Maya Patel. “Learning through undergraduate research: Practice of inquiry and understandings about nature of science and nature of scientific inquiry.” Association for Research in Science Teaching Annual International Conference. Indianapolis, IN. Spring 2012.
This paper describes an investigation of student learning through participation in summer, undergraduate research experiences in biotechnology and genomics. We describe: 1) interns’ laboratory research projects, 2) intern-mentor transactions and 3) relationships between the above, practice of inquiry, and understandings about nature of science (NOS) and nature of scientific inquiry (NOSI). We employed a mixed-methods approach: pre-post assessment of gains, and exploratory investigation of the laboratory research situation. We found that multifaceted, molecular-genetics research projects (both observational and hypothesis-driven investigations) and tool development (a type of non-investigation) provided multiple opportunities to practice more advanced aspects of inquiry (e.g. design, evaluating evidence, revising assumptions and hypotheses, and constructing arguments) in this setting. We found that interns in mentor-centric transactions, those most highly prescribed, generally achieved lower program inquiry scores than interns in balanced and intern-centric situations. Interns engaged in more indeterminate projects, where methods were less prescribed and outcomes less predictable, generally made greater gains in understandings about NOSI. Gains in understandings about NOS showed no relationship with project or transaction type. In some cases, gains in NOS were linked to critical incidents that occurred during the research, particularly the discovery of anomalies and the interpretation of non-numerical data.