Tuesday, April 21, 2015

20.109 is More than Just a Lab Class

Abstract
20.109's formal name is "Laboratory Fundamentals in Biological Engineering." Students are thus in lab for 8 hours a week, more or less. Thus, 20.109 is popularized as a "lab class." In this study, we follow the development of a single 20.109 student during the second 20.109 module of 3 and note the student's internalization that students are evaluated 85% on their communication assignments, rather than direct lab work. After tracking the experiences of a 20.109 student, we conclude that despite these signs of a lab class, 20.109 is first and foremost rigorous training to take unsuspecting wannabe course 20's and push them to experience the life of a researcher; not just the bench work, but also the literary aspect. This observation raises potential influence in the future marketing of 20.109.

Introduction
In the beginning, the 20.109 teaching faculty proclaimed several times that 85% of students' grade will be determined by communication-based assignments. This initially seemed outlandish compared to the sheer amount of time students are in class and lab, and thus the thought was promptly jettisoned from the forefront of students' minds, as evidenced by the magnitude of procrastination-centric blog posts on the 20.109 blog (BE 20.109 Class Blog 2015).
Thus, initial perceptions of 20.109 were of it first and foremost as a lab class (it's called "Laboratory Fundamentals in BE" after all), rather than a CI-M (Griffin 2015). Some students were quite confident, given that they had experience with UROPs before. However, it was found that 20.109 is more than just a lab class. Our study records the observations of a 20.109 student and determine the value of the class to surpass simple lab technique learning and to provide a surprisingly comprehensive insight into what researchers' lives entail. These results have potential applications in the branding of 20.109 as more than just a lab class.


Methods
Subjection of Students to the Major Assignments of Modules 1 and 2
Students wrote around 25 pages in the Module 1 Abstract and Data Summary, Module 1 Primer Design Memo, and Module 2 Research Article combined. Students also presented a 10 minute journal club presentation. All of these assignments accounted for 55% of the students' grades altogether. 
Collection of Student Feedback on Modules 1 and 2
Thoughts were collected for a period of up until 1 day after the due dates of the Module 1 Abstract and Data Summary and the Module 2 Research Article.
Introspection of an Individual 20.109 Student
Self-explanatory.


Results
Students Frequently Seem to Procrastinate and Finish Writing Assignments Near the Last Minute :)
Blog posts and oral testimony reflect that a large number of students end up pulling all-nighters and/or submit writing assignments close to the deadline.
(Some? Most?) Students Find Purpose in the Writing Assignments
Blog posts and personal experience reflect that a number of students enjoy some aspect of the writing assignments or at the least can see their utility.

Discussion
20.109 students appear to view 20.109 primarily as a "lab class." This may be explained by the phenomenon of students' procrastination on writing assignments, in particular on the homework due M1D4 and all of the major assignments thus far, indicating that students are either underestimating the quantity of time and effort required because they gathered the information they're presenting (mostly) with their own hands, after all, or are burnt out and frightened by the time and effort required after already spending so many hours in lab. Other possible explanations involve legitimately completely packed schedules and 20.109phobia.
However, these experiences offer promising potential for students to truly internalize that this class is truly a CI-M, as has been the case for a particular 20.109 student. The recognition that the discipline of science and engineering requires not only benchwork, but also ability to comprehend, build upon, and create their own scientific literature exposes a great deal of insight into the so-called "real world."
This is not to undermine the struggles of the students though. The assignments are a lot to be thrown into, especially if the subconscious supposition that 20.109 is mostly just a lab class is a valid thought. The work is often daunting, regardless of how interesting it may or may not be, especially given that most students are also juggling other classes. For most, it is the first time ever writing anything that is remotely close to anything found in publications.
Thus, potential rebranding of the class may help prepare students for this large pressure, but also convey the non-laboratory benefits of 20.109 and firmly instill that 20.109 is more than just a "lab class."

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