Assessing Collaborative, Project-based Learning Models in Introductory Science Courses

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Kristin Huysken
Harold Olivey
Kevin McElmurry
Ming Gao
Peter Avis


Collaborative, project-based learning models have been shown to benefit student learning and engagement in the STEM disciplines. This case study evaluates the use of highly collaborative project- and problem-based learning models in introductory courses in the geosciences and biology. In the geosciences, we developed project-based modules with a strong local focus. Student teams worked on three project-based laboratories dealing with the local geology/geomorphology, water quality of a local stream, and local flooding issues. These replaced traditionally taught laboratories on topographic maps and rivers and streams. Student teams presented project results in lieu of taking a traditional laboratory practical. In biology, we designed a collaborative learning model that incorporated three problem-based learning modules into a first-semester introductory biology course. Students were assigned topics in evolution, cell biology and genetics to research independently during the course of the semester, with each module culminating in a brief presentation on the topic. Modules were designed to mirror concepts being covered in the lecture. Preliminary results suggest that student performance and attitudes towards course material benefitted from this learning model. The authors consider outcomes, benefits, and challenges to students and instructors.


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Huysken, K., Olivey, H., McElmurry, K., Gao, M., & Avis, P. (2019). Assessing Collaborative, Project-based Learning Models in Introductory Science Courses. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 19(1).