Engaging students in inquiry: Tales from an undergraduate geology laboratory-based course
Post on 06-Jul-2016
Engaging Students in Inquiry:Tales From an UndergraduateGeology Laboratory-BasedCourse
XORNAM S. APEDOELearning Research & Development Center, University of Pittsburgh, 3939 OHara St.,Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA
Received 30 May 2007; revised 11 October 2007, 17 October 2007;accepted 21 October 2007
DOI 10.1002/sce.20254Published online 27 December 2007 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com).
ABSTRACT: This paper reports the synthesis of three case studies of students engagementin inquiry-based learning activities in an upper-level undergraduate geology course. Detailsof how students engaged in scientific questions, gave priority to evidence, formulatedexplanations, evaluated explanations, and communicated and justified their findings arepresented. Data for this study included classroom observations and fieldnotes of classroompractices, questionnaires, archival data (e.g., student work samples), and audiotapes andtranscripts of interviews conducted with the student participants throughout the course. Thefindings suggest that although these students were able to successfully appropriate inquirypractices (e.g., giving priority to evidence), it was not without its challenges (e.g., perceivedlack of guidance). A detailed discussion of the ways in which students were successful,and where they had challenges engaging in inquiry is presented, with the goal of helpingdirect practitioners and researchers to strategies whereby students inquiry experiences canbe improved. C 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed 92:631 663, 2008
Correspondence to: Xornam S. Apedoe; e-mail: email@example.comContract grant sponsor: National Science Foundation.Contract grant number: 0304895.Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the
author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
C 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
. . . We were being prepared for applications of our knowledge as opposed to just spillingit out, like, as if we were taking a test on the lecture. . . . Thats more of what, from what Iunderstand, geologists are expected to be able to do in their jobs, as opposed to just beingable to regurgitate loads of information on the paper.
(Jake, interview, December 2004)
INTRODUCTIONFor far too many years, the emphasis and goal of science education has primarily been
to help students acquire factual knowledge. Science instruction, in a variety of disciplinesand at all educational levels, typically has focused on covering content from the textbook,exposing students to a plethora of facts but rarely, if ever, engaging students in the processof science (National Research Council [NRC], 1996b). This trend is especially evident atthe undergraduate level (Brown, Abell, Demir, & Schmidt, 2006).
In the quote above, Jake, a student, reflects on his experience in an undergraduate geologycourse that departed from the traditional didactic method of teaching science. As in otherdisciplines, in recent years there has been a revolution in geosciences education promotinga reconceptualization of teaching and learning in both its goals and methods. Blueprint forChange: A Report From The National Conference on the Revolution in Earth and SpaceScience Education (Barstow & Geary, 2002) details this bold new vision for geoscienceseducation. Blueprint for Change recommends that geosciences educational experiencesshould use inquiry-based learning and visualization technologies to help students developthinking skills such as inquiry, visual literacy, and the ability to apply knowledge andproblem solving to a range of substantive, real-world issues (Barstow & Geary, 2002).This paper reports the findings of an investigation of student engagement in inquiry-basedlearning in an undergraduate geology course that utilized teaching strategies supportive ofthe recommendations found in Blueprint for Change.
INQUIRY-BASED LEARNINGThere has been a renewed interest in the use of inquiry-based learning in science class-
rooms at all grade levels since the National Research Council released the National ScienceEducation Standards (NSES) slightly more than a decade ago (NRC, 1996a). Inquiry asa teaching methodology and learning experience emphasizes providing students with op-portunities to engage in activities very similar to those required for real-world scientificresearch. When learners are engaged in inquiry-based learning environments they should(NRC, 2000) (a) be engaged in scientifically oriented questions; (b) give priority to evidence,allowing them to develop and evaluate explanations that address scientifically oriented ques-tions; (c) formulate explanations from evidence to address scientifically oriented questions;(d) evaluate their explanations in light of alternative explanations, particularly those reflect-ing scientific understanding; and (e) communicate and justify their proposed explanations.These five elements are essential characteristics of an inquiry-based learning environmentand also describe the inquiry practices that students should strive to appropriate.
The five essential characteristics of inquiry-based learning environments can be appliedacross various scientific disciplines. However, it is important to note that inquiry is not acontext-free activity. Every academic discipline has its own language, theories, and meth-ods for conducting inquiry; therefore, learners must learn the unique language, theories,and methodologies for doing inquiry in their particular discipline (Lim, 2004). Thus, thequestions that students investigate, the data that count as evidence, the type and structureof explanations formulated, and so on will be influenced by the specific discipline thatstudents are working within.
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Geology is an example of a discipline that is unique in its theories and methods ofconducting inquiry. Although inquiry in the geosciences shares some characteristics withmore experimental sciences such as physics or chemistry, the geosciences are fundamentallyhistorical and interpretive (Ault, 1998). The goal of geological reasoning is not primarily toidentify general laws, as is the case with physics (Froedman, 1995), but rather interpretationof geologic phenomena based on observations, warranted inferences, and integration orreconciliation of independent lines of inquiry (Ault, 1998). These interpretations resultin the description of historical sequences of events, sometimes accompanied by a causalmodel, for the occurrences of the phenomena (Ault, 1998). Although the questions, types ofevidence, and explanations one finds in a geology classroom will be the result of engagingin inquiry that is distinctly historical or interpretive, the five essential characteristics ofinquiry-based learning as described in the NSES are still applicable, as they provide ageneral framework for structuring inquiry activities in the classroom.
Although the NSES were aimed specifically at K-12 students and teachers, the recom-mendations contained in the reforms can and should be generalized to college scienceteaching (Ingram, Lehman, Love, & Polacek, 2004; McIntosh, 2000). As more students areexposed to inquiry-based learning approaches in their K-12 science education, the necessityfor postsecondary science instructors to adapt their teaching approaches increases. Studentswill soon be entering college and university science courses with strong inquiry skills andraised expectations for being engaged in science, and their instructors must be ready tomeet the challenge. In addition, engaging students in inquiry activities throughout theirundergraduate careers is of utmost importance if students are to graduate with the 21st-century outcomes that are expected, such as robust scientific-mental models, the capacityfor solving ill-structured problems, sustained intellectual curiosity, and a commitment tolifelong learning (Hersh & Merrow, 2005).
RESEARCH ON INQUIRY: PAST AND PRESENTStudies of the inquiry-based curricula and programs from the 1960s and beyond have been
very supportive of inquiry approaches for supporting student learning (e.g., Shymansky,Hedges, & Woodworth, 1990). To date, research on inquiry-based learning has focused ondemonstrating the benefits of inquiry for the development of students cognitive abilitiessuch as critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and understanding of scientific concepts.Research on inquiry in the geosciences has reported similar findings (e.g., Orion & Kali,2005). However, with the current emphasis on learning not only scientific knowledge butalso the processes and procedures that produced such knowledge (inquiry), educationalresearchers have become increasingly interested in students understanding and ability toappropriate scientific inquiry practices (Kanari & Millar, 2004). It is important that weknow what is being done, and how it is being done, when students are engaged in inquiryactivities (Wheeler, 2000), so that we can develop guidelines for successfully incorporatinginquiry activities into classrooms at all educational levels.
Although there is currently little research examining how students are engaging in in-quiry and appropriating specific inquiry practices, research studies like those conducted byKrajcik et al. (1998), Hofstein, Shore, and Kipnis (2004), and Kanari and Millar (2004) areexamples of what is needed. While these three noteworthy studies provide much needed in-sight into how students are engaged in inquiry, and what students are doing while engaged ininquiry activities, they focus on students in late elementary, middle, or high school. Researchis still needed to illuminate the experiences of students pursuing inquiry in higher education.
While the literature contains descriptions of ongoing efforts to incorporate inquiry intoundergraduate science classrooms (e.g., Glasson & McKenzie, 1998; Harker, 1999; IngramScience Education
et al., 2004; Tolman, 1999), little empirical work can be found (Brown et al., 2006). Researchthat examines the experiences of students engaged in inquiry, and in this case inquiry atthe undergraduate level, can be used to help inform educators of appropriate instructionalpractices to promote effective learning through inquiry (Krajcik et al., 1998). By examiningstudents engagement in inquiry at all levels of education, educational researchers will beable to develop guidelines and recommendations for ways to effectively utilize supportfrom teachers, peers, or technology, to enhance student participation in inquiry.
This paper reports the synthesis of three case studies of students engagement in inquiry-based learning activities in an undergraduate geology laboratory-based course. Detailsof how students engaged in scientific questions, gave priority to evidence, formulatedexplanations, evaluated explanations, and communicated and justified their findings arepresented.
THE STUDYThe data for this paper were derived from a semester-long investigation of the use of
inquiry-based learning activities in an undergraduate geology laboratory-based course. Ofprimary interest here was how students appropriated and engaged in scientific inquirypractices. The following research questions were addressed:
1. How do students appropriate and engage in inquiry practices in an inquiry-basedundergraduate geology laboratory-based course?
2. What challenges do students experience with engaging in inquiry practices in aninquiry-based undergraduate geology laboratory-based course?
