A Model Organism for Inquiry-based Undergraduate Laboratories

Guided-Inquiry Laboratories

Guided-inquiry laboratories are a compromise between the extremes on the continuum of inquiry-based learning. At one extreme, free inquiry is the learning process in which the students specify all aspects of the study. This is open-ended research, as practiced by working scientists, in which students choose the question, develop the hypotheses, create an experimental protocol to test the hypotheses and finally conduct the experiment. At the other extreme, traditional cookbook studies are exercises in which the instructor gives students a question, provides the alternative hypotheses, the instructor specifies a detailed experimental protocol (the cookbook) and students are told to collect data by following the instructions of the teacher.

Guided-inquiry is a compromise in that the instructor provides a question and the context for a study, but then guides students to develop alternative hypotheses, and the students design an experimental protocol to test the hypotheses. Students conduct the experiment that they have developed. This learning-teaching process is much more authentic than a cookbook approach but gives instructors a more active role than free inquiry in guiding the learning process for a laboratory class.

The following outline describes the role of the instructor in guided inquiry laboratories:

  1. Specify a question
  2. Provide some context
    1. background
    2. tools
    3. supplies
  3. Solicit hypotheses from students
  4. Solicit predictions from students
  5. Solicit experimental design and consensus from students
  6. Students conduct experiment
  7. Students collect data, create class data set, statistical data analysis
  8. Students report findings in the form of a poster, written report, seminar

Click this link to view a video of Larry Blumer teaching a non-majors science laboratory class using the guided inquiry process described above.