Engaging Students in Scientific Inquiry: Success and Challenges of Engaging Non-Science Majors in Scientific Inquiry

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Recent publications, including Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2009) and A New Biology for the 21st Century (National Research Council, 2009), highlight needed changes for undergraduate science education. These include a shift away from traditionally structured lab courses toward more authentic scientific inquiry experiences in undergraduate science laboratories. The aim of these reform initiatives is for students to develop not only conceptual understanding of the big ideas of science but also the skills required to conduct an investigation and an understanding of science as a human process of constructing scientific knowledge (National Research Council, 2011). The work that we describe here examines the challenges and successes of engaging nonscience majors in a large introductory university-level science course in conducting scientific inquiry. To understand the course structure and the nature of the laboratory experiences, we describe two different lab experiences. In both cases, students engaged in guided inquiry and then were asked to engage in a more open-ended inquiry experience. Our findings suggest that students need significant scaffolding to make the transition from more guided inquiry to more open-ended inquiry.


This is a chapter in Inquiry-based Learning for Faculty and Institutional Development: A Conceptual and Practical Resource for Educators (Innovations in Higher EducationTeaching and Learning, Volume 1)