an open-access institution, there are no prerequisites for the course, though students are advised to take chemistry and complete college algebra before enrolling in the class.

Methods used

Lecture, blended, and hybrid methods differ from one another in terms of presentation and contact time spent with students. The contact time is defined as in-class hours. There were between 25 and 75 students in each category every semester, as I taught one, two, or three sections per category per semester, with approximately 25 students per section. Which method was used on any given semester was determined by the needs of the department, room availability, or the presence of scheduling conflicts. All students received a common final examination.

Lecture method

Traditional lecturing, where the teacher is the provider of information and students are passive recipients, is not as commonplace as it used to be. Nowadays, lecturing often includes active learning strategies (Allen & Tanner, 2005; Knight & Wood, 2005). …

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