Coming Out in Class: Challenges and Benefits of Active Learning in a Biology Classroom for LGBTQIA Students

CBE Life Sci Educ. Fall 2016;15(3):ar37. doi: 10.1187/cbe.16-01-0074.


As we transition our undergraduate biology classrooms from traditional lectures to active learning, the dynamics among students become more important. These dynamics can be influenced by student social identities. One social identity that has been unexamined in the context of undergraduate biology is the spectrum of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA) identities. In this exploratory interview study, we probed the experiences and perceptions of seven students who identify as part of the LGBTQIA community. We found that students do not always experience the undergraduate biology classroom to be a welcoming or accepting place for their identities. In contrast to traditional lectures, active-learning classes increase the relevance of their LGBTQIA identities due to the increased interactions among students during group work. Finally, working with other students in active-learning classrooms can present challenges and opportunities for students considering their LGBTQIA identity. These findings indicate that these students' LGBTQIA identities are affecting their experience in the classroom and that there may be specific instructional practices that can mitigate some of the possible obstacles. We hope that this work can stimulate discussions about how to broadly make our active-learning biology classes more inclusive of this specific population of students.

MeSH terms

  • Biology / education*
  • Cognition
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Problem-Based Learning*
  • Social Identification
  • Students*
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Transgender Persons*
  • Universities*