Northeastern (46th Annual) and North-Central (45th Annual) Joint Meeting (20–22 March 2011)

Paper No. 11
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM


HUYSKEN, Kristin T., Department of Geosciences, Indiana University Northwest, 3400 Broadway, Gary, IN 46408-1197, NELSON, Karl, Department of Psychology, Indiana University Northwest, 3400 N. Broadway, Gary, IN 46408-1197 and KILIBARDA, Zoran, Geosciences, Indiana University Northwest, 3400 Broadway, Gary, IN 46408,

Introductory geoscience laboratories provide opportunities for students to develop critical thinking skills in the sciences (e.g. skills in observation, hypothesis development and testing, data collection) beyond what most introductory lecture-based geosciences courses can provide. Controversy exists, however, whether providing discovery based and hands-on learning opportunities in a laboratory environment necessarily translate to deeper understanding of scientific concepts and critical scientific thinking. A three year study assessed the effect of introductory geoscience laboratories on student performance by comparing classroom data from students who completed a laboratory in conjunction with an introductory-level lecture-based geosciences course, to those who enrolled in the lecture course only. Failure rates and student performance in the lecture course indicated that the laboratories played a significant role in student performance, and had particularly large impact on the performance of non-traditional students (defined here as 25 and older). Failure rates of laboratory-enrolled students were dramatically lower than those of lecture only students, 3.4% compared to 10.5%, respectively. Among students earning passing grades, laboratory-enrolled students performed better in the lecture course. Even after controlling for GPA, laboratory enrollment accounted for a statistically significant proportion of the variance. Non-traditional students benefitted most from laboratory enrollment. They performed well above the course mean (z-score Mean value = .42), and outperformed laboratory-enrolled traditional students (z-score Mean value = .21). Conversely, non-traditional students who were not enrolled in a laboratory were the lowest performing group (z-score Mean value = -.29 compared with -.01 for lecture-only traditional students). Current research focuses on understanding reasons for the larger impact of the geosciences laboratory on non-traditional students.