Applying and Understanding the Scientific Method with iClicker Surveys in Human Biology

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipientMark Lechner, Faculty of Health Sciences

Project team: Nienke van Houten, Faculty of Health Sciences, and Esma Emmioglu, post-doctoral research assistant

Timeframe: November 2012 to July 2013

Funding: $5,000

Course addressed: HSCI 100 – Human Biology

Description: The purpose of this study is to understand how well students have learned the scientific method (i.e., data generation, hypothesis formulation) through the use of a series of iClickers exercises in HSCI 100 Human Biology. We are also interested in what student experiences are and whether students identify themselves as scientists through this approach.

Our series of iClickers exercises was designed to model the scientific method by directly engaging students.  Students ask their own questions and collect their own data in the exercises. Students also test their questions and compare their results with their expectations using iClickers. Our preliminary experience (instructor and student) has been positive and some data suggests improved outcomes for students’ understanding and ability to apply the scientific method. In this study, we will explore this approach in more detail to understand the learning and confidence gains that are achieved by using iClickers as a tool to apply the scientific method.  

This study will be conducted with students during the spring 2013 semester in two sections of HSCI100 (D100 Burnaby and D200 Surrey). Students will be asked to voluntarily complete an electronic survey at the beginning and end of the semester. The survey is designed to provide an understanding of students’ confidence in conducting the scientific method, if and how they identify themselves as scientists, and their experiences. Responses will be in graded categories: strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, and strongly agree. The questions will be administered in WebCT, using the anonymous assessment tool. A follow-up survey will repeat questions from the beginning of the semester to examine the changes in students’ responses. The survey at the end of the semester will also include additional questions that request open-ended written responses, which focus on the students’ experiences of using the iClicker response system to apply the scientific method. We will also collect demographic information in the initial survey in order to see if student responses are correlated with major, gender, age, and being an international student or not. In addition, we will collect and analyze student performance on assessments of their understanding of the scientific method. These assessments include pre- and post-assessment worksheets and exam questions that evaluate learning gains based on iClicker use.

Evidence obtained from this study will help assess the utility of our teaching method that combines classroom engagement technology (iClickers) with the scientific method. The evidence will be used to help modify the approach and improve its future implementation.

Questions addressed:

  • Can using iClickers to ask questions or pose hypotheses and collect data help students understand the scientific method? 
  • Do students identify themselves more as a scientist than at the beginning of this course?
  • What are students’ experiences of iClicker activity?

Knowledge sharing: The method was previously presented at the May 2012 Symposium on Teaching and Learning: Leading Change @ SFU, and a synopsis was added to our FHS Teaching and Learning Conversation Blog (June 2012). In addition, the study was featured at the third annual Teaching and Learning Centre Social (January 2013).

Lechner, M. (2014, May). Do the clickers help students understand the scientific method? Poster session presented at the Symposium on Teaching and Learning: Provocative Pedagogy, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.  

van Houten, N., Emmioglu, E., & Lechner, M. (2013, July). Working with student generated data enhances scientific literacy in human biology. Poster session presented at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER) National Meeting, Minneapolis, MN.