Infusion of collaborative inquiry throughout a biology curriculum increases student learning: a four-year study of "Teams and Streams"

Adv Physiol Educ. 2004 Dec;28(1-4):199-209. doi: 10.1152/advan.00025.2004.


Are traditional laboratories in the core introductory biology courses teaching physiology majors the art and trade of science, or simply leaving them with a memory of trivial experiments done for unknown reasons? Our students, a population dominated by pre-med and physiology majors, think the latter and have encouraged us to challenge this model, and it turns out scientists and education researchers agree with our students (4, 31, 32). In an effort to remedy this, we began a long-term redesign of the introductory biology sequence to become what is now a sequence of inquiry laboratories we term "Teams and Streams" (TS). In these TS inquiry labs, student research teams pose a scientific question/hypothesis, propose an experimental design, perform multi-week investigations and then present their findings in various forms (web, interviews, and papers). The response to this classroom laboratory design has been overwhelmingly positive. In a qualitative study of student opinion (where 260 student responses were studied), surveys conducted at the end of semesters where traditional scripted labs were used (n = 70 comments) had predominantly negative opinions (80% negative responses), whereas the reverse was true for students (n = 190 comments) who participated in courses using the TS inquiry labs (78% positive responses). In a quantitative assessment of content knowledge, students who participated in new TS inquiry labs (n = 245) outscored their peers in traditional labs (n = 86) on Medical College Admission Test-style standardized exams (59.3 +/- 0.8% vs. 48.9 +/- 1.3%, respectively; P < 0.0001). We believe these quantitative data support the qualitative findings and suggest the TS inquiry lab approach increases student learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biology / education*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Curriculum*
  • Data Collection
  • Educational Measurement
  • Humans
  • Models, Educational*
  • Physiology / education*