Scaffolding First Year Biology Undergraduates in a Problem Solving Approach for Designing Experiments in Molecular Biology: An Explorative Design Based Study
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The process of designing experiments is central in (life) science research, though rarely taught to undergraduate science students explicitly in educational practice. This explorative study aimed to learn about the characteristics and opportunities of an innovative educational approach to guide first year biology undergraduates in designing experiments in molecular biology. We focused on the process of designing an experimental work plan and choosing adequate techniques to a given experimental method. The approach employs general problem solving strategies ' which are intuitive in nature ' to domain specific knowledge about molecular biology techniques to scaffold students in designing experiments. We adopted a design based research approach for developing an extra- curricular lesson for first year biology undergraduates in designing experiments in expression cloning technology. The lesson was put into practice in a small scale exploratory study with six first year biology undergraduates (four males and two females, average age 19) and combined with a pre- post- test construction and semi-structured interviews. Results showed that the lesson can scaffold students in adopting a self-directed design approach based on general problem solving strategies. The presented approach can make students more aware of the ' why' and ' how' of steps in an experiment and to reason about the applicability of molecular biology techniques. These are considered relevant understandings for a scientist to prepare and conduct experiments efficiently, to trace errors and to analyse results critically. Therefore, it is recommended that already at the start of undergraduate science programs explicit attention should be paid to the skill of designing experiments.