- This study examined the dynamics of student, teaching assistant (TA), and
faculty learning in relationship to implementation of a genetic technologies project in a
university introductory biology course. Research focused on the types of learning that
occurred and the various factors impacting that learning.
Study participants included 25 undergraduate non-science majors, five graduate
TAs, and two faculty, including the researcher participant. Qualitative methodologies
were employed to address the exploratory nature of the research questions, and
included a wide variety of data collection techniques. Variables related to learning were
identified and categorized to develop a hypothesis of learning in the studied course.
Students, TAs, and faculty demonstrated developing diverse and remarkably
similar cognitive outcomes, learning strategies, and changes within the affective domain.
Differences existed in the temporal displacement of learning, as well as breadth and
depth of skills and understandings. Similar internal and external factors also impacted
student, TA, and faculty learning. Interactions among the three subject groups were
frequent, related to common topics of interest and corrections of curricular inadequacies,
and were initiated by members of each group.
Emerging categories of data were developed into a hypothesis of learning which
incorporated (1) the combination of pre-existing subject and situational conditions with
(2) characteristics of innovation, and (3) the resulting learning community. Shifting what
was being learned and how it was being taught created opportunities for conflict and
uncertainty. Through resolution of these concerns, distinctions between course teachers
and learners became blurred. This study suggests that all participants, with their widely
varying backgrounds, interests, and abilities, contributed to development of the learning community when both content and instruction were being altered. Factors such as large
class size, lectures, and TA teaching appeared to add to the diversity of learning
contexts of the course and positively impacted the breadth of overall learning outcomes.
This study suggests that an incredible diversity of learning can occur in a small
subset of subjects over a brief period of time. This complexity of learning sounds a
cautionary note that innovation may not be effectively assessed through the measure of
a few discrete aspects of learning.