Context and SettingThis research was conducted in a geology course entitled Life and Ecologies of the Past,
taught at a large research university located in the southeastern United States. The coursewas an upper-level undergraduate geology course consisting of 2 hours of lecture and 3hours of laboratory per week. The course was built around the laboratory, such that thelectures supported the material explored in the laboratory. Lectures were held twice a week,with the laboratory occurring directly after the second lecture meeting.
The Design ProcessThe researcher worked collaboratively with the course instructor to redesign the activities
used in the laboratory component of the course. The design process began with a discussionof the professors goals for the course. Each of the laboratory assignments that the professorhad used in previous years was reviewed and prioritized based on the topics the professorbelieved most important. After discussing the essential characteristics of inquiry-basedlearning activities, the professor either redesigned a laboratory activity that she had usedin the past, or created a new activity to address the learning goal she deemed important forstudents to learn. Thus, the professor was the primary designer of the laboratory activities,whereas the researcher served in a consulting role, providing feedback and suggestions forcreating activities consistent with inquiry-based learning goals. Every effort was made toensure that the various dimensions of the course (e.g., course objectives, content, assessmentmethods, and so on) were well aligned. (See Apedoe, Walker, and Reeves (2006) for a moredetailed description of the course, the course characteristics, and alignment of the coursedimensions.) A brief description of the course follows.
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Course DescriptionCourse Objectives. The learning goals as stated on the course syllabus were
To understand the major events in biotic evolution from Precambrian to Phanerozoic timeand learn applied aspects of paleoenvironmental analysis and relative age dating using fossilorganisms. To achieve these goals, scientific critical thinking, presentation, and writingskills will be emphasized.
To this end, it was expected that students would (a) develop the skills necessary toparticipate in scientific processes related to geological inquiry, and (b) develop a deepunderstanding of the relevant geology content (e.g., to help students learn the appliedaspect of paleoenvironmental analysis and relative age dating by using fossil organisms).These goals would be achieved through students active participation in both the lectureand laboratory components of the course.
Content. The course focused on principles of paleobiology, including biostratigraphy,paleoecology, taphonomy, and macroevolutionary dynamics. Content for the course and lab-oratory was presented in a manner consistent with inquiry-based pedagogical approaches,that is, students were given the opportunity to interact with real data such as rock and fossilsamples, stratigraphic columns, and maps. In addition, the redesigned laboratory focusedless on taxonomy and more on concepts with an evolutionary/environmental focus. Tosupport the goal of having students engage in the processes of inquiry rather than focusingon the products of science, for example, students were not asked to label parts of inverte-brate fossils unless it was to be used as data for answering a question in relation to bodyplan evolution or complexity in body form. In these cases, students were also requiredto support their answers, using information either from their textbook, course notes, orInternet resources. Table 1 provides a listing of laboratory activities used in the course in2003 (traditional approach) versus 2004 (inquiry-based approach), as well as a list of theconcepts addressed in each inquiry-based assignment.
Tasks. The inquiry tasks were structured according to guidelines for creating inquiry-based learning environments suggested in the NSES. Variations in the amount of learnerself-direction and direction from the teacher or learning materials characterize a specificinquiry-based learning environment as more guided or open (NRC, 2000). Researchfindings suggest that structured learning environments may lead to more effective learning(e.g., de Jong and van Joolingen, 1998). The inquiry-tasks used in this laboratory were moreguided than open inquiry tasks, in that students were provided with an inquiry questionto pursue and provided with a multitude of data from which to formulate their explanations.However, unlike traditional cookbook laboratory activities in which all the importantdecisions such as what data should be collected, how data should be analyzed, what thedata mean, and so on (Clough, 2002), these inquiry tasks were designed to encouragestudents to actively engage in cognitive activities that are integral to engaging in inquiry,such as developing alternative explanations and interpreting data.
In previous years, the laboratory activities averaged 1 week per assignment, with afocus on classic paleontology, wherein students were asked to draw specimens, completefill-in-the-blank questions, and a few application questions. In the redesigned course, thelaboratory activities averaged 2 weeks per assignment covering material in a more syntheticmanner (i.e., with a focus on taphonomy, systematics, and environmental information). EachScience Education
STUDENT ENGAGEMENT IN INQUIRY-BASED LEARNING 637
assignment also focused on a problem to solve. (See Appendix A for a comparison of onelaboratory exercise from the previous course and the redesigned course.)
Instructors Roles. The instructor for this course was very familiar with inquiry-basedteaching practices, and thus felt very comfortable acting as a facilitator for studentslearning through inquiry. However, the teaching assistant for the course had very littleprior experience facilitating student learning in an inquiry environment, and thus was lesscomfortable and skilled in the process. The impact of the facilitation skills of the instructorsis discussed in more detail later in the paper.
Students Roles. Inquiry-based learning environments require students to be active par-ticipants in their learning, sometimes collaborating with others to complete authentic tasks,just as science in the real world requires teamwork. Students were required to be activeparticipants to complete the inquiry tasks in this laboratory. In addition, to facilitate thesharing of knowledge and information, students were encouraged but not required to workcollaboratively with their peers.
Technological Affordances. Students had access to a digital library, DLESE (www.dlese.org), designed to support teaching and learning in the geosciences. Access to DLESE wasprovided in the classroom, and students were encouraged, but not required, to use it asan informational resource while completing their inquiry assignments. In previous years,students did not have direct access to Internet resources during the laboratory. At the time ofthe study, the DLESE library housed approximately 9,000 resources, about 45% of whichwere in the 19 thematic collections related to a range of topics dealing with earth science.(See Apedoe (2007) for more details about how DLESE was used by both the students andprofessor in this geology course.)
Assessment Strategies. In line with inquiry-based pedagogical approaches, multipleassessment strategies were used in this course, including laboratory reports and inquiry-based examinations. Final grades in the course were based upon two in-laboratory quizzes,one inquiry-based in-laboratory midterm examination, one inquiry-based take-home finalexamination, one field trip research paper and presentation, one individual project, onein-laboratory debate, and eight laboratory reports. These assessment strategies were usedto assess students knowledge and understanding of the geological content, as well as toreflect students appropriation of the various inquiry practices.
Although the laboratory activities changed significantly through the redesign process, theexaminations did not. One of the motivating factors for the course redesign was studentspoor performance, in previous years, on the professors inquiry-based examinations. Thus,the laboratory activities were redesigned to create a closer alignment with the assessments(examinations) that were currently being used by the professor. The midterm examinationused for the redesigned course (2004) was modified slightly from the examination used theprevious year (2003), but included the same concepts and organisms. The final examinationsused in 2003 and 2004 were identical with respect to the content; however, the questionswere presented in a different order. The following represents the type of questions studentsencountered on their inquiry-based examinations:
Youa noted paleontologist/geologisthave been helicoptered into Dantes Island, a re-mote island in the Hagen-Das Ocean. You have drawn a map of the island, collected samples
from the island (samples 110) and have constructed lithologic columns for each locality.Your task is to reconstruct the history and paleoenvironments of Dantes Island. Dont forgetto include sediment analysis (if applicable), the rock name (if applicabledont forget themajor rock types and the specific rock name), the fossil name (if applicable, as scientificas possible) the interpretation of lithologic columns, and resultant geological report: thehistorical reconstruction of Dantes Island.
This type of assessment item is well aligned with the objectives of the course as wellas its pedagogical design. It presents a relatively authentic problem that students cannotsolve with a memorized concept. Instead, the question requires the application of scientific-inquiry skills.
This qualitative study utilized a layered case-study design (Patton, 2002) that includedboth an analysis of one macrolevel case (the geology course as a whole) and cross-caseanalyses of several individual students learning experiences. The findings reported in thispaper primarily focus on the case studies of individual students learning experiences. Thefindings from the macrolevel case analysis are reported elsewhere (see Apedoe et al. (2006)and Apedoe (2007)).
Participant SelectionAll students were invited to participate in this research on a voluntary basis. A total of
eight students were enrolled in the course, of which seven students agreed to participate inthe study. Although self-selection bias is always a research concern, only one student chosenot to participate in the study. Thus, it is likely fair to assume that the study participants arerepresentative of the type of students who typically enroll in this course. (See Table 2 for adetailed characterization of the student participants.)
Purposeful sampling (Patton, 2002) was used to select three individuals who could serveas information-rich cases to be studied in depth. From the various types of purposefulsampling (e.g., extreme case, homogeneous, critical case), typical case sampling was usedto describe and illustrate three students that are similar to the type of student that would beexpected to enroll in this geology course in the future. Typical cases can be selected usingsurvey data, demographics, or information from key informants knowledgeable about theenvironment (Patton, 2002). For this study, information from the instructor (key informant)as well as questionnaire responses and demographic information were used to select threeparticipants at the beginning of the semester. Participants have all been given pseudonymnames.
On the basis of the questionnaire, demographics, and information from the instructor,Jackson, Jake, and Karen were identified as exemplifying typical students for this geologycourse. Jackson, Jake, and Karen were geology majors who were each the age (2022)of students who commonly enrolled in this course. These three students provided richinformation and detail in their surveys and interviews. The other students were not chosento serve as cases for this study for a variety of reasons. For example, Drake was enrolled inthe course for the second time, thus he was deemed not to be a good example of a typicalstudent. Kyle was a nontraditional student who had returned to university for training ina second career. Melanie was not chosen because she was an anthropology major, rather
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TABLE 2Characterization of Students Enrolled in Geology Course
Age/ Academic Major/ Geology ComfortParticipant Gender Standing Minor Background With Inquiry?
