Inquiry-Based Labs Case Study: Biological Sciences
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Inquiry-Based Labs Case Study: Biological Sciences

[ Music ] In this example of an inquiry based lab, weíre going to be hearing from an instructor and a couple of students in a second semester biological sciences lab taught at Vanderbilt. The students in this lab have previously taken a biological sciences lab and at least one chemistry lab. So while they may not be biological sciences majors, they have made some commitment to studying science. The lab in which these students are enrolled is an alternative to the standard second semester biological sciences lab, and itís characterized by a semester long directed research project and an emphasis on experimental design and analysis. In this lab, groups of eight students are partnered with an instructor usually a TA. The group reads papers on a particular topic to provide background and to help them think about open questions in the area. With the guidance of their instructor, they choose a question and design one or more experiments to answer it. Mid-semester, they give an oral progress report to the other students and instructors in the course giving their results to that point and talking about how theyíre going to modify their project for the second half of this semester which culminates with a public poster session which all the biological sciences faculty are invited. As you watch the upcoming video, I encourage you to think about the skills the students and the instructor have to employ in this project. [ Music ]>>So we read different papers that tested the methodological, chemical, and sociological aspects of handwashing but there wasnít any literature on how effective different drying methods were and what youíre seeing is the transfer of bacteria. So we decided to test five different common drying methods in their efficacy in reducing bacterial transfer and found that time and the drying method used do make a significant difference in producing bacterial transfer. [ Music ]>>How to research. How to do their own experiment. Thatís the real goal set that we have. Thatís the real skillset that I want them to learn is to be able to think critically about, “Okay. Youíve got this great idea. Now find out will this work? How can we do it? Letís get some results and now what do these results mean? How can I apply it into the real world? When you leave this class and this school, youíre going to be out there in the world helping to make decisions, helping to do things. We want them to be able to just figure out, not only for themselves, but for others around them, what works and what doesnít work. Itís the journey, not the actual end process here. [ Music ]>>My role is primarily, one, to help them get the ball rolling. Essentially to specific for this project, through some ideas, through some papers that will help them learn about the problem or the possible avenues they could explore more thoroughly. And just kind of let them have time to internalize it and to talk about it. We have a few descriptive discussions where theyíll have time to debate most of the various papers that theyíve read. Thereís no one right way for this. Itís just the idea that I want to present them with the basic knowledge that they can then decide, “Okay. What could we do and whatís an interesting idea for us to investigate and explore?”>>We started this semester working with just handwashing in general. Itís something thatís been interesting people for awhile now with hygiene and health of course. What kind of caught our groupís attention was the idea of germ transfer when your hands are wet versus when your hands are dry. So for instance, if I walked to the bathroom and washed my hands really clean, if I touched the doorknob and my hands are still pretty wet, there will be approximately 100 times more germs transferred to my hands than if my hands were bone dry. We had something called Journal Club, so everybody came in, presented their paper. What they thought was interesting about their paper. This is all to try to work toward a question. This is all part of the process set up by Charles and Dr. [inaudible].>>The challenge is designing the experiment and how will you go about testing this out? What methods will you use? For the eight students that I have, how will their limited sample size affect them and how will they go about to try to improve that?>>So heís been very good. I mean, heís always there for questions about statistics or anything to do with scientific experiments which Charles has a great deal of knowledge in compared to myself for instance. But heís not a teacher in the strict sense of the pedagogue as, “Here I am teaching you. You are here to learn from me.” Itís more of a guidance sort of thing which with Charles, kind of, I donít want to say being the captain, but kind of making sure weíre staying on the general right track. [ Music ]>>A poor discussion is one where youíre in a circle and you as a teacher are essentially the major spoke in the wagon wheel. You say something, the student responds. You talk to another student, the student responds to you. It should be the students being interactive, a web together that they are working collectively. So initially, itís always me getting the ball rolling. As time progresses, I would hope that they start to view the little activities I set up and do, that they collaborate a little bit and they debate amongst themselves, “Well, I like this paper that we read because of this,” or, “I did not like this paper because of this aspect.” So itís taking the time to notice; okay, when in the discussion do you need to step in and referee? When do you need to step back and let them work it out? And when do you need to be a tie breaker essentially? To be someone to, “Okay. Hereís a great point youíre making, but itís probably not going to work because of X reason.” [ Music ]>>Itís always good for students to have some ability to learn something thatís not known. Theyíre so used to there is a right answer. Well, in the reality; especially in science, thatís not the case. I try to go through and troubleshoot ahead of time to like, are certain ideas feasible enough? But I never try to go through and do the experiment myself. Meaning for this one — for past ones, I have not spent weeks doing trials over and over again. Iíve kind of investigated ideas, tried a few things. Yes, this can work, but I try to step back and let them do all the hiccups. Thereís times in the past where if a project is a different one than this one; what some students worked on was totally unfeasible. And I wasnít sure if itíd work or not, but I didnít think it would, but I still let them go through with it because itís the journey that they need in this case. I want them to make the map of their education. Not me hand them this map that theyíre following. [ Music ]>>Enough people said that we have them as a checkpoint to how well they do in their experiments. We do a [inaudible] presentation. The original goal was to do a pre-trial to kind of test proof of concept for the [inaudible]. And the [inaudible] presentation is a reality check as we call it, that now you must present your results. And for many students, the first time to also think about presenting publicly in a coherent fashion what theyíre doing, what they did, and how it relates to the real world. [ Music ]>>So after they spend their whole semester working on their ideas, can you show the world, not just the class, what youíve learned and what youíve done? So weíll have them make a large poster which will — weíve gone to the high format of us printing it at cost for them to present in a sort of mimic of a real scientific conference, whether itís set up at a library somewhere or a lobby area where they could all as a group set up and take turns with people walking by randomly that will go, what they did to this random person. [ Music ]>>I think itís better in the sense that we work on something we want to work on. I have a couple of friends that are computer engineers, and they said Google; I think itís Google, is one of the most productive companies because they let people work 50% on what theyíre supposed to and then have 50% to work on whatever they want. So these are happier, more productive, more efficient people. So here we are in bio. We have a project doing what we want. I think weíve done a lot of work.>>Well, there are two ways that TAís benefit from participating in the inquiry based lab over their normal experience in the regular non-inquiry lab. Their roles are improved in two sorts of ways. One is as a teacher and also as a research mentor. In their role as a teacher, they are getting some practice in higher ordered sorts of skills such as planning and troubleshooting. Things that they donít normally get to do in the regular class. In the regular class they may just be grading papers or answering questions; things like that. In terms of as a research mentor, they have to figure out what the requirements of their project systems are. They have to select papers they want the students to read. They have to plan for the materials that theyíre going to need to have for their project. So thereís a number of things that they can experience with that they donít normally do in the regular non-research based class.>>So here we saw another example of inquiry based lab pedagogy. In this case, the projects are longer and more involved and require more collaboration among the students. Again, I want you think about the ways that this lab differs from a traditional lab and the ways that itís similar to a traditional lab. Then again, how does this approach mimic what we think of as real science? [ Music ]

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