P310: One strategy for monitoring and enhancing guided inquiry-based laboratory instruction
An inquiry-based approach to chemistry labs has the potential to increase student engagement, promote deep understanding, and encourage students to pursue research-based fields. While the success of this approach relies on the ability of instructors to effectively facilitate inquiry-based learning in the laboratory setting, these instructors are often graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) with no prior experience teaching in an inquiry setting. We are currently transforming our general chemistry labs from a traditional, cookbook style to a guided inquiry lab format. To determine the amount of time that TAs engage in inquiry-oriented behaviors (open-ended dialogue with students, prompting questions, etc.) we observed seventeen first-semester General Chemistry laboratory GTAs three separate times over one semester using the Real-time Instructor Observation Tool (RIOT). We found that the majority of GTAs were engaged with students mainly by clarifying instructions and explaining material, neither of which are indicative of inquiry-based instruction. These and other observations of GTA/student interactions are being used to direct weekly staff meetings aimed to improve inquiry-based instruction. Knowledge gained from this cyclical observation/meeting method will guide the redesign of the week-long incoming graduate student training that takes place before the beginning of Fall semester. Enhanced inquiry-based instructional skills may help GTAs in their future research careers both as teachers and principal investigators guiding students to answer open-ended research questions.