Limitations of This Study
One limitation of this study is that the course that incorporated active-learning techniques was still using only a limited amount of active
learning. The students seemed to appreciate having some interaction
with their professor and peers, but this positive attitude might not
carry over to a class that spent a larger proportion of time on active
learning. Another limitation is that this study was carried out at a small,
private liberal arts college, and the Cell Biology classes were relatively
small (25–75 students). Student attitudes toward active learning might
be different in a larger classroom setting. The small class size also
means that the sample size was small, which limits the power of statistical analysis. In addition, the fact that prior biology courses taken by
students had different instructors than the Cell Biology course means
that their opinions on both active and passive pedagogies may have
been influenced by their instructors’ personality and method of implementing any given technique.
Extensive research has shown that active learning improves student
performance in STEM courses (Freeman et al., 2014), and numerous
national initiatives have been launched to increase the amount of
active learning used in STEM classrooms (e.g., National Science Foundation, 2013; AAAS, 2015). Despite this push for change, many
instructors are hesitant to incorporate active learning into their
courses, with some citing concerns about student attitudes toward
nontraditional pedagogies (Michael, 2007; Froyd et al., 2012; Prince
et al., 2013; Lund & Stains, 2015). It was hypothesized that students
that had a traditional lecture in their first college biology course would
have more negative attitudes toward active learning in a subsequent
course than students that experienced active learning in their first biology course. The data gathered in this study did not support the
hypothesis, and in fact seemed to indicate that students who experienced a traditional, lecture-style biology course first had more positive
attitudes toward active learning than inexperienced students. In the
context of a small, private liberal arts college, most students seem to
have positive attitudes toward active-learning techniques regardless
of their prior biology experiences. This supports the notion that
instructors can incorporate small amounts of active learning into their
classes without fear of student revolt, even if it might be the student’s
first exposure to the use of active learning in a biology course.
I thank my colleagues in the Biology Scholars Program Research Residency for their assistance with designing this project, Dr. Elisabeth
Schussler for her guidance, Dr. Benjamin England for assistance with
data analysis, and Dr. Jerilyn Swann for assistance with implementing
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