Inquiry-based learning strategies and student interest

Project No.
PI Name
Mary Beck
Valencia College


Abstract 1

Inquiry-based learning strategies and student interest

Presentation Type
Mary Beck Valencia College


This TUES I project focuses on student situational and sustained interest in introductory geoscience courses at an urban, minority-serving 2-year college. As approximately half of the undergraduates enrolled in 4-year colleges have completed their first 2 years at 2-year colleges, it is important to engage students (and potential majors) at 2-year colleges in the geosciences.


This project seeks to understand 1) which course activities engage studentsメ situational interest (situated in the activity) and 2) how situational interest may relate to a sustained interest in geoscience.


The project is designed around two courses for non-majors; a laboratory physical geology course (GLY 2010C) and a field-based course (GLY 2930). In GLY 2930, students participated in a variety of inquiry activities representing structured to authentic inquiry, based on the level of inquiry rubric of Buck, Bretz, and Towns (2008). In GLY 2930, a summer field research course, students conducted authentic inquiry following a REU model. The summer research experience utilized and built on the skills developed in GLY 2010C.

Students in GLY 2010C were surveyed over 3 semesters: Spring 2014 (14 students), Fall 2014 (13 students), and Spring 2015 (15 students). In order to measure studentsメ situational interest, the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) was used to provide real-time assessment of studentsメ experiences. Students completed electronic surveys throughout the semester while participating in a variety of activities. The advantage of using ESM is that student reactions to experiences are sampled as they are happening. Assessment of sustained interest involved several methods. Students in GLY 2010C completed pre- and post-course surveys on personal and sustained interest, participated in an end-of-semester interest focus group, and could opt to participate in a course Facebook page during and after the course ended. Participation of students in the summer field course (GLY 2930) also provided and additional measure of sustained interest.


3 students participated in Summer 2014 and 7 students in Summer 2015. In Fall 2015, 4 students from the Summer 2015 field course presented posters of their research projects on campus and several are planning to present at the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference in spring of 2016.

At present, the project is near completion. The PI is presently working with survey data and processing these results.

Broader Impacts

Results of this study should provide information about what types of inquiry activities are successfully engaging student interest in the 2-year college geoscience classroom. By choosing engaging strategies student interest in geoscience and enrollment of geoscience majors should increase. Scholarly outcomes will be presented at geoscience conferences and a workshop resulting from this project (summer 2016) will provide an opportunity to share these strategies with other 2-year college geoscience faculty.

Papers/presentations from this project will focus on: 1) an evaluation of the impact of different geoscience activities on student interest and engagement and how this can affect studentsメ sustained interest in geoscience, 2) a valid, reliable ESM survey that can be used to assess interest, and 3) presentation of strategies for providing students with authentic research experiences through a field course.

Unexpected Challenges

Delay in original funding approval, problems with equipment and technology failures - changed timeline, extended grant period.
Small enrollment numbers meant that pilot of surveys had too few responses for reliability. Waited and completed statistics on all 3 semesters instead of 1.


Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 46, no. 6, p. 600.