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Whole-Scientist Education in an Authentic-Inquiry Laboratory Course

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Presented by:

Erica Light, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Key Statement:

Student choice in research topic in an upper-level life-science laboratory course was connected to holistic learning outcomes including cognitive, affective, social, and identity development.


Laboratory education, Student empowerment, Real-world problems


To facilitate the success of students historically underrepresented in STEM, literature on inclusive education emphasizes the importance of research experiences, collaborative environments, societal relevance, and meaningful student choices. Students and faculty integrated these instructional methods in co-designing and implementing the Discovery Laboratory in Biomedicine course, a required course for biosystems-track students in the Integrated Concentration in Science Program at UMass. In this authentic inquiry course, multidisciplinary teams of students design and pilot a study to address a societal problem of their choice. During summative qualitative interviews students reported on holistic learning gains including cognitive, affective, social, and identity development.

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Whole-Scientist Education in an Authentic-Inquiry Laboratory Course Erica Light, University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Hello, Listeners. My name is Erica Light, and I am excited to present the results of a pilot study entitled
Whole-Scientist Education in an Authentic-Inquiry Laboratory Course.
This course seeks to put students in the driver’s seat of research. I designed this new course in partnership with undergraduates in the
Integrated Concentration in STEM and Business Program, a four-year student driven program at UMass
Amherst. In this course, students work in multidisciplinary teams to choose a research topic connected
to a societal problem, write a research question, design and execute a pilot study, disseminate their
findings outside the classroom, and reflect on their learning.
I am really interested in how students perceive the process and outcomes of student-driven learning. To
investigate learner outcomes and key course features, I conducted qualitative interviews with students
at the end of the semester. Interview transcripts were deidentified and thematically analyzed in NVivo. I
used a grounded theory approach to codebook development.
Learning outcomes fit what I call a whole-scientist framework, building off the whole-child and whole-
teacher frameworks of learning outcomes that consider the different dimensions of learner needs.
Students reported that multiple evidence-based teaching practices facilitated their learning and growth
in the course and that these teaching practices were effective because they were implemented
simultaneously. In the second iteration of this study I am including a control group, expanding the
qualitative interview, implementing pre- and post-course questionnaires with longitudinal follow-up,
and collecting demographic information to better assess how social identity may influence perceptions
of student-driven learning.


1- Describe experimental and hands-on teaching in computer architecture
2- Explain the benefits of hands-on learning for a complex topic such as computer architecture.
3- Assess student success and summarize student attitudes and outcomes related to concept-understanding, self-learning, retention and teamwork.

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