"A very important movement in science education is the inclusion of inquiry-based experiments," says Cynthia Powell, instructor of chemistry and biochemistry. "Inquiry-based experiments require students to plan and execute their own experiments. And a lot of research has shown that this type of experiment helps students understand and learn material a lot more effectively."
The problem is, students coming into a laboratory very often don't have the supporting skills they need to plan a rigorous experiment. So this semester, we prepared podcasts that could be used as scaffolding tools or support tools for our students," she says. "This would allow students to access information on how to do a particular procedure, or to use a particular technique or type of equipment, and independently access the information they needed to plan their own experiment."
Powell and her teaching assistants monitored both the students who had access to the podcasts and the students who did not. The results were clear: Students who had access to the podcasts on their iPhones needed much less assistance from Powell or the TAs than the students who didn't have access to the podcasts.
"I loved how we used the iPhone in class," says Erin Boyd, sophomore biology major. She adds that Powell's podcasts "described the lab's procedure in detail and showed you what to expect before ever walking in the door. This allowed me to quickly move from simple questions like 'What is this piece of equipment called?' to more advanced questions about what was actually taking place."
"We feel like this is critical," Powell says. "As scientists, our students need to be learning how to collect and gather data on their own, and this is an important way that we can help our students on this path toward independence."