The McLachlan Research lab is collaborating with the General Biology B lab course to further develop the ecology component in the lab following upcoming changes to the general biology laboratory courses. This curriculum change prompted an opportunity for the McLachlan lab to incorporate more of our current NSF funded research involving the phenotypic response of marsh plants, resurrected from the last 100 years, to changing environmental conditions such as salinity, carbon dioxide, and nutrients.
As the McLachlan lab has worked with the instructors of the General Biology B lab, we have focused on a number of questions to determine how to create an inquiry-based course. How can lab courses be more authentic to the true scientific process? How can lab courses allow undergraduates to contribute to and benefit from current research being done on campus? And how well do lab courses prepare students to ask their own research questions?
We implemented a pre- and post-survey for students in the lab course to assess the current state of the course, gauge the interests and science careers goals of the students, and evaluate the overall confidence in lab skills and the scientific process. We received 220 responses to the pre-survey. When asked about general confidence in lab and research skills, females were on average 14 % less confident in all skills than males. Students also ranked fieldwork as the ideal scientific approach they are interested in, however, ranked environmental (which arguably involves the most fieldwork) as a scientific application they are least interested in. At the conclusion of the course we will give the post-survey to assess if participation in the course influenced students understanding and future goals. The insights we gain from these pre- and post-surveys will then be used to further refine and develop the future general biology course.