Assessing the Benefit of Inquiry Based Learning in a Cell Physiology Lab Course

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Damon Poburko, Department of Biomedical Physiology & Kinesiology (BPK)

Project team: Megan Barker, Biological Sciences, May Cheng and Ciara Morgan-Feir, research assistants, and Thomas Claydon, Department of Biomedical Physiology & Kinesiology (BPK)

Timeframe: March 2014 to August 2017

Funding: $9,980

Final Report: View Damon Poburko's final report (short version) (PDF) and final report (long version) (PDF)

Course addressed: A novel Cellular Physiology Laboratory course in the BPK Biomedical Physiology (BIF) degree program.

Description: A core of instructors within our department are developing a biomedical physiology education that provides a ‘bench-to-bedside’ approach. Our students take a Human Physiology Laboratory course, on which they become acquainted with measuring whole body physiological parameters. An essential complement to this systems level physiology education is a practical education in conducting cellular-level physiology experiments, but this is currently not offered.

Pedagogical evidence supports the use of inquiry-based physiology laboratory courses to promote undergraduate education in the understanding and retention of experimental approaches and methodology, to provide a framework to teach critical thinking, and to teach analytical and problem-solving skills.

We expect that our findings will allow us to assess and apply appropriate and validated approaches in the practical teaching of cell physiology, while also providing us with tools to self-assess the success of our implementation of inquiry-based learning and to guide the continuing development of this course. This project will be implemented in two phases:

Phase 1: Extensive literature review on practical education in physiological sciences and related disciplines. If sufficient data is available, a review of the impact of inquiry-based teaching on student engagement and learning in physiology. Our research will focus both on collecting detailed descriptions of laboratory activities at SFU and other institutions, and the collation of any associated analyses of the efficacies of their implementation.

Phase 2: The first offering of the course in summer 2015 and the deployment of our research tools (i.e. student surveys and quizzes) and analyses of student performance in relation to the use of inquiry based learning. This will encompass analyses of data collected through Canvas as well as analyses of student comprehension based on lab reports and exams. Subsequent to our literature review, we will determine an appropriate model to assess the impact of inquiry based teaching in our lab course (i.e. cross-over design vs. student performance pre-/post-)

Questions addressed:

Phase 1

  • What methods have previously been implemented and reported with regard to practical education in cellular physiology and molecular biology at the undergraduate level?
  • Has inquiry-based learning previously been shown to improve student comprehension and retention of the scientific and methodological principles underlying the practical exercises in the laboratory?
  • What learning objectives, teaching materials, course content, inquiry-based activities and means of assessment should be included or avoided in this course based on our findings in available literature. We will apply methods and processes akin to those developed and communicated in the TLC’s Rethinking University Teaching workshop to guide this process.

Phase 2:

  • Does inquiry-based teaching have a positive effect on student perceptions of or engagement in laboratory based exercises in cellular physiology.
  • Does inquiry-based teaching have a positive effect on student comprehension of the underlying physiological principles that form the basis of a laboratory exercise.
  • Does inquiry-based teaching have a positive effect on student integration and application of principles of experimental design and statistical analysis.

Knowledge sharing: Feedback to the Department and Faculty regarding the goals, approach and implementation of the course to be developed. Presentation of findings at TLC Research Day. Potential delivery of course to Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, and Biological Science students.

Barker, M., Morgan-Feir, C., Wicks, N., Claydon, T., & Poburko, D. (2017, May). Teaching experimental design: Inspiring investigation in an inquiry-based lab course. Presentation at the Symposium on Teaching and Learning: Voices of Diversity and Inclusion: Vulnerabilities, Tensions, and Opportunities, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.

Morgan-Feir, C., Barker, M., Wicks, N., Claydon, T., & Poburko, D. (2017, July). Evaluating learning gains and attitude changes in an inquiry-based lab course. Poster session presented at the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER) National Meeting, Minneapolis, MN.