COLUMBUS, Ohio Give college students less instruction and more freedom to think for themselves in laboratory classes, and the result may be a four-fold increase in their test scores.
So says Steve Rissing, a professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University. Rissing played a major role in revamping the way the university teaches its introductory-level biology courses.
For one, we got away from the cookbook method of teaching concepts of biology in a lab course, he said. Instead, many of those classes now include real experiments that leave room for additional inquiry.
The effort paid off. During a talk at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco, Rissing cited one particularly difficult laboratory experiment in which students worked with enzymes. Students often struggled through this exercise, and usually scored poorly when later tested on the implications of the experiment's findings.
Rissing asked the laboratory instructors usually graduate students in biology to use two different approaches over two academic quarters when teaching the experiment. Roughly 300 students, all taking an introductory biology course for science majors, were in each group. The first group used what Rissing calls the cookbook method they followed step-by-step instructions on how to carry out the experiment and display their results. These students were provided with a standard, prepared enzyme solution.
The second group of students had to prepare their own enzyme solutions from a piece of raw turnip. They were also given more freedom to think through their approach to the same experiment, and were encouraged to use critical thinking and hands-on discovery to come up with their approach.
At the end of their respective experiments, both groups of students were asked one simple question: Where do enzymes occur in nature?