7 credit hours Comfortable
Geology 7 credit hours Comfortable
Geology 12 credit hours Comfortable
Geology 20 credit hours;also previouslyenrolled in thiscourse
11 credit hours Somewhatcomfortable
6 credit hours Notcomfortable
7 credit hours Somewhatcomfortable
than a geology major. Finally, Robin, although in many respects exemplified a typicalstudent, was not chosen to serve as a case in this study because she did not provide asmuch detail or information in her interviews or questionnaires as the three chosen students.(See Appendix B for a more detailed characterization of Jackson, Jake, and Karen basedon classroom observations, interview, and questionnaire responses.)
Data CollectionConsistent with case analysis approaches (Patton, 2002), multiple data collection proce-
dures such as observation, document analysis, and interviews were used to help address theresearch questions of interest. Student participation primarily involved completion of threequestionnaires and three interviews throughout the semester (beginning, middle, and end ofsemester). In addition, student participants allowed the researcher to access copies of theircompleted assignments and examinations and agreed to be observed as they completedinquiry assignments during the laboratory period. (See Table 3 for a detailed description ofthe research questions, and their associated sources of data). Further elaboration of thesemeasures follows.
In-depth qualitative interviews in which participants were asked to respond to a series ofopen-ended questions related to their understanding of geology content, their participationin inquiry activities, and experiences in the course. (See Appendix C for a sample of theinterview questions used.) Interviews also contained questions that utilized a projectiontechnique. The basis of the projection technique is to have individuals react to something,be it a photograph, film, story, or piece of work they have produced (Patton, 2002). Usingthe projection technique, participants in this study were given their completed inquiryassignments and asked questions about their engagement in inquiry practices based on theircompleted inquiry assignments. These interviews lasted approximately 3045 minutes andoccurred three times during the semester.
TABLE 3Summary of Data Sources
Analysis Frequency ofResearch Questions Method Type of Data Method Data Collected1. How do students
appropriate andengage in inquirypractices in aninquiry-basedundergraduategeology course?
8 Assignments/2 examinations
2. What challenges dostudents experiencewith engaging ininquiry practices inan undergraduateinquiry-basedgeology course?
Questionnaires were given to student participants to gauge their reaction to the inquiry-based learning activities and their experiences in the course. Questionnaires included bothopen-ended and close-ended questions and were administered prior to the interviews.
Participant observation was used throughout the semester. During every laboratoryperiod (3 hours per week), the researcher observed student participants working to completetheir inquiry assignments. For this study, particular attention was given to students activitiesand behaviors as they completed their inquiry assignments, to provide insight into howstudents participation in inquiry practices evolved throughout the semester. The researcherrecorded fieldnotes, which were expanded and analyzed following the laboratory period inwhich they were collected.
Archival data such as completed inquiry assignments, midterm, and final examinations,were used as outcome measures. Performance on inquiry assignments, midterm, and finalexaminations were analyzed in conjunction with observation and interview data to providea deeper understanding of how students engaged in inquiry practices.
Data AnalysisData were analyzed in two phases. In the first phase, interview transcripts, questionnaire
data, classroom observation fieldnotes, and students archival data were analyzed in multiplepasses by the researcher (Miles & Huberman, 1994). In the second phase of data analysis,cases were created for each of the three students using a combination of observation field-notes, interviews, questionnaire, and archival data (inquiry assignment laboratory reports).
Data analysis: Phase One. A detailed description of the analysis procedures used oneach pass with the various data sources (e.g., interview transcripts, observation fieldnotes,and so on) during the first phase of data analysis is described below.
Interview Transcripts. On one pass, a thematic analysis procedure was used to analyzethe interview transcripts. Thematic analysis is an inductive analysis procedure in which
STUDENT ENGAGEMENT IN INQUIRY-BASED LEARNING 641
categories are derived from the data, that is, the specific nature of the themes and categoriesare not predetermined (Ezzy, 2002). Thus, the interview transcripts were explored, unitsof meaning were identified, codes were developed, and categories and subcategories werecreated (Ezzy, 2002). This process was followed until a master list of codes was developed,which reflected the recurring themes and patterns in interviewees responses (Merriam,1998).
On a second pass, the constant comparative method of analysis (Merriam, 1998) was usedto code interview transcripts with respect to the interview questions. This process involvedexamining interview transcripts, comparing codes identified on the master list of codes,and then organizing the coded data according to each interview question that it addressed.Individuals responses to interview questions were compared across interviews to identifyany themes or categories that may have been missed in during the initial coding pass.Then the coded responses were compared across interviews to identify any new themes orcategories that were specific to the interview question being addressed.
On a third pass, the constant comparative method of analysis was employed again;however, this time it was used to examine interview transcripts in light of the two majorresearch questions. The coded interview data were organized according to the researchquestion that it specifically addressed followed by the comparison of individuals codedresponses across interviews.
Finally, on a fourth pass, a deductive analysis (Patton, 2002) approach was used, in whichthe interview responses were categorized according to the five essential characteristicsof an inquiry-based learning environment, as described in the NSES. In addition, severaladditional specific questions that related to each component of the inquiry process were usedto guide analysis of the interview transcripts and to categorize the coded interview responses.These questions were developed based on research conducted by Krajick et al. (1998).Table 4 presents the five essential components of inquiry and the associated questions usedfor data analysis. These four coding passes allowed the researcher to conduct detailed,cross-coded searches for themes and categories in the interview data.
Questionnaire, Fieldnote, and Archival Data. A similar analysis procedure was usedto code the open-ended questions from the questionnaires, the fieldnotes from the directclassroom observations, and the students archival data (laboratory reports). Of the eightinquiry assignments that students completed, four inquiry assignments were chosen foranalysis. These assignments were chosen because they represented assignments that hadundergone the most significant revision in the course redesign. On the first pass of thedata, a thematic analysis procedure was used to identify any categories or themes thatemerged from participants responses, behaviors, or work samples. On the second pass,constant comparative analysis was used to code the questionnaire, laboratory report, andfieldnote data against the research questions. Questionnaire data underwent a third passof coding, based on the questions to which the participants responded. Finally, deductiveanalysis, based on the inquiry components and analysis questions identified in Table 4,was used to organize the coded questionnaire, fieldnote, and archival data. In combinationwith the interview, questionnaire, and archival data, the fieldnotes from direct classroomobservations were used as a source to validate and cross-check findings (Patton, 2002).
Data Analysis: Phase Two. In the second phase of data analysis, cases were createdfor each of the three students using a combination of observation fieldnotes, interviews,questionnaire, and archival data. The resultant student cases consisted of a summary ofhow each student engaged in each aspect of inquiry (e.g., engaging in scientific questions,formulating explanations, and so on).Science Education
TABLE 4Inquiry Components, Analysis Questions, and Data SourcesInquiry Practice Analysis Questions Data SourcesEngage in
Did students raise otherscience-related questions?
Observation eldnotesArchival data (laboratory
reports)Give priority to
evidenceIn what ways did students plan to
organize and track data collection?Were students thorough,systematic, and precise incollecting and describing data? Didstudents create differentrepresentations of data throughcharts, graphs, or summary tables?
Observation eldnotesInterviewsArchival data (laboratory
What data did students use toformulate explanations and how didthey use it? Were studentsaccurate in interpreting the data?
Archival data (laboratoryreports)
Evaluateexplanations inlight of alternatives
Did students gather and draw onbackground information, consideralternatives, and make predictions?What resources did students use?
Communicate andjustify proposedexplanations
How did students present theirconclusions? Did they use the datato justify their conclusions?
Archival data (laboratoryreports)
FINDINGSThe findings are presented in two sections according to the research questions. In the first
section, each component of inquiry is presented based on the NSES of inquiry practicesto engage in, followed by a description of how students engaged in the inquiry practice.In the second section, challenges that the students experienced with inquiry-based learningare presented.
Research Question 1: How do students appropriate and engage in inquiry practices inan inquiry-based undergraduate geology course?
Engaging in Scientic QuestioningFor this inquiry practice, data were analyzed in relation to the question Did students
raise other science-related questions? Because all inquiry assignments required students toengage in answering the same overall question, it was of interest to the researcher whetherstudents would build on their investigations to begin to ask other science-related questions.
Jackson. Jackson did not often raise other questions while engaged in inquiry. Fromclassroom observations, he seemed predominantly focused on addressing the inquiry ques-tion provided in the assignment. However, when Jackson did raise questions, the purpose
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of the question could be characterized in one of three ways: (a) to clarify his knowledge orunderstanding of a topic, (b) to clarify his observations, or (c) to make a prediction.
An example of a clarification of knowledge question is demonstrated in the followinginteraction between Jackson and the teaching assistant (TA):
[Discussing the possible composition and depositional environment of a rock sample]TA: This way it definitely looks clast-supported. Go with whatever is most common lookingin the rock. You can say in some locations it is clast-supported while in others it is matrix-supportedJackson: And it would be from a big flash flood rather than a meandering stream orsomething. . .TA: It could be a meandering streamJackson: Wouldnt a meandering stream make a more uniform rock?
