Monday, May 10, 2010


The class that I'm reworking is an inquiry-based laboratory for freshman. Students are required to come up with their own research projects, and set of experiments that would prove or disprove their hypothesis. Students are also required to present their work in a seminar format, a poster session and final "paper".

What is the bottleneck to learning in this class?

Critical thinking and analysis is the bottleneck to learning in this class. Students come up with really good problems to address through experimentation. They can easily identify biologically relevant problems. They can imagine how solving these problems can bring benefit to society. They can envision experiments that would attempt solving the problem at hand. However, they cannot put all these parts together in a coherent and concise way, particularly when they need to present it to the rest of the class or need to write it down in a report.

How does an expert do these things?

Critical thinking is a process and not an end. When going through the critical thinking process, experts review their work and their ideas numerous times, tweaking and improving the content at every step of the iteration. Often, experts do not do this process alone; they recruit other experts to give them feedback (colleagues, editors, etc).

Part of the problem with students is that they want to complete the assignment quickly and be done. Once they write the assignment, they are reluctant to review it and edit it. Many times, editing benefits from putting the writing assignment away and come back to it with new eyes after a couple of days. Often, however, students work on their assignments last minute, making no time for the editing process to take place.

How can these tasks be explicitly modeled?

Students can be given all the version that a manuscripts written by experts goes through before reaching the final, publishing quality, form. Students can also be given readings on how to become a better writer. However, the only way to become a better writer is by writing.

How will your students practice these skills and get feedback?

Scientific writing heavily depends on peer-reviewing. The peer-reviewing process main goal is to ensure that content is sound. However, as a side benefit it also checks the way the content is written. Student's work may benefit from having peers review their work, getting feedback on the form and content of their manuscript before submitting it for grading.

What will motive the students?

Grades seems to be the only force that motivates students to complete tasks .

How well are students mastering these learning tasks?

Students taking this class are for most part freshmen. They have different backgrounds and experiences. While some students are really good at writing short and concise sentences, many students write long sentences that do not amount to much. It is difficult to assess how much progress each one of these groups make during the course of the semester.

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