Week 4: Active Learning, Part 2


Inquiry-Based Labs and Problem-Based Learning

This week we continue our discussion of active learning instruction with modules on inquiry-based labs (lab structures and assignments that teach students to think like scientists and engineers) and problem-based learning (focusing student learning through concrete and challenging problems).

After completing this module, you should be able to:

  1. Describe elements that are essential to inquiry-based lab instruction as well as additional elements that can be incorporated.
  2. Differentiate inquiry-based lab approaches from traditional lab approaches.
  3. Link inquiry-based lab pedagogy to three larger learning frameworks:
    • What we know about how learning works
    • How this approach encourages students to engage in increasingly complex cognitive activities (i.e., Bloom’s cognitive levels)
    • What we know about promising classroom practices in STEM education
  1. Choose or design assessment tools appropriate for inquiry-based lab learning goals.
  2. Describe potential benefits of inquiry-based lab instruction for students and instructors.
  3. Describe the elements of problem-based learning (PBL).
  4. Differentiate between PBL and subject-based learning.
  5. Describe the differences between decision cases and constructive controversies to meet different teaching and learning objectives.
  6. Develop a decision case or constructive controversy to meet specific teaching and learning objectives and appropriate formative and summative assessments.


Video 5.1.0 —  Week 4 Introduction

Dr. Derek Bruff from Vanderbilt University and Dr. Trina McMahon from the University of Wisconsin introduce the concepts and content that will be covered in the first week of the course.

Introduction to Inquiry-Based Labs


Video 5.1.1 — Introduction to Inquiry-based Labs

Dr. Cynthia Brame from Vanderbilt University introduces the concept of inquiry-based labs.

Examples of Inquiry-Based Labs


Video 5.2.1 — Example of Inquiry-Based Lab in Introductory Astronomy

Dr. Cynthia Brame presents an example of Inquiry-based labs in an introductory astronomy class at Vanderbilt University taught by Dr. Erika Grundstrom.

Video 5.2.2 — Example of Inquiry-Based Lab in Biological Sciences

Dr. Cynthia Brame presents an example of Inquiry-based labs in a biological sciences class at Vanderbilt University Instructed by Charles Sissom.

Principles and Definitions of Inquiry-Based Labs


Video 5.3.1 — Elements of Inquiry

Dr. Cynthia Brame outlines the elements of inquiry that you can use when developing a lesson plan for an inquiry-based lab.

Video 5.3.1 Slides

Video 5.3.2 — Types of Thinking

Dr. Cynthia Brame discusses several levels/kinds of thinking that students undergo during an inquiry-based lab.

Video 5.3.2 Slides

Video 5.3.3 — Benefits and Limitations

Dr. Cynthia Brame outlines the benefits and limitations of implementing inquiry-based labs from the student and instructor perspective.

Video 5.3.3 Slides

Video 5.3.4 — Key Elements and Challenges

Dr. Cynthia Brame discusses the key elements and challenges involved in creating and implementing inquiry-based labs.

Discussion: As suggested by the Principles of Inquiry-based Lab Instruction video and the robust list of references and resources available around inquiry-based lab instruction, inquiry-based lab pedagogy can be very effective in promoting learning.

One of the objectives for this module is for you to be able to link inquiry-based lab pedagogy to larger learning contexts—for you to see for yourself why inquiry-based lab pedagogy has such strong potential. You have already considered how inquiry-based lab approaches can build on principles of learning, and in the video you just watched, we considered the cognitive activities that inquiry-based approaches can promote in students.

Now, we want you to consider this question from another angle. Specifically, certain classroom practices have been shown to be effective in STEM education. Which, if any, of these practices are readily incorporated into inquiry-based lab instruction?

Discuss which of these practices from the reading are readily incorporated into inquiry-based lab approaches and how you might do so in your lab.

Video 5.3.4 Slides

Assessment Options


Video 5.4.1 — Summative Assessment in Biological Sciences Example

Dr. Cynthia Brame provides examples of summative assessment in biological sciences inquiry-based labs and interviews faculty that are have significant experience assessing students in the inquiry-based lab setting.

Video 5.4.2 — Summative Assessment in Astronomy Example

Dr. Cynthia Brame provides examples of summative assessment in Astronomy inquiry-based labs and interviews faculty that are have significant experience assessing students in the inquiry-based lab setting.

Video 5.4.3 — Example Assessment Tools

Dr. Cynthia Brame provides examples of effective assessment tools you can use when planning and implementing inquiry-based labs.

Video 5.4.3 Slides

Problem-Based Learning Introduction


Video 6.1.1 — Problem-Based Learning Introduction

Adopting problem-based learning (PBL)-considerations for use in the classroom to prepare STEM “practitioners” to deal with current and emerging issues and creating a cooperative learning environment.  Review of goals for the PBL module.  Hear from a STEM doctoral student discuss problems or issues in chemistry that could be developed for PBL assignments to engage students.

Discussion: What is a current or emerging issue/problem in your discipline?

Video 6.1.1 Slides

What is Problem-Based learning?


Video 6.2.1 — What is Problem-Based Learning

What do students learn through using PBL and how does PBL differ from subject-based learning?  Hear from Dr. Mark Ryan about: (a) What is PBL?, (b) Why he uses it?, and (c) How he uses it in STEM classes?

Discussion: What is your experience with PBL and what was or could be challenging with PBL? Also, what is one positive attribute of using PBL in the STEM classroom? Post in the discussion below.

Video 6.2.1 Slides

Why Use Problem-Based learning?


Video 6.3.1 — Why use Problem-Based Learning?

Emulating problems and controversies in the classroom can provide students with experiences learning how to learn new information, use critical thinking skills to address complex issues and practice their communication skills.

Video 6.3.1 Slides

Problem-Based Learning in Your Classroom


Video 6.4.1 — Setting up with Backwards Design

Aligning Objectives for cases and controversies with assessments and classroom activities and content-don’t forget about the backward design and Bloom’s taxonomy!  Dr. Cori Fata-Hartley discusses the stages of the backward design.

Video 6.4.1 Slides

Video 6.4.2 — The PBL Process

The process of problem-based learning is presented in context of how STEM professionals address problems in their respective disciplines.  This approach to teaching and learning is compared to what is often referred to as “subject-based learning”.  Dr. Campa also discusses the use of “constructive controversies” vs. “decision cases” for implementing PBL in a course.

Video 6.4.2 Slides

Video 6.4.3 — Example Case and Controversy in Ecology

Dr. Campa introduces an example of a constructive controversy on “Managing Maasai Mara National Reserve for Ecological Resources and Tourism” and, in comparison, a decision case on bovine tuberculosis in wildlife.

Video 6.4.4 —Planning for Controversy

Decision case studies and controversies-steps for developing and implementing a constructive controversy, what materials will you need and how to use them to meet teaching and learning objectives.  A planning worksheet is available for students to develop a controversy for the classroom.

Video 6.4.4 Slides

Video 6.4.5 — Budgeting Time for Controversy

How to budget time for conducting a constructive controversy in a class period (Note: See the Controversy Planning Sheet).  One example-conducting a controversy in a 50 minute class period using “active lecturing” and informal cooperative learning groups.

Video 6.4.5 Slides

Video 6.4.6 — Recommendations for Developing Cases and Controversies

Recommendations for introducing and using case studies and controversies to meet various teaching and learning objectives.  References and resources are also provided.

Video 6.4.6 Slides

Week 4 Review



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