A dual case study : students' perceptions, self-efficacy, and understanding of the nature of science in varied introductory biology laboratories.
Since World War II, science education has been at the forefront of curricular reforms. Although the philosophical approach to science education has changed numerous times, the importance of the laboratory has not waned. A laboratory is meant to allow students to encounter scientific concepts in a very real, hands-on way so that they are able to either recreate experiments that have given rise to scientific theories or to use science to understand a new idea. As the interactive portion of science courses, the laboratory should not only reinforce conceptual ideas, but help students to understand the process of science and interest them in learning more about science. However, most laboratories have fallen into a safe pattern having teachers and students follow a scientific recipe, removing the understanding of and interest in science for many participants. In this study, two non-traditional laboratories are evaluated and compared with a traditional laboratory in an effort to measure student satisfaction, self-efficacy, attitudes towards science, and finally their epistemology of the nature of science (NOS). Students in all populations were administered a survey at the beginning and the end of their spring 2016 laboratory, and the survey was a mixture of qualitative questions and quantitative instruments. Overall, students who participated in one of the non-traditional labs rated their satisfaction higher and used affirming supportive statements. They also had significant increases in self-efficacy from pre to post, while the students in the traditional laboratory had a significant decrease. The students in the traditional laboratory had significant changed in attitudes towards science, as did the students in one of the non-traditional laboratories. All students lacked a firm grasp of the tenets of NOS, although one laboratory that includes explicit discussions of NOS saw improvement in at least on tenet. Data for two non-major biology laboratory populations was collected, but only qualitative analysis was conducted as their participation was very low. Unfortunately, no direct comparisons could be made between biology majors and non-majors.