Improving the Design of Undergraduate Biology Courses toward the Goal of Retention: The Case of Real-World Inquiry and Active Learning through Metagenomics

Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education / April 2020

Retention in science is low in undergraduate populations, especially for under-represented minority (URM) and first generation (FG) college students. Thus, educators have been called upon to design curricula to counteract this trend. This study examined variables most likely to lead to retention, such as increased achievement, improved attitudes, and self-efficacy beliefs, through participation in active learning and real-world research experiences in an introductory biology course. The research experience was embedded in metagenomics content and processes that have increasingly gained focus in microbiology. This study also investigated differences in learning outcomes when the curriculum was infused with more active learning. The active learning components included integrating interactive technology into the pre-lab lectures, providing students with authentic protocols to conduct lab work, and allowing students to rerun problematic samples. Results showed increased achievement for URM/FG students, although this was not strongly tied to the active learning elements incorporated into the three-week metagenomics research experience. However, students participating in research with more active learning did report higher frequencies of engaging in mastery experiences (an important source of self-efficacy) when compared with students engaged in research with less active learning. This analysis can aid in identifying specific curricular design features associated with promoting retention in undergraduate biology and science programs in general.