TITLE

Curricular reform and inquiry teaching in biology: where are our efforts most fruitfully invested?

AUTHOR(S)
Timmerman, Briana E.; Strickland, Denise C.; Carstensen, Susan M.
PUB. DATE
August 2008
SOURCE
Integrative & Comparative Biology;Aug2008, Vol. 48 Issue 2, p226
SOURCE TYPE
Academic Journal
DOC. TYPE
Article
ABSTRACT
University faculty often express frustration with the accuracy of students' understanding of science in general and of evolution in particular. A rich research literature suggests that inquiry-based pedagogies are more effective in producing meaningful learning than are traditional, didactic approaches. A pragmatic investigation into the efficacy of inquiry-based curricular reforms compared to traditional laboratory activities was undertaken in the introductory biology course for majors at a large state university in the southeastern United States. The topics of the course focused on biodiversity, evolution, and plant and animal anatomy and physiology. Students' learning in the inquiry versus traditional units was compared using both a test of pre-post content knowledge as well as open-ended written responses in which students described events in which there was meaningful learning and conceptual changes. The pre-post tests were replicated over five semesters of the same course (n= 1493 students). Students' misconceptions as well as examples of meaningful learning were gathered for two semesters in the same course (n= 518 students). Results consistently revealed that descriptive, concrete topics such as anatomy can be taught effectively using traditional didactic methods; average effect sizes (a measure of the difference between pretest scores and posttest scores) range from 1.8 to 2.1. The inquiry units also increased knowledge of content on the topics of evolution and biodiversity by a significant degree (average effect sizes range from 1.0 to 1.1), despite the fact that students spent less than half the instructional time on these units compared to the didactic units. In addition, a literature review indicated that highly abstract or mathematical concepts such as evolution or geologic time require greater formal reasoning ability and that students often show lesser gains in these areas compared to more concrete topics. It was therefore especially notable that the frequency of meaningful learning events was significantly higher in the units on evolution compared to the traditional units (χ² P<0.5 to 0.001). A catalog of students' misconceptions (some of which were quite unexpected) was also generated and found useful for future teaching. Therefore, we feel that when time and resources for curricular reform are limited, those efforts should prioritize abstract and foundational topics such as evolution. Didactic teaching appears sufficient for more concrete topics such as anatomy.
ACCESSION #
34183737

 

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