Excerpts from an article in JCST(March/April 2000)

Ethel D. Stanley, Director BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium
Margaret A. Waterman, Assistant Professor of Biology,
Southeast Missouri State University

LifeLines OnLine: Curriculum and
Teaching Strategies for Adult Learners

"The task of addressing the science literacy issue with curricular reform rests largely on the shoulders of two-year college faculty members since, according to American Association of Community College projections (1998), the typical undergraduate taking biology within 5 years will be over the age of 25, working, and enrolled in a two year college. These instructors must locate, adapt, and implement curricular resources and teaching strategies that present biology in meaningful contexts, develop problem-solving skills, and are pedagogically consistent with adult learning strategies.

A first step towards developing resources that engage the two-year college undergraduate is to make more use of pedagogical strategies that recognize and build upon the prior experience, knowledge, and practical learning strengths of adult students. Adult students assign value to and put their effort into tasks that they see as relevant to situations they are likely to face in their own lives (Knowles 1984; Ertmer and Dillon 1998, p. 611).

Efforts to develop appropriate pedagogies for adult learners within the sciences provide instructors with a choice of science teaching methodologies. For example, collaborative learning is considered "a useful addition to the repertoire of teaching methods used in two-year colleges" since it "helps prepare students for workplaces that increasingly value self-motivated, self-confident, team-oriented employees" (Cooke 1994). Another example is the use of narratives of realistic problems or "cases." A recent essay in JCST's case study column (Herreid 1999) makes the case for the power of such stories in science learning.

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a variation of case study specifically designed for collaborative small groups. Finkle and Torp (1995) define PBL as:

"a curriculum development and instructional system that simultaneously develops both problem-solving strategies and disciplinary knowledge bases and skills by placing students in the active role of problem solvers confronted with an ill-structured problem that mirrors real-world problems."

These "ill-structured problems" or cases have multiple solutions. Resolution of a problem requires students to navigate through multiple resources, develop supportable problem solving strategies, and present their conclusions meaningfully to others. Research by Stepien and Gallagher(1993) shows that PBL enhances self-directed learning and helps students transfer concepts to new problems.

A second step toward addressing science literacy is to introduce and integrate investigative biology methodologies for everyday problem exploration and resolution. Students may benefit by being introduced to scientific investigation while exploring problems they have identified. If students see that these investigative experiences extend their ability to make sense of the science-related problems they face each and every day, they are more likely to value and use investigative skills throughout their lives. By linking investigation with PBL case analysis, students learn biology and scientific practice while exploring realistic and familiar contexts (the PBL case)."

"To address these curricular and pedagogical challenges, we are collaborating with two-year college faculty to further develop and field test problem-based, prototype curriculum materials called LifeLines OnLine.

The teaching strategies for LifeLines OnLine are a variant of problem based learning (Barrows and Tamblyn, 1980) called Investigative Case-Based Learning (ICBL) (Waterman, 1998, Waterman and Stanley, 1998). Like many variants of PBL, this is a method of teaching that gives students opportunities to direct their own learning as they explore the science underlying realistically complex situations. Students work collaboratively to identify issues, to frame questions of interest to them, and then to identify additional information in answer to their questions.

ICBL strategies encourage students to go further into extended investigation. Students work to develop questions and reasonable investigative approaches, gather data and information testing their hypotheses, and work to persuade others of their findings. Students use a variety of resources, including traditional laboratory and field techniques, software simulations and models, data sets, internet-based tools and information retrieval methods. Students develop problem solving strategies for lifelong learning in the context of investigating biological problems that they find meaningful.

LifeLines OnLine materials integrate information technology with investigative case-based learning (ICBL) pedagogies. The initial interface encountered by students is an electronic newspaper. In LifeLines OnLine, resource materials are packaged for students to use as they investigate the science behind the news. As students read the newspaper, several items will have hyperlinks such as a note on plunging corn futures on the stock market page, an editorial cartoon on ineffective corn pesticide use, or a classified ad for a farm for sale. Students click on hyperlinks to get to the resources such as interviews, data, and web sites related to the corn futures story, the cartoon, and the farm sale."

Return to LifeLines OnLine Publications Page