It\u27s Fun, But Is It Science? Goals and Strategies in a Problem-Based Learning Course


All students at Hampshire College must complete a science requirement in which they demonstrate their understanding of how science is done, examine the work of science in larger contexts, and communicate their ideas effectively. Human Biology: Selected Topics in Medicine is one of 18-20 freshman seminars designed to move students toward completing this requirement. Students work in cooperative groups of 4-6 people to solve actual medical cases about which they receive information progressively. Students assign themselves homework tasks to bring information back for group deliberation. The goal is for case teams to work cooperatively to develop a differential diagnosis and recommend treatment. Students write detailed individual final case reports. Changes observed in student work over six years of developing this course include: increased motivation to pursue work in depth, more effective participation on case teams, increase in critical examination of evidence, and more fully developed arguments in final written reports. As part of a larger study of eighteen introductory science courses in two institutions, several types of pre- and post-course assessments were used to evaluate how teaching approaches might have influenced students’ attitudes about science, their ability to learn science, and their understanding of how scientific knowledge is developed [1]. Preliminary results from interviews and Likert-scale measures suggest improvements in the development of some students’ views of epistemology and in the importance of cooperative group work in facilitating that development

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