Jacksons final question about what type of rock a meandering stream creates demon-strates that he is pulling from his prior knowledge about what types of depositional envi-ronments form specific types of rocks. In this interaction with the TA, Jackson is seekingclarification about his prior knowledge.
A clarification of observation question is one in which the student asks a direct questionabout samples they were observing to check their accuracy in identifying and interpretingthe data. An example of a question Jackson asked to clarify his observations includes thefollowing: I thought this exhibited graded bedding? What did you put? Jackson usedclarification of observation questions with his peers, the TA, and the instructor to check hisunderstanding of what he was observing in the data.
Finally, Jackson also used questions as prediction statements when engaged in discussionswith his peers. An example of a prediction question would include couldnt it be micriticmud? These questions were used most frequently during the data collection phase andusually used as a way to pose an alternative hypothesis to what was currently being discussedby the group.
Jackson was observed only once asking a question to fulfill his curiosity about a topic.In the following interaction with Dr. Sanders (the instructor), Jackson asked for more detailabout a sample obsidian rock:
Jackson to Dr. Sanders: Obsidian [asks her something about how it is made or at whattemperature it is made at]Dr. Sanders: I dont know exactly how to answer that question. Dr. Green would be able toanswer what the exact temperature would be.Jackson: I was just wondering if there was a specific process that made it.Dr. Sanders: Yeah, Im not sure, but thats a really good question.
Jake. Of all the students, Jake engaged in the most questioning with other students, theTA and Dr. Sanders. While completing the inquiry tasks analyzed as part of this case study,Jake was observed asking a total of 16 questions, two times as many questions as Jackson(eight total), and four times as many questions as Karen (four total).
Jake, much like Jackson, asked questions to clarify his previous knowledge, his obser-vations, as well as prediction statements. However, Jake also displayed a keen interestin learning the course material, and thus was consistently engaged in asking knowledge-building questions to build on his previous understanding of concepts. For example, inthe following observed interaction with the TA, Jake asked a clarification of knowledgequestion, followed by a knowledge-building question:
Jake: If it was from a water deposit wouldnt the beds not be so refined?TA: Not necessarily. I have some rocks that look like that, that I found in water.Jake: What kinds of water would do that? I guess what we need to know is exactly whatwould indicate what exactly to look for to prove it, to know what would indicate like adune or something. Were looking at this rock and trying to accumulate evidence to showthat this is a dune, so you were talking about grain size, so to me thats like another checkbox. . .
Karen. Karen was the least vocal of the three students, and thus was rarely observedasking questions of her peers, the instructor, or TA. However, in the few instances in whichKaren was observed asking questions they could be characterized as being clarification ofknowledge questions.
Summary: Engaging in Scientic Questioning. In summary, all students did ask otherscience-related questions to varying extents. The types of questions students tended to askincluded (a) clarification of knowledge, (b) clarification of observations, (c) prediction,and (d) knowledge building. However, Jake was the only student who engaged in askingknowledge-building questions. (See Table 5, for a summary of the types, and frequency ofeach question type asked by each student.)
Giving Priority to EvidenceFor this inquiry practice, analysis of the data focused on three questions: (1) In what
ways did students plan and track data collection?, (2) Were students systematic and precisein collecting and describing data?, and (3) Did students create different representations ofdata through charts, graphs, or summary tables?
For each inquiry assignment, students were typically presented with a large set of samples(e.g., rocks, fossils, slides, petrographs) that they were to examine to address the inquiryquestions. It was not necessary for students to examine every sample, rather they wererequired to develop a plan for deciding what data to collect.
Unfortunately, there was very little evidence to fully address the first question, especiallyrelated to student planning of their data collection. However, on the basis of the observationdata, Jackson, Jake, and Karen appeared to quickly develop a sense of what type of datathey should be collecting and the processes for doing so. Jackson, Jake, and Karen spent agreat deal of time during the laboratory period collecting data and they almost always begancollecting data immediately without much hesitation. Thus, planning (or lack thereof) theirdata collection methods did not seem to be an issue for these particular students.
With regard to the second question, Were students systematic in collecting and describ-ing their data?, more evidence was available. On the basis of the classroom observations,interviews, and students inquiry reports, Jackson, Jake, and Karens process for collect-ing data typically involved moving station to station (or sample to sample) taking notesor drawing sketches as necessary. Thus, these three students were fairly systematic abouttheir data collection, as they already had limited experience in previous classes doing suchprocedures. However, Jackson talked about the difficulty of getting back into the routine ofengaging in this inquiry practice after a long period away from it:
. . . I mean you come back and you look at 30 different rocks, and I was used to doing thatall last year and then with about 4 months off, just getting back in the swing of identifyingrocks and stuff is probably the hardest part. . .
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TABLE 5Frequency and Examples of the Types of Questions Asked by StudentsType of Question Example Frequencya
Jackson: Wouldnt a meandering stream make a moreuniform rock?
Jake: If it was from a water deposit wouldnt the bedsnot be so rened?
Karen: Another thing to consider are the rings.Stromatolites do grow in layers right?
Jackson: I thought this exhibited graded bedding? Whatdid you put?
Jake: Is there gradation in this rock? 3Karen: N/A 0
Prediction Jackson: Couldnt it be micritic mud? 3Jake: Maybe its veins are some sort of igneous
Karen:What about weather clast supported or matrixsupported?
Building on Jackson: N/A 0knowledge Jake: What kinds of water would do that? I guess what
we need to know is exactly what would indicate whatexactly to look for to prove it, to know what wouldindicate like a dune or something. Were looking at thisrock and trying to accumulate evidence to show thatthis is a dune, so you were talking about grain size, soto me thats like another check box. . .
Karen: N/A 0a The number of times the participant was observed asking each question type during the
four analyzed inquiry assignments.
On the basis of the observation and interview data, it was clear that for these threestudents, time spent in the laboratory was primarily for collecting data, whereas reasoningand justifying explanations was to be done outside of the laboratory. Jake expressed thefollowing sentiments:
. . . Im in the lab trying to get the data and thats it. I do everything else at home, all thewriting, all the conclusions, everythingIm just trying to look at the samples and get whatI need from the sample from that classroom so that I mean, I can do everything else at homeif I can have everything there. . .
Similarly, Karen described her procedure for collecting data during the second inquiryassignment:
. . . And then we had stations, and we just went around to stations and drew pictures, andtry to describe them. I like it in lab when we dont have to collect like too much data, andwe can go home and kind of work on it. . .
Although each student was required to produce an individual laboratory report, theyoften worked with a partner or in a group to collect their data. For example, Karen and Jakeoften began their data collection by starting at the same sample and proceeding throughthe laboratory station by station (or sample by sample) together. Some laboratory stationsdid not require collaborative work (e.g., a station where students were required to sketcha representative sample of a mollusk) and thus although students may have been workingside by side, they were in essence working individually.
With regard to the third question, Did students create different representations of datathrough charts, graphs, or summary tables? the data suggest that Jackson, Jake, and Karenused data tables and charts when most appropriate. For many of the inquiry assignments, itwould have been easiest for students to organize their data by creating a chart or data table;however, students were not required to create some sort of alternative representation fortheir data. Students were free to collect and organize their data in any way that made senseto them. For students like Jackson, creating data tables was not an unfamiliar process, aswas evident at the end of the first laboratory period when he, while working with Karen,Jake, and Melanie, produced a draft data table that he shared with the group as a way toorganize all the data they had collected that laboratory period.
Similarly, Jake was an avid user of data charts, stating: Once again a data chartI lovedata charts if I can find a way to use them. . . . Jake believed that data charts were aneasy way to organize his information. And he generalized this practice from his inquiryassignments to utilizing it on his midterm and final examinations as well.
Karen was also an avid user of data charts, stating that they were helpful for developinga deeper understanding of the material:
. . . And . . . 30 samples we did? No way! Oh yeah, it took me so long. I remember, at the[coffee] shop I made this chart so many times. And I had like an original, then I had likethis one which is all organized, that helped me just organizing everything and um, also byphylum. And then I think I organized them maybe by time. . . And just making this chart, Ifelt good about this chart. I felt like I put time into it and had a chance to look at this stuffand organize it and that took a lot of time.
Summary: Giving Priority to Evidence. Thus for these students, the laboratory periodwas viewed primarily as a time to gather all the necessary data to complete their inquiryassignments. The planning for or collection of data did not seem to pose any challengeor difficulty for them, as they all had at least limited experience in previous classes inunderstanding how and what types of data to collect. In addition, creating different rep-resentations (e.g., charts and tables) of their data helped these three students develop anunderstanding of the concepts and issues they were dealing with, supporting their ability toaddress the inquiry questions.
Formulate Explanations From EvidenceAnalysis of student engagement in this inquiry practice focused on two questions: (1)
What data did students use to formulate explanations and how did they use the data? and(2) Were students accurate in interpreting the data? Students were presented with numeroussamples and types of data; thus completion of the inquiry assignments required studentsto not only determine what data to use but also how to use the data to formulate theirexplanations. As to be expected, students were able to appropriate this inquiry practicewith varying levels of success.
