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This paper examines the implementation of an approach to online simulations designed to engage students in reflection. Student evaluations of the course and this exercise suggest that the process was useful and stimulating, and their comments will be examined. In addition, personal observations on the advantages and difficulties of implementing a structured approach will be presented.
In 2000, Dr Kate Patrick of RMIT Education Program Improvement Group ran a project titled 'Generating Puzzlement: strategies for engaging with electronic simulations', funded through a CUTSD grant. The project objective was to equip staff with strategies for appraising and using simulations to enhance student learning. Laurillard's (1993) model of learning suggests that students' assumptions need to be challenged by the simulation, particularly the result, prompting them to engage in reflection and a reappraisal of their approach to the problem (Soper, 1997). However, simulations can be simply inserted into current practices, without exploring the deeper potential (Bain et al, 1998). The project was designed to develop the former while avoiding the latter.
This paper discusses the impact of the Generating Puzzlement approach within a genetics course.
There were two essential components to the process. First, the distillation of a 'key concept'. Simulations are often used without consideration of their implementation, but identifying the key concept is a means of focussing the activity. Therefore, rather than merely present a simulation, it was important to develop an activity which would use the simulation to explore the key ideas that the teacher had identified, and through surprising the student get them to reconsider their presumptions or understanding.
Secondly, students were expected to work in pairs, following a learning cycle, of making predictions, running a simulation and then reflecting on the results. In the workshops, two staff members would work through the planned activity, assessing it and the simulation and providing comments. This process of reflection and negotiation mirrored the students' approach.
However, rather than follow the manual, I created a series of experiments. The first focussed on simple Mendelian traits, and was primarily designed to allow the students to get used to the program. The next experiment involved a sex-linked and a lethal trait, and the final experiment involved a variety of inheritance patterns around eye-shapes.
The key concept was two staged - firstly an appreciation of the simple Mendelian pattern of dominant/recessive genes, followed by recognition that there are important variations (recessive wild type, for example). The puzzlement was involved in that second part, where crosses didn't follow the 'F1: wild type, F2: 3:1 wild:non-wild' pattern.
While tutorials were used to do some of the work, students were expected to undertake the breeding test in their own time as well, in groups of two or three. The group report was expected to outline not only the outcome of the matings and the explanation of the inheritance pattern, but also the logic behind their breeding sequence.
|Where did you mainly access|
|28% home||64% RMIT||33% home||67% RMIT|
|(How) did you mainly work?||32% alone||32% pair|
36% 3 or more
|50% alone||42% pair|
8% 3 or more
|Estimate how long you spent, outside of prac time, on FlyLab||Very varied - from less than an hour to 20. The mean would be around 10.||A broader range - up to 30-40 hours. Split evenly between less than 4 and 10 or more.|
|Working with FlyLab was||True (%)||False (%)||True (%)||False (%)|
The students were also asked whether they used the 'prediction/run simulation/interpretation' model and if it helped. In both years the majority (about 75%) said that they had used the model and found it useful. Comments beyond the simple 'yes' included:
Interestingly, an attempt to get participants to engage further through a discussion forum was unsuccessful - staff were willing to make comments at the meetings (into the forum, to create a permanent record and stimulate use), or when specifically required, but generally left it at that. This reflects our experience with student groups (Keens and Inglis, 2001) and represents an impediment to introducing these forums to the non-virtual campus.
The relatively low student response rate is an issue with online surveys, particularly where the subject does not have a laboratory time when students can be asked to complete the form. From observations of students in class and review of their reports, the survey probably over estimates the proportion of the class that used the model. However, those that had appeared to be able to explain their results more clearly.
The interaction of pair dynamics in this form of exercise deserves a closer investigation: relationships varied from teacher/pupil through equal members to disinterested observers of the other working away. However, in the two years only one student asked to do a separate report as the relationship with their two other partners had collapsed, and two students had difficulty due to their colleagues illness.
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|Author: Dr Jeremy S Keens, School of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Life Sciences, RMIT
Please cite as: Keens, J. S. (2002). Generating puzzlement in genetics. In S. McNamara and E. Stacey (Eds), Untangling the Web: Establishing Learning Links. Proceedings ASET Conference 2002. Melbourne, 7-10 July. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/2002/keens.html