WEBSTER, M.D.*; CHAPLIN, S.B.: Student initiated projects in animal physiology lab instruction.
To enhance student learning of physiological concepts, build a departmental culture of inquiry, and motivate students to pursue studies of animal biology, we use independent laboratory projects as a primary mode for instruction in our comparative animal physiology courses. Students are first exposed to standard recording techniques and animal preparations. After directed literature studies and discussion of experimental design, we ask students to design their own laboratory investigations. Four to six weeks of lab meetings are devoted to the students’ independent work. End-of-term reports take the form of research articles or poster presentations. Focused studies that are extensions of the published literature or that use well studied organisms or methods seem to be most successful; we direct students away from equipment-intensive or overly broad projects. Our experience has been that this model of laboratory instruction takes more instructor time for animal husbandry, equipment maintenance, and ordering supplies than courses using traditional “cookbook” exercises. We also observe, however, greater student interest and enthusiasm, and higher academic achievement in successful students. Students take ownership of the material, become experts on a particular topic, and understand concepts at a depth not realized in most undergraduate science courses.