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Jackson. Although in class Jackson was an active participant with his group and quiteable to verbally connect the data he was collecting with his explanations, he failed totranslate this to his written laboratory reports. Thus, he would often lose points on hislaboratory reports for omitting such details. For example, on his first laboratory reportJackson states: After examining the given rock samples, it is evident that the rocks inquestion tell us much about the formation of southwestern North America. . . . Althoughthis may be considered a good introductory sentence, Jackson does not provide furtherevidence or details regarding how the rocks were examined, or what type of data wasobtained from the rock samples to warrant making such a claim.
During an interview, Jackson talked about his propensity to leave out supporting evidenceand details from his laboratory reports:
. . . It seems like I dont go into as much detail as I should sometimes. I just dont evenreally think about it. Ill explain something but it seems like I wont go into explaining howwe learned why those processes happenthats probably been my biggest downfall. . .
Thus, this was an aspect of this inquiry practice that Jackson was aware of needing todevelop further in order to be successful in the class.
Despite Jacksons propensity to neglect to supply detail, he was often accurate in hisinterpretation of the data. Jackson demonstrated his proficiency for interpreting the data andformulating explanations from the evidence, in his written inquiry laboratory reports. Jack-son received scores of 44%, 95%, 55%, and 85% on his laboratory reports. The low gradesJackson received on two of his laboratory reports were due to errors such as not addressinga specific question or omitting supporting details and evidence for his explanations.
Jake. Jake was very successful in expressing how he made use of his data to formulate hisexplanations in his laboratory reports. Jakes laboratory reports often provided a detaileddescription of the type of data collected, how the data were collected, and how the data wereused to formulate explanations. The following is a brief excerpt from Jakesfirst laboratoryreport:
To collect data on these rocks, I enlisted the help of my esteemed colleagues Jackson,Melanie and Karen. We worked as a committee, going from one sample to the next tryingto determine a set of facts about each rock. The first thing we would examine was the rockslocality, in order to obtain the context of this rocks formation within the suite of 30. Thenwe would try and determine what type of rock we were looking at, a process which hasa method to it as well. For this, we would determine whether the rock was sedimentary,igneous, or metamorphic, as the processes associated with the creation of each is verytelling about the environment they were created in. . .
In this excerpt, Jake describes the process he and his peers went through to collect data.In addition, Jake describes the type of data collected (e.g., rock locality, type of rock) andhow it can be used to formulate explanations.
Jake also consistently demonstrated a high degree of accuracy interpreting his data toformulate explanations. Jake received grades of 92%, 85%, 93%, and 85% on his laboratoryreports, demonstrating a high degree of competency with this inquiry practice.
Karen. Karen was very successful in expressing how she made use of the data to formulateexplanations in her laboratory reports. Karens, much like Jakes laboratory reports, oftenprovided a detailed description of the type of data collected and how it was used to
formulate explanations. In addition, Karen was very accurate in her interpretations of thedata and formulation of explanations, receiving scores of 92%, 100%, 61%, and 97% onher laboratory reports. The one low grade for Karens laboratory report stemmed from herneglect to address all the questions on the inquiry assignment.
Summary: Formulate Explanations FromEvidence. Although these three students weresuccessful in determining what type of data was needed to address the inquiry questions, allthree were not as successful at demonstrating how they made use of the data to formulatetheir explanations. Contrary to what was observed in the classroom, in which Jackson,Jake, and Karen were actively engaged in formulating explanations from what they wereobserving, for Jackson in particular, this did not always translate to their written laboratoryreports. However, with a few exceptions, the students demonstrated a high degree ofproficiency interpreting the data and formulating explanations from the data. (See Apedoe(2006) for a more in-depth discussion of students proficiency with this inquiry practice.)
Evaluate Explanations in Light of AlternativesTwo questions were used to analyze student engagement with this inquiry practice: (1)
Did students gather and draw on background information, consider alternatives, and makepredictions? and (2) What resources did students use?
Evidence collected suggests that students in this geology class spent the majority of theirtime engaged in this inquiry practice. Jackson, Jake, and Karen were observed spendinga significant amount of time making predictions about the characteristics of a sample andconsidering alternatives for what they believed a sample to be. This is also evidenced in thetypes of questions these students were observed asking to their peers, TA, and instructor.
For example, Jackson was able to appropriate this inquiry practice particularly well.From classroom observations of Jackson, he engaged in a significant amount of predictingthe identity of a sample, and while working with other students, considered alternativeexplanations. The following is a brief excerpt of an interaction between Jackson and hispeers while they completed the first laboratory activity:
[Working on characterizing Sample T8]1:26Jake: Whats this green chunk?Jackson: It could be . . . .I cant think of the wordMelanie: Iron?Jackson: Lets put some acid on there.[They do: It bubbles]Jackson: Its carbonate. [Says to Jake]: Did you taste the rock bro?Jake: Yeah it tastes gritty.1:30[Everyone looking through paleonotespresumably to find information to help them identifythe rock]1:31Jake: We found the stromatotlites east of this so maybe its ?Jackson: The green section could be cretious which is part of the Cretaceous period[Group continues looking at rock and handout]. . .
This example shows Jackson engaging in prediction while using the tools of geologists(e.g., the HCl test) to test alternative hypotheses. Finally, with the help of Jake, Jacksonwas using data from a previous sample to help shape alternative hypotheses.
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Jake also engaged actively in this inquiry practice. As already mentioned, Jake commonlyengaged in prediction questioning with both his peers and the instructors. The followingis an example of an observed interaction between Jake, Jackson, and Dr. Sanders thatdemonstrates Jake engaging in prediction and considering alternatives:
Dr. Sanders: Could you determine if it was from a marine environment if you just had thisrock, without all this other information? [Pointing to the outcrop picture and map locality]Can you tell the facies?Jake: Maybe its from a delta because thats where outcrop meets the ocean.Jackson: I thought this exhibited graded bedding.Dr. Sanders: What would be the characteristics of a bed? Do you remember any terms?What causes this kind of form? [pointing to the rock]Jake: Erosion?Dr. Sanders: YesJackson: Whats the scale?Dr. Sanders: Thats a good question. If you were out in the field it would really stand out atyou. Use the picture of the location. Hand samples can only tell you so much. You are onthe right track.12:28[Dr. Sanders leaves.]12:29Jake: Maybe its from a glacial lake.12:30Melanie: What about an alluvial fan?. . .
Although Karen most frequently worked collaboratively with Jake to complete her in-quiry assignments, she was not as vocal as Jake in the laboratory setting. Karen appearedto be engaged in discussions during which her peers considered alternatives; however, shewas not vocal, and thus it is difficult to assess how well Karen was able to appropriate thispractice.
With regard to the second analysis question, What resources did students use?, Jackson,Jake, and Karen made selective use of resources to aide their evaluation and explorationof alternatives for their explanations. The most commonly used resource was the text-book. Other resources used included Paleonotes, locality maps, and pictures that oftenaccompanied the samples presented in the laboratory. Although students were providedwith access to Internet resources, including access to DLESE, they rarely made use ofthem. Jackson reported that he was not comfortable with computer use, and thus madelimited use of Internet resources. In contrast, Jake was quite comfortable with computers,but expressed dissatisfaction with the search mechanism of DLESE, and thus used otherWeb-based geological resources. Karen initially was an avid user of DLESE, but as thesemester progressed found it difficult to find relevant material. Apedoe (2007) provides amore detailed discussion of students use of DLESE and other Internet resources.
Summary: Evaluate Explanations in Light of Alternatives. Thus it appears that Jacksonand Jake were quite successful at engaging in the inquiry practice of evaluating explanationsin light of alternatives, while unfortunately there was not enough evidence to accuratelyassess how well Karen was able to appropriate this practice. In addition, students madeselective use of a number of resources including their textbook and the Paleonotes.
Communicate and Justify Proposed ExplanationsThe two questions that were the focus of analysis for this inquiry practice were the
following: (1) How did students present their conclusions? and (2) Did students use data tojustify their conclusions? Overall, Jackson, Jake, and Karen became increasingly competentin this practice, becoming more familiar with scientific discourse and methods for presentingtheir findings. With detailed feedback from Dr. Sanders, Jackson, Jake, and Karen wereable to appropriate this practice very well.
Jackson typically presented his conclusions in the form of a typed report. In fact, Jacksonwas the first student to follow the scientific-report method, which prompted Dr. Sandersto encourage other students to utilize this format for their subsequent laboratory reports.From the first reports, Jackson often did not support his conclusions using the data he hadcollected. This is directly related to the issue he discussed regarding not providing enoughdetail in his responses. However, as the semester progressed, Jackson became familiarwith the inquiry expectations and adept at including the necessary details to support hisconclusions.
In contrast, both Jake and Karen demonstrated high proficiency with this aspect ofinquiry. From the outset of the course, Jake utilized his data to justify his conclusions in hislaboratory reports. He was very skilled at writing and justifying his explanations, makingexplicit reference to data that he had collected during the laboratory. Similarly, Karen mostoften made explicit reference to her data, and would often include additional figures andtables to illustrate her ideas.. This excerpt from Jakes laboratory report is representative ofthe quality of Karens work as well.
