An inquiry-based approach to laboratory experiences: Investigating students' ways of active learning
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It is a common perception amongst students (and faculty) that traditional recipe-based laboratory experiences are generally boring, non-interactive and non-engaging. As a result, such laboratory sessions are unlikely to promote higher order thinking and learning. As a part of the national SaMnet (Science and Mathematics network of Australian University Educators – see http://samnetaustralia.blogspot.com.au/) project, we have developed an “inquiry-based” approach to learning in laboratories, and introduced laboratory experiences which are designed to equip first year physics students with the concepts and skills required to plan and carry out an experiment to investigate a particular problem. Our aim was to motivate and stimulate students’ interest, so that they explore experimental activities and design their own experiments. We implemented inquiry based laboratory activities for non-physics majors in semester 2, 2012 at two Australian universities. The students were given five traditional and one Inquiry-based Laboratory and this paper reports the student perceptions of the new experience. Students felt they had to do a lot of thinking and analysing for inquiry-based reports and believed that they learnt more in the inquiry-based laboratory than the recipe-based laboratory. We also found that student marks either improved (for laboratory reports) or remained the same (for related examination questions), and conclude that inquiry-based laboratories at worst do not negatively impact on student performance and may actually benefit student learning.
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