Teaching methods that are often recommended to improve the learning environment in college science courses include cooperative learning, adding inquiry-based activities to traditional lectures, and engaging students in projects or investigations. Two questions often surround these efforts: 1) can these methods be used in large classes; and 2) how do we know that they are increasing student learning? At the University of Massachusetts, we have transformed the environment of a large-enrollment oceanography course (600 students) by modifying lectures to include cooperative learning via interactive in-class exercises and directed discussion. Assessments were redesigned as “two-stage” exams with a significant collaborative component. Results of student surveys, course evaluations, and exam performance demonstrate that learning of the subject under these conditions has improved. Student achievement shows measurable and statistically significant increases in information recall, analytical skills, and quantitative reasoning. There is evidence from both student surveys and student interview comments that for the majority of students, the course increased their interest in science — a difficult effect to achieve with this population.
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