HIRREL, MARC C. AND JOHN S. CHOINSKI.* Department of Biology, University of Central Arkansas, Conway, AR 72035. - The use of investigative biology exercises in freshman labs improves the retention of biology majors in advanced courses.
Traditional introductory courses in sciences provide students with a
“cookbook” laboratory experience that absolves them of taking
responsibility for their education. Such courses fail to engage them
in science as a dynamic process. To address this problem, we, in Fall
1997, adopted the approach, “less is more!” Rather than having to
learn new methodologies each week, students work through a directed
investigation on an important principle, and then, explore that
principle in more depth with an experiment of their own design the
following week. The use of computer workstations integrated with
Vernier science hardware and software allows investigative labs to be
performed in a 2.5-3 hr lab period. Three important advantages to this
approach for students are: 1) gaining hands-on experience with the
scientific method while investigating fundamental principles, 2)
learning to take responsibility for lab preparedness and, ultimately,
for their education, and 3) greater success in upper division courses.
The limitations to this approach include: 1) not covering the
breadth of introductory topics, 2) time constraints sometimes limit
discussion of data and the principles investigated, and 3) poor K-12
science backgrounds cause problems in mastering the curriculum.
Student success rates have followed a traditional learning curve.
They were low at first, but have begun to rise primarily as a result
of continual curriculum modification. We have found that the effort
spent teaching freshmen students about the process of science pays off
later with greater retention of biology majors in advanced courses.
Preliminary assessment of students by faculty teaching upper division
courses suggests that they are better prepared and more engaged.
Through the “less is more” approach, students learn the foundations of
biology by studying a few, well connected principles, rather than by
memorizing a series of disconnected facts.
Key words: computer workstations, investigative biology laboratories