Cooperative Learning in Large Undergraduate Science Classes

LONDRAVILLE, R.L.*; NIEWIAROWSKI, P.H.; MCCONNELL, D.A.; ORCUTT, F.S.: Cooperative Learning in Large Undergraduate Science Classes.

Cooperative learning exercises were incorporated into large (~100 student) sections of introductory undergraduate classes in Biology and Geology. ‘Lecture’ was reduced by more than half, with most of the class dedicated to working in cooperative groups. A variety of classroom assessment techniques were incorporated into the group exercises to evaluate basic knowledge, critical thinking, synthesis of information, and attitudes about scientific issues. In-class group work, homework assignments, and pre-class reading quizzes accounted for up to 50% of available points. Computer technology (multimedia, email and WWW) was strongly emphasized. Comparing previous ‘lecture’ (L) sections to ‘cooperative’ (C) sections within instructors, and comparing L vs. C sections between instructors assessed impact of the change. Class attendance increased from ~50% (L) to >90% (C). Performance on common questions between L and C sections was not significantly different; however, within the C section, scores were significantly higher on questions based on the C exercises than questions taken from a test bank (Prob> F= .0018). Approximately 65% of students enrolled in the first semester of Biology (C) also enrolled in the second semester, and 80% of that group enrolled in a section with the cooperative format vs. returning to the lecture format. These data, although preliminary, suggest that the cooperative learning format offers advantages over the lecture format. Anonymous surveys reveal that students overwhelmingly prefer C to L (88% vs. 12%) and approximately 75% of respondents believed that cooperative work helped them learn course material. We are continuing our pedagogical revisions in other areas of the curriculum (non-majors classes, laboratories, and advanced/graduate classes).

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