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Progress through a different approach

A considerable challenge in UG lab courses is supporting an environment in which students engage as research scientists instead of lab technicians. A key barrier to such engagement and interactions is the students often do not know each other in large introductory lab courses. As such when there is conversation it often lacks genuine well-intentioned critique. In this series of studies we examine factors to enhance collaboration in an effort to foster more productive lab group interactions.

Study 01 (2016-2017)

WSU’s BIOL107 course has been transformed from an individual “cookbook” approach to a course-based undergraduate research experience using the HHMI SEA-PHAGES laboratory. However, students continue to take a “technician” approach to labs, completing procedures without thinking deeply about their experiments or becoming invested in the scientific process. Central to these characteristics are the social aspects of science (in particular construction and critique of evidence based arguments). Numerous studies indicate a group bonus effect under cohesive conditions. This effect can be manipulated by increasing the environmental pressures acting between-groups relative to within-groups. Our goal is to improve student lab engagement, and ultimately success in science, by manipulating existing environmental pressures. The objective of this this initial study is to manipulate environmental pressures to increase lab cooperation


  • Premo. J., Cavagnetto A., and Davis, W. (2018). Promoting Collaborative Classrooms: The impacts of interdependent cooperative learning on undergraduate interactions and achievement. CBE-Life Science Education. Advanced online publication.
  • Premo, J., Cavagnetto, A., and Lamb, R. (2018). The Cooperative Classroom Environment Measure (CCEM): Refining a Measure that Assesses Factors Motivating Student Prosociality. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 16(4), 677-697. DOI:10.1007/s10763-017-9804-8
  • Premo, J., Lamb, R., and Cavagnetto, A. (2018). Conditional cooperators: Student prosocial dispositions and their perception of the classroom social environment. Learning Environments Research, 21(2), 229-244.
Study 02 (2018-2019)

To date our Study 1 results demonstrate that we can significantly increase student prosocial engagement with peers during learning. Yet our work has been less successful in promoting student engagement in argumentative discourse. We have seen positive shifts in the likelihood of students using evidence during discussion and they spend more time focusing on science content in group discussions, but they tend to lack a critical approach to evaluating peer ideas. Integrating collaborative writing with peer review into the prosocial modules will further advance the social aspects of science by a) allowing us to integrate a formal argument evaluation structure (via a review rubric) into the modules to support student critique, b) provide students with peer review opportunities that encourage critical evaluation as a microcosm of scientific peer review, and c) promote student feedback skills through a focus on student-student written discourse.


This project has just begun. We will update publications as the project develops.



WSU School of Molecular Biosciences


We thank the following sponsors for supporting this project:

College of Veterinary Medicine Education Research Grant
College of Education