Engaging students in the scientific process: A case study of inquiry within five introductory geology courses

Monday 1:45pm Tate 101


Meryssa Piper, University of South Carolina-Columbia
Katherine Ryker, University of South Carolina-Columbia
Kelsey Bitting, Elon University
Rachel Teasdale, California State University-Chico
Introductory geology courses provide crucial opportunities to learn how to apply scientific information and practices, and help recruit students to the major. As such, high quality instruction is important, regardless of teaching modality (online, in-person, or hybrid). Inquiry-based activities can increase student knowledge and interest (Areepattamannil, 2012) thus should be considered when reforming instruction. This study assesses the level of inquiry within introductory geology labs at five US institutions, covering a range of topics in different modalities. Inquiry levels were determined using a rubric adapted from Buck et al. (2008) and Ryker and McConnell (2017) which is based on the amount of the scientific method students are given autonomy over, ranging from confirmation (no student inquiry), to structured, guided, open, and authentic (all student inquiry). Examination of fall 2020 and spring 2021 labs (n=86, 85) and their activities (n=319, 338) indicates that instructor-made activities contain a higher proportion of inquiry than previously examined published labs. In both semesters, 20% of labs contained confirmation activities, though only two relied entirely on confirmation. Small shifts were observed in the percentage of activities from fall to spring at the confirmation (85% vs. 89%, respectively), structured (41% vs. 45%) and open (13% vs 14%) levels. The most common ways students engage in inquiry-based activities are discovering conclusions for themselves (85% of activities) and determining how results should be analyzed (70%). Additional analyses of inquiry by teaching modality (online vs. in-person) will be presented using data from fall 2021 and spring 2022. Understanding inquiry levels within introductory geology lab activities from fall 2020 to spring 2022 clarifies how teaching modality and transition between modalities impacted instruction.