Comparison of Service Learning and Research Projects in an Introductory Biology Class

Student Classification


Faculty Mentor

Kelsie Bernot



Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2019


Kolb's experiential learning framework states that students cycle continuously through four stages: concrete experiences, reflective observations, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. As students develop a broader understanding of these concepts, they are unable to recognize these experiences outside of the classroom. To further understand this, we added an inquiry-based service-learning activity to an honors introductory biology class. We used Kolb's framework by exposing students to community experiences, reflective observations, hypothesis creation, and future active experimentation. Students chose one of the three Service Learning (SL) organizations, cancer organization, Red Cross, or community garden and completed service- and related-learning activities. These activities were designed to clarify how the students recognized and made connections from the classroom to the community. Some students had an alternative route and were asked to complete an inquiry-based research project (RP). These projects were designed to qualitatively and quantitatively study osmosis / diffusion in potatoes or antibiotic resistance in soil. Both the SL and RP projects were created to increase the students experience by motivating them to learn biology, to gain scientific literacy skills, to make connections from their projects to the work they do in the classroom, and to deeply understand the courses learning outcomes. 11 sections through 7 semesters were analyzed with 287 students. 136 students from the SL project and 151 students from the RP project participated in the research. The students were asked to take pre-/post tests that were compared between the SL and RP sections. These tests described the motivation a student had in learning biology We compared students in SL and RP sections in their recognition of using biology in their everyday lives, by asking open-ended response questions on the Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG) survey. Codes for open-ended responses were developed by a combination of empirical analysis and published literature. The coding process was done by two individuals with integrated reliability of 0.68. Both the SL and RP sections were able to grasp the scientific communication through the projects whether it was designing a poster or writing a research paper. The SL group showed a higher rate in making connections between the work they did in the classroom and their service learning activity. Both sections were able to develop basic scientific skills through scientific literacy. Recommendations for future modifications of our SL and RP models will be discussed.

This document is currently not available here.