PS 64-49
Creating an active learning environment for an ecology laboratory course

Thursday, August 13, 2015
Exhibit Hall, Baltimore Convention Center
Itiya Aneece, Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
Gail Hunger, University of Virginia
Howard E. Epstein, Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA

     We know learning happens by doing; so why do we spend the majority of class-time lecturing on what students have already reviewed instead of doing activities to reinforce those concepts?  Encouraging students to review material before class by “flipping the classroom” and using class-time for an active learning experience lead to higher levels of thinking and make students more engaged in their learning.  Learning through inquiry and problem-solving is especially effective in science as learners can personally apply and test concepts.  The authors applied a team-based redesign concept to an ecology laboratory course to establish a problem-based learning environment.  We redesigned multiple sections of an ecology lab by making material accessible online to increase class-time available for deeper-learning activities such as debates, large group and small group discussions, writing in groups, and peer reviewing.  During the following semester, we co-taught in an active learning space to further increase student-centered learning.  In this space, we facilitated such activities as visual hypothesis development in small groups and peer-teaching of data analysis software and statistics.  We used surveys to assess learning during the first semester and pre-and post-assessments during the following semester.


     Surveys after the first semester of redesign reveal that students were more satisfied with their learning experience and achieved higher levels of learning.  Across all sections for a total of 53 students, 91.7% of students agreed that they were engaged in lab and 93.8% agreed that they were encouraged to participate in lab.   Seventy-five percent of students agreed that the lab enhanced their learning experience that year, and 41.7% agreed and 43.7% somewhat agreed that they were more aware of how human action/ decisions can affect the environment after taking this lab.  The survey results also reveal which aspects of the class were most helpful for student learning (writing activities and Excel activities) and those that need to be improved (peer review activities and video quality).  The authors will also present results from pre- and post- assessments gauging learning in an active learning space as compared with a traditional laboratory setting.  Pre-assessment survey results indicate a mix of background knowledge on topics discussed in this lab.  These results shall be compared with post-assessment results to find how much knowledge was gained throughout the semester in the active learning space and the traditional lab setting.