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Hands across the divide : finding spaces for student-centered pedagogy in the undergraduate science classroom Spier-Dance, Lesley

Abstract

This study explored college science students’ and instructors’ experiences with student-generated and performed analogies. The objectives of the study were to determine whether the use of student-generated analogies could provide students with opportunities to develop robust understanding of difficult science concepts, and to examine students’ and instructors’ perspectives on the utilization of these analogies. To address my objectives, I carried out a case study at a university-college in British Columbia. I examined the use of analogies in undergraduate biology and chemistry courses. Working with three instructors, I explored the use of student-generated analogies in five courses. I carried out in-depth analyses for one biology case and one chemistry case. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews, classroom observations, researcher journal logs and students’ responses to assessment questions. My findings suggest that involvement in the analogy exercise was associated with gains in students’ conceptual understanding. Lower-achieving students who participated in the analogy activity exhibited significant gains in understanding of the science concept, but were unable to transfer their knowledge to novel situations. Higher-achieving students who participated in the activity were better able to transfer their knowledge of the analogy-related science topic to novel situations. This research revealed that students exhibited improved understanding when their analogies clearly represented important features of the target science concept. Students actively involved in the analogy activity exhibited gains in conceptual understanding. They perceived that embodied performative aspects of the activity promoted engagement, which motivated their learning. Participation in the analogy activity led to enhanced social interaction and a heightened sense of community within the classroom. The combination of social and performative elements provided motivational learning experiences valued by students and instructors. Instructors also valued the activity because of insights into students’ understanding that were revealed. This research provides an example of how a student-centered, embodied learning approach can be brought into the undergraduate science classroom. This is valuable because, if instructors are to change from a transmission mode of instruction to more student-centered approaches, they must re-examine and re-construct their practices. An important step in this process is provision of evidence that change is warranted and fruitful.

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