Date of Award

2009

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Teaching

Advisor

Molly Schauffler

Second Committee Member

Susan R. McKay

Third Committee Member

John R. Thompson

Abstract

This study was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of a new inquiry laboratory at the University of Maine compared to the traditional laboratory in an introductory biology course. Reform of the BIO 100 course to more inquiry-based instruction was designed to actively engage students in the processes of science by having them design and implement their own experiments throughout the semester. During the Fall 2007 and Fall 2008 semesters, students in these two laboratory types were compared in terms of their lecture exam scores, attitudes towards biology, biology content understanding, and the nature of questions asked during laboratory. Results from the 2008 semester of this study suggest that students in both laboratory types had gains in lecture exam scores, but traditional students had greater normalized gain from the pretest to the final exam than did inquiry students. Students' motivation towards biology decreased among students in inquiry laboratories, but the same students gained in meiosis content understanding. Preliminary data obtained from classroom observations suggest that the percentage of higher order questions asked by both teaching assistants and their students is greater in inquiry laboratories compared to traditional laboratories. This suggests that the classroom interactions taking place in the inquiry laboratories more closely resemble the thinking involved by scientists than those in traditional laboratories do. The results of this two-year study support some of the documented benefits of reforming undergraduate biology laboratories to more inquiry-based pedagogy. Recommendations based on these results include: focus the assessment of inquiry laboratories on gains in both content and reasoning skills, and provide a transition into the inquiry laboratories that clarifies the different learning expectations, for both the student (to change their traditional perception of the laboratory) and the teaching assistants (to provide them with more in-depth tutorials on effective teaching in inquiry laboratories). Continued investigation into the effectiveness of inquiry laboratories in this field will deepen understanding of how to implement and assess laboratories so that the potential benefits to students in content understanding, scientific thinking, and attitudes can be realized. Further studies evaluating the effectiveness of inquiry reform in undergraduate institutions will play a large role in helping other institutions adopt and implement effective inquiry-based curricula in their programs.

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