Western Washington University Assistant Professor of Chemistry Marc Muniz has received a 4-year, $532,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to research ways to improve student learning outcomes in the chemistry laboratory.
“The overwhelming body of evidence shows that the way students learn is a huge factor in what they walk away from the classroom with,” said Muniz, who has taught at Western since 2015. “And active learning – the process of a student finding out the answer to a problem themselves instead of being told the answer and simply asked to memorize it because it might be on a test – greatly increases outcomes and overall learning.”
Muniz’s research will focus on two main questions: How do students in his physical chemistry labs learn, and what is the nature of the teaching community that is trying to relay this information to them?
“We are going to use a process called POGIL PCL – Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning, Physical Chemistry Lab,” he said. “In a nutshell, it revolves around posing a question that students have to work together to figure out an answer to, and the instructors work as facilitators to help the group solve the problem. This is the heart of what inquiry-based learning is all about, as opposed to a traditional lecture.”
Muniz and his fellow researchers will work to discover how these students perceive the active learning environment, and if they feel it is a better way to learn; how much information is retained in the POGIL environment as opposed to a traditional lecture environment; how the faculty view the active learning experience; survey students before and after their POGIL experiences to gather information and data; and present problems and experiments to the students to see if they have a richer understanding of what they learned and if the active-learning environment changed how they approached solving the problems.
“This is about outcomes,” Muniz said. “How can we change what students leave our classes with?”
The $532,000 will be used over four years to support undergraduate researchers, graduate students and one post-doctorate researcher who will all work with Muniz on the collection and analysis of data from the POGIL environment both at Western and in partner institutions who will also be running POGIL labs and sharing their data.
“We’ll have two other institutions working with us the first year, then four in year two and eight in year three, with the fourth year being used to collect and analyze all that data,” he said. “It’s going to be a pretty large undertaking.”
For more information on Muniz’s work in active learning and his new NSF grant, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.