Title page for ETD etd-1026203169632121

Type of Document Dissertation
Author McKenzie, Woodrow L.
URN etd-1026203169632121
Title Investigative Learning in an Undergraduate Biology Laboratory: an Investigation into Reform in Science Education
Degree PhD
Department Career Services
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Buikema, Arthur L. Jr.
Clowes, Darrel A.
Nespor, Jan K.
Taylor, C. David
Glasson, George E. Committee Chair
  • science education reform
  • socio-cultural
  • concept learning
  • computer mediated communication
  • undergraduate biology
  • authentic assessment
Date of Defense 1996-06-20
Availability unrestricted
This study examined an innovative,

project-based curriculum in a freshman biology

laboratory by focusing on how students

developed their conceptual understanding of a

biological species. A model for learning was

posed based on learners working in small

groups. This model linked a socio-cultural

approach to teaching and learning to

conceptual change theory. Qualitative research

methods were employed to collect a variety of

data. Documentation of this innovative

curriculum is provided. This investigative

curriculum incorporated the research practices

that scientists use. A wide range of dynamic

interactions with students actively investigating

problems and sharing both their findings and

thoughts during this time occurred. This

essentially modeled the authentic practices of

scientists. A direct comparison was made with

this learning environment and the model for

learning. Peer tutoring, cooperative learning,

and most importantly, peer collaboration were

observed when students grappled with difficult

problems for which there was no single right

answer. Teachers served as guides in learning,

shifting responsibility to the students. Analysis

of student writing revealed richer, more

complex definitions of species after the

experience of the laboratory project. Several

of the students used knowledge gained directly

from their experiences during the laboratory

project to help elaborate their definitions. The

electronic discussions showed a range of social

interactions and interactivity. High quality

discussions were found to be rich in scientific

thought, engaging discussants by offering

information, questioning, and actively

hypothesizing. Mediating and facilitating

discussions by the participants was found to be

an important factor in their success. Groups

exhibiting high quality discussions also had a

lower response time than other groups,

indicating that more substantive dialogues

which are rich in thought proceed at a slower

pace. Significantly, an important connection

has been made between the socio-cultural

approach to learning and conceptual change

theory. A closer examination of how small

groups of learners develop conceptual

understanding is needed. This approach also

needs to be extended into other settings where

reform in science education is taking place.

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