Guzman and Bartlett base course on critical thinking skills

November 2, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Buies Creek, N.C.—When students hear the phrase “biological research,” most likely visions of lab work and field studies come to mind. But, according to Drs. Karen Guzman and John Bartlett, anyone who has done research realizes it is so much more than collecting specimens and looking at them under a microscope. Therefore, they insist that the research required in their Introduction to Biology course at Campbell University run the gamut of critical thinking skills—from collecting and analyzing data to synthesizing and forming a hypothesis. The course has produced such good student outcomes that the professors were recently tapped to present their methodology at a workshop sponsored by the National Association of Biology Teachers, Oct. 17, in Memphis, Tenn.

By teaching the process of biological research, as well as critical thinking skills, students become their own scientific investigators and must develop their own conclusions,  the professors said. The course requires them to select a research topic which then becomes a “theme” for the semester’s work. They choose the topic from the literature, gather background information, select and analyze several primary research sources and then complete the semester by presenting their research in a poster format to their peers and the science faculty.

“This mock scientific presentation allows the student to demonstrate the depth of knowledge and understanding they have gained through the process,” said Guzman. “Although students are often wary of the presentation beforehand, they typically feel a deep sense of accomplishment afterwards, thus reinforcing for them what can be learned through the scientific process.”

The course curriculum covers the major aspects of scientific research, including the scientific method, developing a hypothesis and a research project, statistical analysis, how to approach ethical issues and how to present scientific data. Establishing this basic foundation for research gives students a platform to build upon in subsequent work, Bartlett added.

“Introduction to Biological Research is a “hands-on” learning environment,” he said. “According to studies, students remember 70-90 percent of what they demonstrate or teach in class and only 10-20 percent of what they read or hear during lectures, that’s why our poster presentations maximize student learning and leave our students with a tremendous sense of discovery.”

The professors also believe this model could even be modified for upper high school level students.

Dr. Karen Guzman is an associate professor of Biological Sciences and Advisor to the Walker Biology Club at Campbell. She also serves as Executive Director of CANCAS (Collegiate Academy of the North Carolina Academy of Science). She received a Ph.D. in biochemistry from North Carolina State University. Dr. John Bartlett is an assistant professor of Biological Sciences. He received a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from the University of Maine.

Guzman’s research interests are in the area of cell differentiation and cell-specific gene expression. Bartlett is interested in satellite imagery of landcover changes related to human activities and the effect of these changes on bird species abundance.