The Impact of Inquiry Orientation and Other Elements of Cultural Framework on Student Engagement in First Year Laboratory Programs

Michael Braun, Les Kirkup, Scott Chadwick


Inquiry oriented approaches to learning have gradually entered science laboratory programs, aiming to deliver an authentic experience of doing science, enhance student engagement with the material, and bring greater emphasis on generic skills underpinning graduate attributes. Although such approaches have demonstrated pedagogical advantages and improved student engagement, it is not clear how the advantages should be weighted against other elements of what may be regarded as the laboratory program’s cultural framework.
We analysed two large-enrolment introductory tertiary programs: physics and chemistry at the University of Technology Sydney. The programs differed in the level of inquiry orientation but also in approaches to design, logistics and relevancy. We found that, based on student survey responses and academic performance, the putative advantages of a deeper inquiry orientation in the physics laboratory were insufficient to compensate for the apparent advantages arising from the other elements of the cultural framework in the chemistry laboratory.

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