Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence

ACIE Award 2011

Losing the Lecture: Student-Centered, Inquiry-Based Learning in an Entry-Level Biology Course


Watch the above video to learn more about Daniels' project.

Much has been published about the need to transform science teaching from the passive lecture model intent on “covering content” to a student –centered pedagogy that is focused on developing reasoning skills, a deep understanding of the evidence that underlies the key concepts of biology, and how the process of science generates new knowledge via hypothesis testing. An integral component of the teaching transformation is to engage students directly in their learning through a process of guided discovery; a process that is learner-centered rather than faculty centered.  Although inquiry-based learning is usually provided by laboratory courses, for many students their primary exposure to biology begins with the large lecture classes. Lydia Daniels, Biological Sciences, proposed bringing the process of guided discovery into the large biology classroom to more effectively develop the scientific literacy skills needed for further study in the field.

Daniels began by identifying the following 3 educational goals:

  • Change the emphasis in the classroom from one of content delivery to one focused on developing the essential skills of scientific literacy.
  • Develop students’ skills in problem solving by devoting class time to a variety of interactive and collaborative activities.
  • Provide students with regular practice in using scientific literacy skills.

In Fall 2011, 250 undergraduates taking BIOSCI 0150: Foundations of Biology 1 experienced the first iteration of the course redesign.   Daniels limited the number of lectures in the course by:

  • Maintaining a small number of lectures in order to review key terms and concepts;
  • Assigning visual materials like videos and other media in  CourseWeb to replace PowerPoint-driven in class  lectures;
  • Assigning pre-class assignments for each class meeting;
  • Giving weekly quizzes to ensure that students are keeping up and reviewing the materials;
  • Providing writing instructions on how to write summaries of scientific articles;
  • Assigning a final essay to assess  their newly acquired skills of summary;
  • Having a mid-term and a cumulative final exam.