Less teaching, more learning: 10-yr study supports increasing student learning through less coverage and more inquiry

Douglas B. Luckie, Jacob R. Aubry, Benjamin J. Marengo, Aaron M. Rivkin, Lindsey A. Foos, Joseph J. Maleszewski
2012 Advances in Physiology Education  
Luckie DB, Aubry JR, Marengo BJ, Rivkin AM, Foos LA, Maleszewski JJ. Less teaching, more learning: 10-yr study supports increasing student learning through less coverage and more inquiry. Adv Physiol Educ 36: 325-335, 2012; doi:10.1152/advan.00017.2012.-In this study, we compared gains in student content learning over a 10-yr period in which the introductory biology laboratory curriculum was changed in two ways: an increase of inquiry and a reduction of content. Three laboratory formats were
more » ... ory formats were tested: traditional 1-wk-long cookbook laboratories, two 7-wk-long inquiry laboratories, and one 14-wk-long inquiry laboratory. As the level of inquiry increased, student learning gains on content exams trended upward even while traditional content coverage taught decreased. In a quantitative assessment of content knowledge, students who participated in the 14-wklong inquiry laboratory format outscored their peers in both 7-and 1-wk-long lab formats on Medical College Admissions Test exam questions (scores of 64.73%, 61.97%, and 53.48%, respectively, P Ͻ 0.01). In a qualitative study of student opinions, surveys conducted at the end of semesters where traditional 1-wk laboratories (n ϭ 167 students) were used had low response rates and predominately negative opinions (only 20% of responses were positive), whereas those who participated in 7-wk (n ϭ 543) or 14-wk (n ϭ 308) inquiry laboratories had high response rates and 71% and 96% positive reviews, respectively. In an assessment of traditional content coverage in courses, three indexes were averaged to calculate traditional forms of coverage and showed a decrease by 44% over the study period. We believe that the quantitative and qualitative data support greater student-driven inquiry in the classroom laboratory, which leads to deeper learning in fewer topic areas (less teaching) and can reap gains in scientific thinking and fundamental understanding applicable to a broader range of topic areas (more learning) in introductory biology. laboratory; inquiry; cooperative; undergraduate; research EACH YEAR, the field of biology grows with new developments in knowledge and skills that require increased mastery of topics by our students. While we, the faculty, are concerned that the increased number of topics taught in lecture and laboratory courses might not lead to increased learning, we hope that if we speak clearly and energetically enough, perhaps it will. We often consider our best laboratories to be those with detailed protocols, which have been refined over the years to produce experiments that work in the hands of students, yet these are also "cookbook" in nature (10, 18). Unfortunately, this evolution to increased content coverage and more structured experiments for majors in the course lecture and laboratory does not produce learning gains to match our aspirations (11, 18, 21) . Nor does this inspire creativity, flexibility, and inquisitiveness in our students or help them develop deeper critical and integrative thinking skills (7, 8, 22, 23, 27) . In the late 1990s, our department's approach to teaching introductory biology laboratory and lecture courses was predominantly that of a traditional format, with many weekly cookbook laboratories strung together, each focused on a different biological topic. Just as lecture topics jumped from one chapter to the next, so did topics in the laboratory. For example, the week that the topic of photosynthesis was covered in lecture, we would also have photosynthesis "experiments" in the laboratory. In the past, this approach was considered the most efficient for increasing student gains because it enabled teachers to reinforce material presented in lecture. However, student feedback and research data have suggested that these traditional laboratories provide little gain in student learning (18, 23). In the late 1990s, our faculty members revisited the learning goals of our curriculum and came to an agreement that in the laboratory portion of a course we wanted our students to learn 1) more about the topic studied, 2) the techniques used, and 3) the process of research. Past and current evidence have suggested that the majority of our students learned little of the above when performing cookbook laboratories (7, 11, 27) . Upon review of our assessments as evaluated by Bloom's taxonomy, we also found that our laboratory assignments did not require higher-level or critical thought and thus needed revision (19) . The literature suggests that our experience is not unique. When reviewing traditional undergraduate biology courses, Momsen et al. (21) found that of 9,713 assessments as evaluated by Bloom's taxonomy, 93% leveled 1 or 2 (knowledge and comprehension) and Ͻ1% were a 4 or above on Bloom. Our review of the education literature and consultations with experts as well as negative student comments on course evaluations catalyzed a formal curricular reform and research effort. We redesigned introductory biology courses to increase inquiry as well as instituted standardized assessments to collect data regarding student opinions and academic performance (17, 19, 26, 28) . While our previous publication in 2004 simply compared traditional structured/cookbook laboratories to "teams and streams" inquiry laboratories, in this report we extended those studies to compare gains in student performance in three different laboratory formats: traditional 1-wk-long confirmatory laboratories, two 7-wk-long inquiry laboratories, and one 14-wk-long inquiry laboratory. A full decade of data now supports that the learning gains found in 2004 were sustained and trend upward as emphasis in the laboratories
doi:10.1152/advan.00017.2012 pmid:23209015 fatcat:jlgvv3dq7zdijccvnmedecpv3y