Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Science as Inquiry Critique 2008

jrlewis's picture

The Science as Interactive, Interdisciplinary Inquiry Institute went very well. There was a diverse group of presenters including a Bryn Mawr College English professor, a current institute participant, and three Bryn Mawr College Biology professors.  The topics discussed varied from obviously relevant to those requiring more reflection.  This permitted participants to connect the concepts of interactivity, interdisciplinarity, and inquiry.  All of the presentations were engaging, interesting, and relevant.  The participants made excellent use of this material and produced an impressive body of work.  (Much of which is available on Serendip.) 

The execution of the Institute was very consistent with the pedagogical approaches it advocated.  Brodfuher and Franklin aided the participants in uncovering and exploring the concept of inquiry.  They allowed participants to meaningfully engage with the material through digressions, experimentation, and reflection.  For example, two participants, inspired by Franklin’s demonstration of paper making, attempted to see if the fibers in grass would produce adequate paper.  They chose to document their efforts with Flip Cameras, a tool that was also introduced at the Institute.  The open-ended nature of the participants days at the institute gave them the opportunity to practice self directed learning.  This approach is especially appropriate to the mature participants or students at the Institute. 

There are several areas of the institute that might be improved in the future.  The Horizon’s Fellowship interns could be utilized more effectively.  If the interns had been introduced to the flash cameras and allowed to familiarize themselves with the technology prior to the institute, they could have helped deal with the numerous technological difficulties that arose.  Then there would have been twice as many people in the room trained to help the participants.  This arrangement would have freed Brodfuher and Franklin to answer more interesting concerns and questions by the participants.  It also would have decreased the anxiety felt by the participants with respect to producing videos for their final project. 

The professors conducting the Institute could consider restructuring the program to prevent the participants from obsessing about their final project.  This focus by the participants prevented them from taking full advantage of material and presentations given in the second week.  Perhaps introducing or providing instructions for the project could have occurred later. 

Another source of anxiety relating to the final project was the due date or time.  The participants were not clear about exactly when they were expected to have their project completed.  Some procrastinated and spent a significant amount of time working at home the night before.  Others worked continuously for a days on overambitious projects at the expense of engaging with alternative institute materials.  This situation might have been ameliorated or avoided by a clear statement in the institute schedule and by Brodfuher and Franklin of designated times for work on the projects and due dates.  To be fair, there were external circumstances that made it difficult for the institute to adhere to the schedule.  There was a fire alarm in the second week that resulted in the loss of an hour.