Steps in the Right Direction: A Quasi-experimental Comparison of an Inquiry-Based and a Traditional First-Year Laboratory

Victoria S. Fringer, Elijah R. Farley, Kimberly Mandery, Michael Badger, Charlee Johnson, Katarina Hanson, Madeline Zamzow, Zoe Armstrong, Lauren Lebourgeois, Tracy Bibelnieks, Jacob W. Wainman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Inquiry-based laboratories were implemented into a General Chemistry Laboratory sequence, and the impact of these exercises on students"experimental design skills was assessed using a four-part assessment developed for this study. This assessment contained a multiple-choice section, a section asking students to explain their reasoning behind a subset of the multiple-choice answers, an adapted form of the Experimental Design Ability Test, and a section asking about students' perceptions of themselves. For two years, pretests were administered before the students"first lab exercise, and post-tests were administered at the end of the year of General Chemistry Lab for cohorts of students enrolled in a Revised course and cohorts of students in an unchanged (Traditional) course. Overall, students in both the Traditional and Revised curricula experienced gains in learning outcomes as measured by comparing pre- and post-test scores on the first three sections of the assessment. Importantly, these gains were slightly higher for the Revised cohort on the multiple-choice section in Year 2 of the study. The quality of explanations on the second section of the assessment was also higher for the Revised cohort compared to students in the Traditional course. No significant differences were observed in average Experimental Design Ability Test performance. Student perceptions of confidence in their experimental design ability and their ability to conduct experiments were slightly higher for students who had completed the Revised course when compared to the Traditional course. In total, these modest improvements to students' experimental design abilities reflect a positive trend that supports implementation of inquiry-based laboratory instruction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3923-3931
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Chemical Education
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 13 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the Swenson Family Foundation, TeachingSupport@UMN, and the University of Minnesota Duluth Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program for providing financial support for the several undergraduate research assistants who coauthored this publication (Farley, Badger, Johnson, Hanson, Zamzow, Armstrong, LeBougeois). We would also like to thank the University of Minnesota Duluth Chancellor’s Small Grant for supporting this project.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Chemical Society. All rights reserved.


  • First-Year Undergraduate/General
  • Inquiry-Based/Discovery Learning
  • Laboratory Instruction
  • Student-Centered Learning


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