. . . All of the fossils that were categorized into the phylum Chordata consist of phosphatizedbone, free from sediments. Unlike other hard parts in the suite of 30 [rock samples], thesebones did not react with HCl, as they had not been constructed from calcium carbonate orhad their original material replaced with it. One sample, 13, was of a large, internally porousfossil bone. This internal porosity is characteristic of the inside of chordate bones. . . It wouldseem from these three samples that chordate bones are usually preserved as unaltered hardparts, with varying degrees of fossilization dependent on age and other factors. . .
Summary: Communicate and Justify Proposed Explanations. Thus, both Jake andKaren quickly mastered this inquiry practice, demonstrating very little difficulty withcommunicating and justifying their explanations. They consistently referenced their data,and used their data to justify their proposed explanations. However, for Jackson this was adevelopmental process, in which he showed improvement as the semester progressed.
Summary: How Do Students Appropriate and Engage in InquiryPractices in an Inquiry-Based Undergraduate Geology Laboratory?
The above findings provide a glimpse into how students in an inquiry-based under-graduate geology course engaged in and appropriated inquiry practices. Overwhelmingly,Jackson, Jake, and Karen demonstrated that they were quite capable of engaging in inquiryactivities, successfully engaging in questioning, giving priority to evidence, formulatingexplanations, evaluating alternatives, and communicating and justifying their explanations.While Jake and Karen displayed a high degree of facility with the inquiry practices earlyin the course, Jackson showed improvement in his ability to engage in components ofthe inquiry practices of formulating explanations from evidence and communicating andjustifying explanations, as the semester progressed. Table 6 provides a brief summary ofthese findings.
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STUDENT ENGAGEMENT IN INQUIRY-BASED LEARNING 653
Although Jackson, Jake, and Karen demonstrated remarkable success in this inquiry-based geology course, this success was not without its struggles. In the next section,findings related to students challenges engaging in inquiry are presented.
Research Question 2: What challenges do students experience with engaging in inquirypractices in an inquiry-based undergraduate geology course?
At the beginning of the semester, the most common challenge Jackson, Jake, and Karenexpressed having with engaging in inquiry was the shift from having an instructor or TAthat acted as a deliverer of knowledge, to one who acted as a facilitator or guide to theirlearning. As a result, these students expressed frustration, feeling they did not have enoughknowledge to effectively engage in inquiry practices. In addition, they felt that they weresometimes left with too little guidance or support while constructing their knowledge.Although these students valued the knowledge that the TA had to offer, they sometimes feltthat he was not providing them with the kind of support that they needed.
During his first interview, Jackson expressed the following sentiments about the inquiry-based laboratories:
Theyve been a little bit more confusing this year it seems like. Because last year, it seemedlike if we were in lab and asked a question. And we were like Okay, were thinking that thisrock is this. If we were right, our TA would say Alright, great job! Instead it seems like[the] TA kind of is like Yeah even if we are right hell say Yeah, but have you thoughtabout this? on a completely different direction. And well talk about it for 15 minutes andthen well come back to the first thing we were at and hes like Yeah, yeah you know thatsa pretty good job right there, that ought to cover it. It just seems like he, I mean I know hemeans well. And hes trying to get us to think about all the different aspects of approachingthings but, I mean, cmon! I think if Im right, I should just be right and commended forit. Other than, it seems like hes trying to confuse us. But other than that its going great. Itjust gets a little frustrating I guess. . .
Likewise, Jake expressed similar feelings of frustration with what he perceived to be alack of support during completion of the inquiry assignments. Jake discussed how he feltthat his lack of background knowledge was posing a significant challenge in his ability toeffectively engage in the inquiry process.
I noticed that there is a lot of um, We dont want to help you very strongly or We dontwant to lead you because we want you to figure it out for yourself going on. And thatsfine. I can totally like see that teaching style, but in a class like thiswe dont have, werejust, Ive only had 2 geology classes, so has every other geology major in that class, well Iwouldnt say that, most every other geology major in that class has only had 2 classes. SoI, a lot of times I want to be taught like a little morehere it is, learn this, here is a tool foryou to use when your looking at this particular thin section. . .
Karen expressed sentiments similar to Jakes, stating:
Sometimes in class well be working as a group and well you know get stumped onsomething, and we try to ask like the TA or Dr. Sanders and sometimes they just arentreally giving us the right information to figure out the problem and its just hard becausewe have no idea what well be doing and we just cant really work the way they want us tobecause we just dont have a clue. It, I feel like we dont have all the information. Since I
guess were still relatively new at this, so I dont think we have the background that theydo so I guess maybe its hard for them to you know remember that. And maybe give ussome more clues or maybe step back and think about how much we know, how little weknow and I guess just go from there to help us. Or maybe like tell us the answer, and thenwork backwards like how they found that answer. Because its hard to go from like noinformation to like figure out the answer.
Thus, for these three students who spent the majority of their time engaged in the inquirypractice of evaluating explanations in light of alternatives, their perception of their ownlack of background knowledge as well as the perceived lack of support or guidance from theTA, constituted a significant challenge, and one that has implications for future instructorsof inquiry-based science courses. In any inquiry-based course, it would be expected thatfor an instructor new to inquiry-based teaching techniques, as was the TA in this course,that improvements in their ability to guide student engagement in inquiry practices couldbe expected over the time of the course. As illustrated below, students were divided intheir judgments regarding the degree to which the TAs capacity to support inquiry-basedlearning improved during the course.
Early in the semester, Dr. Sanders recognized some of the difficulties that both the TAand students were having adjusting to the inquiry-based approach. With respect to thestudents, Dr. Sanders recognized some of the frustration students were experiencing in thelaboratory:
They may be more frustrated. I see them fishing for answersWell, what is the name ofthis rock? You know, just take me off guard right. And I said Oh, well youre supposedto figure that out. But theyre still trying to operate on the old systems of give me theanswer. And Im trying hard not to do it like that.
Dr. Sanders was also very aware of the importance of the TAs role for facilitating studentinquiry. Dr. Sanders recognized the necessity to mentor the TA, to help him develop theskills necessary to better facilitate student inquiry:
I remember one interaction with the Lab 1 last week and he [the TA] was trying to givethem the answers, and I was listening, and I interrupted, hopefully gently, to say well whatare the alternative hypotheses, or I dont remember exactly, but I was trying to get them tothink differently about it, and think about this and think about that. . . And so I was tryingto show him how I would do it. And I think hes starting to learn that. . .
The TA recognized his need to develop the skills necessary to better facilitate studentinquiry as an instructor. Although he had participated once as a student in an inquiry-based course, the TA had very little prior experience with facilitating student learningin an inquiry-based environment. During his first interview, the TA discussed his priorexperiences with inquiry-based learning approaches:
. . . Ive never tried to teach an entire course as inquiry-based learning but I think I knowsomething about it at least having taken it as a student. . . But as far as trying to set it upto teach, thats something that I want to do more of but at the same time know Im not yetcomfortable with, and I guess thats because I havent done enough of it, just learning howto set it up and engineer it to steer them well. So I need to learn more about it before Ican use it that effectively, but at the same time it is something, that is something that I amaiming for. . .
STUDENT ENGAGEMENT IN INQUIRY-BASED LEARNING 655
By the midpoint of the semester, the TA also recognized that some of the students wereexperiencing frustration in the laboratory, particularly with regard to his facilitation style.However, by the end of the semester, the TA had gained some insight into ways that he mayeffectively facilitate student learning in an inquiry-based laboratory in the future:
Now that the course is done, yeah there are definitely some things I would probably dodifferently. Like we talked about once, I think in class as far as my asking, I need to informthem [the students] that they are indeed on the right track before I ask them why theyare thinking about things. Then again, that was mentioned by, mentioned in one of my[teaching] evaluations. I forgot how it quite went but something like While the TA meanswell at trying to encourage questions or encourage us to justify our answers its kind offrustrating because he doesnt tell us whether or not we are headed in the right direction.So you know, things like that. . .
Karen believed that the TA had made progress in developing his inquiry-facilitation skillsby the end of the course. During her final interview, Karen expressed how her perceptionsof the TA and his support for her learning had changed:
. . . At first everybody was having a hard time with him because when you had a questionyou could have it right but hed be like Oh wait, why do you think ? You know? Andmake you think you were wrong and then like an hour later you were like Oh my gosh,I was totally right! So it was more frustrating than anything. But as the semester likeprogressed he definitely got better and like, the lab with the vertebrates and something else2 weeks ago? He helped me out a lot with that lab and like helped me think, and like really,you know in a really productive way. It wasnt hindering like or anything at all. . .
Unfortunately, at the end of the semester both Jackson and Jake still felt that the TAsfacilitation style posed a challenge to their ability to engage successfully in inquiry practices.In his final interview, Jackson stated: . . . Hes [the TA] really smart but didnt, you knowsometimes he didnt help me out the way I wish he would have. Similarly, Jake felt thatthe TA could be helpful at times, but expressed a desire to have more guidance from himwhile engaged in inquiry activities, stating:
. . . [The] TA was really good. I liked talking to him on like a, its like he means, its like Iknow that you are doing like the leading questions, and wanting us to think for ourselvesbut sometimes there needs to be a line drawn and like say okay this is where you need tolook like sort of deal, a little bit more leading is like sometimes okay I think. . .
