TIMMERMAN, Briana; STRICKLAND, Denise; CARSTENSEN, Sue; SINGER, Jonathan; WOODIN, Sarah; all authors: University of South Carolina: Students' prior knowledge and the effectiveness of an innovative new curriculum

A significant research base demonstrates that inquiry-based teaching strategies provide a greater depth of learning and greater retention of knowledge compared to more traditional, teacher-centered methods. Half of the lab curriculum for a college introductory biology course for majors was revised using an inquiry-based approach and compared to the remaining traditional, teacher-centered curriculum units. Both the inquiry and traditional portions of the course showed notable gains in content achievement as measured by pre-post tests (topic effect sizes 0.6 to 2.67, n= 332 to 394 students per semester for 3 semesters), but larger gains were associated with the more teacher-centered curriculum. Analysis of open-ended written responses of student-reported conceptual change suggested that inquiry-based topics (evolution and biodiversity), as taught in our course, are more abstract concepts requiring greater formal reasoning ability, and more emotionally charged, socially laden and substantial than the descriptive, concrete topics of anatomy and physiology that remained in the traditional curriculum. Namely, our data suggest that learning in topic areas such as evolution demands a curriculum that provides students with an opportunity to confront their prior ideas before meaningful learning can take place. Further, inquiry-based curriculum topics with few prior conceptions (e.g. primary literature, the role of peer review in scientific process), had the greatest effect sizes (3.3 to 5.8). Additionally, the strongest student-reported examples of meaningful learning occurred only in the inquiry-based curriculum units.