Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Junior Lab Brainstorming Exercise: Good science

Last year (August 2010) and this year (August 2011), I have led a brainstorming exercise in Junior Lab lecture. I believe Katie Richardson (aka Karma) may have had the idea for this exercise when she was TA last year. The exercise has two main goals:

  • Learn something about what makes "good" science
  • Get used to talking and contributing to class discussions
As you can see from the links to the brainstorming pages (above), these goals are clearly stated to the students, and they seem to embrace them.  The students quickly formed groups and there was a lot of discussion.  The students texted or emailed their brainstorming results to me, and I collected the data on the page.  Then there was about 10-15 minutes for students to volunteer to nominate items as most important.  The students also gave pitches in support of their favorite items.  Following this, there were two rounds of voting, with students voting for 0, 1, or 2 items each time.  In both years, "reproducibility" won the contest, something which makes me very optimistic about these early-career scientists!  Of course not all of them will continue on in science, but I would say an understanding of good science will be important for all of them, no matter what their career.

Here are the items that made the final round of voting for 2010 and 2011.  The first number is the votes from first round, the second is the second round:
  • 2010
    • Reproducibility 11, 15
    • Objective / aware of biases -- so the work is actually useful 7, 9
    • Creativity -- ask creative questions that are relevant and answer them in creative ways 6, 10
  • 2011
    • Verification by peers 4, 6
    • Reproducibility (detailed procedures) 12, 15
    • Objectivity, unbiased 5, 4
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