Thus, suggesting that while the TAs facilitation skills may have improved slightly overthe course of the semester, it was not a significant enough amount to support all studentsas they engaged in the inquiry activities.
Yet, despite these perceived challenges, by the end of the semester each of these studentsdemonstrated that they were able to successfully appropriate different inquiry practices tovarious degrees. For Jackson, the development of these skills appeared to be the greatest.Although his grades on his inquiry laboratory reports were wide ranging, and his scoreon the inquiry-based midterm examination was low (73%), his improved performance onthe inquiry-based final examination (83%) demonstrated his development and his abilityto successfully engage in inquiry. Jake demonstrated a high level of ability to engage ininquiry practices right from the beginning of the course, and thus the development of hisability to engage inquiry was likely not significant. Jake performed extremely well on themidterm examination (96%); however, his performance on the final examination was wellScience Education
below his ability (79%). When asked about his performance on the final examination, Jakeremarked:
I feel like my grade on the final was fair but I got, I think I got like a 79 on it. I dont feellike its a fair representation of what I learned in the course, because the reason I scored solow was because I was like out of time.
For Karen, although she performed well fairly consistently on the inquiry laboratoryreports, her performance on the midterm examination was lower than she expected (80%).However, she demonstrated on the final examination (94%) that she too had successfullyappropriated many of the inquiry skills necessary to engage in scientific inquiry.
Overall, with respect to the final performance of all students enrolled in the course, Karenand Jake emerged as the top performers. Both Karen and Jake received the only two gradesof A given in the course, whereas Jackson received a final grade of B (one of four total Bsgiven). Thus, clearly Jake and Karens ability to appropriate and engage in inquiry practicestranslated to being successful academically in the course.
DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONSThe benefits of engaging in inquiry are well documented; however, inquiry-based teach-
ing and learning approaches pose challenges for both instructors and students (Krajciket al., 1998). Studying students engagement in inquiry practices can help direct practi-tioners and researchers to ways in which students inquiry experiences can be improved.The ways in which students were successful, and where they had challenges appropriatinginquiry practices is discussed in the following sections. Then, suggestions are offered forinstruction that may assist students as they engage in inquiry.
Engaging in Scientic QuestioningThe ability to ask scientific questions is a central tenet to learning through inquiry. Thus,
instructors should aim to create effective learning environments in which students are givenopportunities to ask relevant scientific questions (Hofstein et al., 2004). The students in thisstudy were given a scientific question to pursue as part of each inquiry activity. However, itwas of interest to the researcher whether these students would develop alternative scientificquestions en route to answering the inquiry question, and if so, what the nature of thesequestions would be. The types and number of questions that the students raised werewide ranging; however, there was limited evidence of any changes in the ability to askadditional scientific questions, or in the types of questions asked. Unlike, previous studies(e.g., Hofstein, Navon, Kipnis, & Mamlok-Naaman, 2005; Hofstein et al., 2004) in whichwith increasing experience with inquiry-based learning students showed significant changein the number and types of questions they asked, the students in this study showed no suchevolution.
The ability to be able to verbally participate in inquiry activities by asking questions isan important skill. So why did these students not engage in significant questioning beyondthe requirements of the inquiry assignments? For students who are accustomed to beingpassive participants in their learning, this inquiry practice may pose a challenge for them.Dillon (1988) suggests that students rarely initiate or spontaneously ask questions in theclassroom; rather students need to be encouraged to ask questions. Perhaps a strongeremphasis on formulating and asking questions needs to be incorporated into the inquirytasks, akin to the tasks described in Hofstein et al. (2005). More research that investigates
STUDENT ENGAGEMENT IN INQUIRY-BASED LEARNING 657
ways to best facilitate and scaffold active student participation in posing scientific questionsis needed.
Giving Priority to EvidenceOn the basis of the analysis questions of interest, students in the course had very little
difficulty with this practice. It appears that previous geology courses adequately preparedthese students to fulfill this aspect of inquiry-based learning. In future classes, more em-phasis can be placed on planning data collection as it appeared that students did very littleof this in this course. In addition, if students come to the course with strong data collectionand representation skills, this provides an opportunity for instructors to extend studentsknowledge, perhaps by introducing more sophisticated data collection and representationmethods. This may also be an opportunity to introduce students to using data representationtechnology or perhaps modeling software that a practicing geologist would use. Further re-search examining the depth of students facility with this inquiry practice would be beneficialfor clarifying how to best continue to foster students proficiency with this practice.
Formulate Explanations From EvidenceAlthough the students were competent in deciding what type of data to collect, and
systematically collecting that data, the students experienced more difficulty formulatingexplanations from evidence. Although the students in this study occasionally made incorrectinterpretations of their data, this did not seem to be the crux of their difficulty. Ratherdifficulty for some of the students seemed to stem from their inability to express in writingwhat they often times were able to express verbally.
Research with eighth-grade students suggests that the use of a writing heuristic canfacilitate students ability to generate meaning from data, thus making connections betweenprocedures, evidence, and claims (Hofstein et al., 2004). Perhaps a similar approach wouldwork for future inquiry-based undergraduate geosciences courses. It may be beneficialto utilize more direct instruction in strategies for generating explanations. In addition,modeling of this practice by the instructor may be very beneficial for students. Alternatively,scaffolding of this outcome in the form of examples of exemplary laboratory reports mayhelp foster students abilities to express in writing the connection between their data andexplanations.
Evaluate Explanations in Light of AlternativesThe students in this study spent a significant amount of their time engaged in this inquiry
practice. This finding supports research conducted in an inquiry-based undergraduate biol-ogy laboratory in which students spent a large amount of time deliberating and discussingpossibilities (Glasson & McKenzie, 1998). The propensity for students to engage in thisinquiry practice may be due to the nature of the subject matter, in which the considera-tion of a number of alternative processes or environmental conditions is necessary whentrying to identify and explain the processes that created a rock or fossil. Thus, based onclassroom observations it can be said that the students in this study were very successful atappropriating this inquiry skill.
Interestingly, although the students felt that they were sometimes lacking in the knowl-edge necessary to complete the task, they rarely if ever made use of outside resources,such as those that could be found in the digital library. Rather students preferred to seekadditional information from sources that were most familiar to them or that they perceived
to require the least amount of time and efforts, their textbooks, or from other students, theinstructor, or the TA (Apedoe, 2007). Helping students move from passivity to activity (i.e.,encouraging exploration of concepts and ideas using multiple information sources) remainsa major challenge for any instructor wishing to foster inquiry-based learning. The rationalefor deciding to incorporate a technology into classroom use needs to be considered care-fully because like many technological innovations we must consider not only the potentialbenefits the technology can bring but also how the learning tasks must be changed to takeadvantage of such benefits (Hoadley & Bell, 1996). More research is needed to explorethe reasons why students chose not to make use of the technology afforded to them in thisparticular class. Such research should be designed to provide insight into what resourcesstudents require and prefer to use to support their learning in inquiry-based environments.
Communicate and Justify Proposed ExplanationsThe ability to draw and justify conclusions requires sophisticated thinking with which
students from middle school through graduate school may be expected to have difficulty(Krajcik et al., 1998). The students in this study showed varying levels of competence withthis inquiry practice initially, but all made great strides by the end of the course. Difficultieswith this inquiry practice did not appear to stem from lack of scientific knowledge, but rathera difficulty in expressing their knowledge in an appropriate scientific form. However, withfeedback from the instructor and TA on their final laboratory reports, students developedproficiency with this inquiry practice by the end of the course. Again, supplying appropriateamounts of feedback and scaffolding for this practice (e.g., in the form of exemplary inquiryreports) may be beneficial.
Overcoming the Challenges to Engaging in InquiryFor these students, the perceived lack of guidance from the TA emerged as the most
significant challenge to engaging in inquiry. As described above, each student experiencedsome level of frustration from interactions with the TA. The role of the instructor or TA in aninquiry-based course is critical because without appropriate teacher support, students canbecome frustrated with the difficulties of reaching scientific understanding alone (Clough,2002).
There are a number of possible explanations for why Jackson, Jake, and Karen wereable to successfully engage in inquiry practices, despite the perceived challenges of lack ofguidance or support and insufficient background knowledge. One explanation may be thatthese students were only experiencing what may be termed growing pains in the processof appropriating and engaging successfully in inquiry activities. That is, because studentsare accustomed to interacting with their instructors and TAs in particular ways, i.e., askinga question and receiving a direct answer, when the rules of interaction change, studentsmay become resistant to it.
Alternatively, for many students, an inquiry-based learning approach may be a new anduncomfortable experience, thus more scaffolding and guidance may be required at thebeginning of a course than at the end of a course when students have become familiar withinquiry. It may be the case that indeed not enough guidance was provided for these studentsat the beginning of the course, leading to unnecessary feelings of frustration with learningand course instructors. However, perhaps a certain level of discomfort is inevitable andeven desirable if it shakes students out of their typically passive stance. Further researchexamining how much and what types of guidance or support is optimal in these types oflearning environments would be beneficial.
