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Improving science learning: Inquiry-based and traditional first -year college science curricula

Laura Wenk, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study was designed to: (a) describe the degree to which introductory science programs at two colleges engaged students in the process of scientific inquiry, and (b) describe changes in students' maturity with regard to epistemology, methods of justifying decisions, and agency in science. Course descriptions drew from classroom observations, interviews with faculty about their goals and methods, and interviews with students about their experiences in the courses. Student development was analyzed from pre- and post-semester interviews, pre-, post-semester Likert-scale surveys on students' attitudes and beliefs about science, and post-semester Likert-scale student self-assessments. Both the inquiry and traditional programs allowed opportunities for students to be engaged in answering ill-structured questions. Overall, the inquiry-based courses had more intensive engagement of students in the processes scientists use in authentic research. Students in inquiry-based courses made significantly greater gains in epistemology and methods of justifying decisions as measured by coding interviews and performing t-tests on survey items. What is more, students in inquiry courses reported producing work of their own design. Students in both programs, however, were more confident of their abilities to participate in science after one semester in college. Courses whose goals were primarily content related taught students content and studenting skills; courses whose goals were explicitly process related taught students about the nature and methods of science. The results indicate that if college students are to better understand the nature of scientific knowledge and be better able to justify decisions about complex scientific issues, they should be engaged in more inquiry-based course work.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Higher education|Science education

Recommended Citation

Wenk, Laura, "Improving science learning: Inquiry-based and traditional first -year college science curricula" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9988852.