A Small-Scale Concept-based Laboratory Component: The Best of Both Worlds

Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307, USA.
CBE life sciences education (Impact Factor: 1.89). 02/2006; 5(1):41-51. DOI: 10.1187/cbe.05-02-0065
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT In this article, we describe an exploratory study of a small-scale, concept-driven, voluntary laboratory component of Introductory Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We wished to investigate whether students' attitudes toward biology and their understanding of basic biological principles would improve through concept-based learning in a laboratory environment. With these goals in mind, and using our Biology Concept Framework as a guide, we designed laboratory exercises to connect topics from the lecture portion of the course and highlight key concepts. We also strove to make abstract concepts tangible, encourage learning in nonlecture format, expose the students to scientific method in action, and convey the excitement of performing experiments. Our initial small-scale assessments indicate participation in the laboratory component, which featured both hands-on and minds-on components, improved student learning and retention of basic biological concepts. Further investigation will focus on improving the balance between the minds-on concept-based learning and the hands-on experimental component of the laboratory.

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Available from: Dina Gould Halme, Jun 20, 2014
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    • "Research-oriented open-ended labs promote the development of scientific thinking skills and their application to real-world scientific problems by providing students with opportunities to investigate a problem and make conclusions about their results [27] [28] [29]. By learning the biological principles underlying the steps of the particular experimental technique, students develop higher order critical-thinking skills and can correct misconceptions. "
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    ABSTRACT: Open-ended, inquiry-based multiweek laboratory exercises are the key elements to increasing students' understanding and retention of the major biological concepts. Including original research into undergraduate teaching laboratories has also been shown to motivate students and improve their learning. Here, we present a series of original laboratory exercises on fine mapping novel maize mutations producing interesting phenotypes. In this 4-week lab series, students get involved in the whole process of identifying novel genes controlling specific phenotypes, from phenotype characterization and choosing appropriate molecular markers to calculating the genetic distance between the mutation and the marker and finding possible candidate genes using a complete genome sequence. We chose to use maize mutant lines produced by TILLING project. These lines have been partially mapped to a chromosomal bin by a high-throughput bulk segregant analysis; however, the exact map positions for these mutations have never been determined. Mapping these novel maize mutations provides students with the opportunity to conduct original research as a part of their classroom experience and to contribute to the field of maize genetics. The laboratory series was well received by the students, and the assessment results demonstrated an improvement of student learning of gene mapping, molecular marker analysis, and positional cloning concepts.
    Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 09/2011; 39(5):375-83. DOI:10.1002/bmb.20524 · 0.65 Impact Factor
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    • "When developing project-based labs for introductory biology courses with high enrollments, several models have been developed. Short, 2-or 3-wk modular concept-based laboratories can be used to enhance student learning in large introductory biology courses (Halme et al., 2006). Similarly, multiweek experiments relating interconnected concepts in genetics and molecular biology have also been shown to be effective (Aronson and Silviera, 2009). "
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    ABSTRACT: In introductory laboratory courses, many universities are turning from traditional laboratories with predictable outcomes to inquiry-inspired, project-based laboratory curricula. In these labs, students are allowed to design at least some portion of their own experiment and interpret new, undiscovered data. We have redesigned the introductory biology laboratory course at Brandeis University into a semester-long project-based laboratory that emphasizes concepts and contains an element of scientific inquiry. In this laboratory, students perform a site-directed mutagenesis experiment on the gene encoding human γD crystallin, a human eye lens protein implicated in cataracts, and assess the stability of their newly created protein with respect to wild-type crystallin. This laboratory utilizes basic techniques in molecular biology to emphasize the importance of connections between DNA and protein. This project lab has helped engage students in their own learning, has improved students' skills in critical thinking and analysis, and has promoted interest in basic research in biology.
    CBE life sciences education 03/2011; 10(1):18-24. DOI:10.1187/cbe.10-07-0085 · 1.89 Impact Factor
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    • "These strategies teach basic laboratory methodologies (Handelsman et al., 2004), problem-solving skills, critical thinking, data analysis, and cooperative-group work (Regassa and Morrison-Shetlar, 2007). Student engagement in active-learning processes has been shown to improve knowledge retention (National Science Foundation, 1996; Handelsman et al., 2004; Halme et al., 2006). This exercise also addresses the recommendation of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology that students become more familiar with bioinformatics tools (National Research Council, 2003; Boyle 2004). "
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    ABSTRACT: With rapid advances in biotechnology and molecular biology, instructors are challenged to not only provide undergraduate students with hands-on experiences in these disciplines but also to engage them in the "real-world" scientific process. Two common topics covered in biotechnology or molecular biology courses are gene-cloning and bioinformatics, but to provide students with a continuous laboratory-based research experience in these techniques is difficult. To meet these challenges, we have partnered with Bio-Rad Laboratories in the development of the "Cloning and Sequencing Explorer Series," which combines wet-lab experiences (e.g., DNA extraction, polymerase chain reaction, ligation, transformation, and restriction digestion) with bioinformatics analysis (e.g., evaluation of DNA sequence quality, sequence editing, Basic Local Alignment Search Tool searches, contig construction, intron identification, and six-frame translation) to produce a sequence publishable in the National Center for Biotechnology Information GenBank. This 6- to 8-wk project-based exercise focuses on a pivotal gene of glycolysis (glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase), in which students isolate, sequence, and characterize the gene from a plant species or cultivar not yet published in GenBank. Student achievement was evaluated using pre-, mid-, and final-test assessments, as well as with a survey to assess student perceptions. Student confidence with basic laboratory techniques and knowledge of bioinformatics tools were significantly increased upon completion of this hands-on exercise.
    CBE life sciences education 12/2009; 8(4):326-37. DOI:10.1187/cbe.09-05-0036 · 1.89 Impact Factor
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