STUDENT ENGAGEMENT IN INQUIRY-BASED LEARNING 659
FINAL WORDSThis research has provided a much-needed description of how undergraduate science
(geology) majors engage in inquiry practices in an inquiry-based course. It is hoped thatthis portrayal of the behaviors of undergraduate students in inquiry-based learning willinspire other undergraduate (geo)science instructors to incorporate these methods into theirown teaching. For the most part, these three students appeared to truly engage in inquiry,rather than superficially engaging in the science activities, thus lending support to the notionthat inquiry-based learning approaches can and should be utilized in undergraduate sciencecourses.
However, as desirable as the outcomes of this course were in terms of inquiry-basedlearning, challenges remain. For example, the findings suggest that the amount of guidanceand scaffolding provided by instructors is an important component of an inquiry-basedlearning environment that can be enhanced. For instructors and TAs in undergraduatescience courses that employ inquiry-based teaching methods, adjusting to a new role in theclassroom (i.e., knowledge facilitator vs. knowledge deliverer) is one that may prove tobe difficult, but is necessary to encourage engagement in inquiry by their students with aminimal amount of frustration.
Future research directions could include additional qualitative studies such as this one,which would provide more knowledge and insight into the course design factors that cansupport student appropriation and engagement in inquiry activities. Studies that examineand report on behaviors of students who are less successful at appropriating and engagingin inquiry activities would help provide a clearer picture of how undergraduate studentsengage in inquiry activities. In addition, future research should seek to reveal the underlyingcognitive skills required for engaging in inquiry-based learning. Finally, it would be espe-cially interesting, albeit challenging, to utilize these methods in a large section introductorylevel geosciences course. Success at that level would go a long way in overcoming theresistance to these methods that is evident in many undergraduate science programs today.Studies such as these are necessary if we are to begin to help practitioners and researcherscreate learning environments that can take full advantage of the pedagogical strategy ofinquiry-based learning.
2003, GEOL 4010 Lab 1: Preservation LabGeorge Cuvier, a most notable French vertebrate paleontologist in the late 1700s, was
the director of the Paris Natural History Museum. He reluctantly had hired J. BaptisteLamarck to catalog the unmentionables or untouchables in natural history, that is thegroup called the vermes. At that time, the group vermes included just about everythingthat no one could catalog. As it happened, Lamarck was an exceptionally keen observerand tireless worker. Lamarck was able to catalog (i.e., put into phyla) almost everythingCuvier deemed to push his way. In fact, while Cuvier was known as the Father of VertebratePaleontology; Vertebrate Anatomy, Larmarck became known as the Father of InvertebrateZoology/Paleontology.
One day, Lamarck was given an especially difficult task of not only trying to figure outthe Phylum (or other grouping) of organism he was given, AND the preservational stateas well. Below are 30 of the samples he was given to analyze by Cuvier. Can you helpLamarck sort these groups into Phyla of invertebrates or other groups (i.e., plants, PhylumChordata, or other categoryperhaps ooids). Next, for the groups you organized, discussthe types of preservational states present for that group (dont forget to include the sedimentScience Education
analysis). You might want to work in teams. Below is a worksheet provided to help youorganize your data.
Sample Bauplane (BodyPlan) if Applicable.If not applicable,what is it?
Sediment Analysis(composition, grain size,siliciclastic or carbonate,general name)
Preservational Mode(Taphonomic Mode)
Data SynthesisNow that you have collected your data, please organize the data into similar bauplanes
and discuss how variable (or similar) their preservational states are. You need to do fivebauplane (or groups) to appease Lamarck. Dont forget to include all examples of theseorganisms and discuss their preservational states. THAT IS, WHAT YOU WILL BE DOINGIS SEEING THE MOST COMMON PRESERVATIONAL MODE FOR THE DIFFERENTPHYLA OR GROUP OF ORGANISMS.
GROUP 1:GROUP 2:GROUP 3:GROUP 4:GROUP 5:
2004, GEOL 4010 Lab 5: Skeletons and the Perils of PreservationReadings: Chap. 1; DLESE; Galileo; and/or Google/Other TextInformation
George Cuvier, a most noted French vertebrate paleontologist in the late 1700s, was thedirector of the Paris Natural History Museum. He reluctantly hired J. Baptiste Lamarck tocatalog the unmentionables or untouchables in natural history, that is the group calledthe vermes. At that time, the group vermes included just about everything that no onecould catalog. As it happened, Lamarck was an exceptionally keen observer and tirelessworker, the hallmarks of a good scientist. Lamarck was able to catalog (i.e., put into phyla)almost everything Cuvier deemed to push his way. In fact, while Cuvier was known as theFather of Vertebrate Paleontology; Vertebrate Anatomy, Larmarck became known as theFather of Invertebrate Zoology/Paleontology.
One day, Lamarck was given an especially difficult task of determining the Phylum (orother grouping) of organism and the preservational state. Lamarck was given 30 samplesto analyze by Cuvier. First, can you help Lamarck sort these bauplane (body plan) groupsinto invertebrate phyla (animals without backbones) or other groups (e.g., plants, Phy-lum Chordata, or other categoryperhaps carbonate sedimentary rocks, such as ooids).Second, for the groups you organized, figure out the preservational states present forthat group and, if applicable, the sedimentary rock that the fossil is preserved in. Thus,you need to develop a data table with the important data to collect (remember Lab 1!).
STUDENT ENGAGEMENT IN INQUIRY-BASED LEARNING 661
APPEND THIS DATA TABLE TO THE FINAL REPORT (the data table and/or illustra-tions need not be typed or redrawn).
In the end, you will write a report to Cuvier covering just five of the major bauplane thatyou are most familiar with from this lab. For each of the five major bauplane, you will:1) name the phylum (if applicable); 2) provide the distinguishing characteristics of thatphylum that you used (be careful here, as you use only the characteristics available in thefossil record); 3) list the sample numbers that go with this phylum and why; 4) providea description of the types of sedimentary rocks the specimens per phyla are consistentlypreserved in; and finally, 5) describe the range of preservational states and the most commonpreservation mode (state) the phyla are found in.
Student ProlesJackson, a 20-year-old, third-year student, was friendly and laid-back. He was a geol-
ogy major and forestry minor. Jacksons decision to major in geology stemmed from hisexperience in high school. Jackson stated:
Well I had taken some classes in high school and we had a really great teacher and he kindof turned me on to it and I hadnt really ever looked back since. I mean its the only thingIve ever really been interested in that much as far as classes go.
Although Jackson was a fairly outgoing person, he was not very vocal in class, rarelyasking questions or making comments. Jackson indicated that he was familiar with inquiry-based learning, and that he believed he would be comfortable with this type of learningapproach. Jackson was also very comfortable collaborating with others to complete groupprojects. When asked about his comfort level using computers or the World Wide Web(WWW), Jackson indicated that he was not at all comfortable, stating: . . . Im not a realbig computer personI try to use computers as little as possible to tell you the truth.Finally, on a precourse survey Jackson indicated that his level of motivation for learning inthe course was high.
Jake, a 22-year-old, fifth-year student was a well-liked outgoing student, who imme-diately took a leadership role when working with group members to complete inquiryassignments. Jake chose geology as his major after transferring from the business programat another university. On a precourse survey, Jake indicated that he was not familiar withinquiry-based learning, but believed that he would be very comfortable with this learningapproach. Jake also rated his comfort level for learning through group projects as verycomfortable. With regard to his comfort level using computers and the WWW, Jake ratedhimself as being very comfortable with their use. Finally, Jake described himself as a verymotivated student in general, and especially motivated for learning in this particular geol-ogy course, stating: Cause Ill tell you right now, I love geology. I want to be in here andI want to learn as much as possible. I go to class everyday trying to, you know, get better.
Karen, a 20-year-old, third-year student was the quietest of the three students. She oftenworked closely with Jake to complete inquiry tasks. She chose geology as her major afterhaving a great experience in an introductory course she took during her second year atthe university. Karen had the most experience in geology, having participated in a researchinternship experience the previous summer, and attending and presenting at the GeologicalSociety Association Annual meeting during the Fall of 2004. On the basis of the data from aprecourse survey and follow-up interviews, Karen was familiar with inquiry-based learning
and believed that she would be comfortable with this learning approach. However, Karenwas not comfortable learning through group projects stating:
. . . I feel like I usually get stuck with people that have like really strong opinions, and itshard for me to get my ideas in there and be confident enough to like push ideas that I knoware really good or that I really like and I think its a good idea. . .
Karen preferred assignments in which each student was responsible for and earnedtheir own grades. With respect to comfort levels with computers and the WWW, Karenindicated that she was very comfortable with both. Finally, Karen described her motivationfor learning in the course as high, stating: This is not my favorite material, but I want toknow it.
APPENDIX C: SAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS1. Tell me about your science background2. Tell me about your geology background3. Tell me about your previous experiences learning geology4. Describe your preferred method for learning (i.e. lectures, hands on activities, etc.)5. Lets talk a little bit about the labs:
a. Talk me through the process of how you completed this lab.i. What did you do in class?
ii. What did you do at home?iii. What resources did you use?iv. What did you learn from this lab?
6. What has been most difficult for you?7. What would make learning easier for you?8. What did you find most interesting in this course?9. What did you like most about the course?
10. How would you change what you didnt like about the course?11. Which lab assignment did you enjoy most? Why?12. Which lab assignment did you enjoy the least? Why?
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